Happy Wednesday! Hoping you were able to return to the office after the Labor Day weekend without a bunch of new problems on your desk—unlike House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is hearing that his most conservative and strident members are once again chattering about ousting him.
Up to Speed
- Are you ready for some football—with a dash of politics? President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign is debuting a new television advertisement Thursday evening during the first game of the new National Football League season between the Detroit Lions and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The 30-second spot touts Biden’s economic record and is set to air in key battleground media markets, including Phoenix, Atlanta, Detroit, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Raleigh, North Carolina. The Biden campaign, which has lately ramped up television advertising, is also on the air in Phoenix with this spot on the president’s manufacturing policies as part of a 16-week, $25 million ad buy. I
- Former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, is headed to Washington, D.C., next week to address an annual conference hosted by Concerned Women for America, according to the conservative group’s website. Other prominent Republicans are also expected to address the gathering, which is slated for September 14 and 15 at the Capital Hilton. Thanks to the Dispatch Politics tipster who alerted us to this event.
- Former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers announced Wednesday morning he is running for Senate in Michigan in 2024. The Republican is seeking the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
- First lady Jill Biden, 72, tested positive for COVID-19 Monday evening and is experiencing mild symptoms, her spokesperson said. President Joe Biden, 81, tested negative on Tuesday and “is not experiencing any symptoms,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. President Biden “will be masking while indoors and around people in alignment with CDC guidance,” Jean-Pierre added.
- Following his second public freeze-up last week in roughly a month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell released a doctor’s note on Tuesday suggesting there is no change in his recovery regimen following his fall earlier this year. “My examination of you following your August 30, 2023 brief episode included several medical evaluations: brain MRI imaging, EEG study and consultations with several neurologists for a comprehensive neurology assessment,” the U.S. Capitol’s attending physician Brian P. Monahan wrote in the note dated September 5. “There is no evidence that you have a seizure disorder or that you experienced a stroke, TIA or movement disorder such as Parkinson’s disease. There are no changes recommended in treatment protocols as you continue recovery from your March 2023 fall.”
- Nikki Haley’s presidential campaign is launching “Young Americans for Nikki” and “Students for Haley,” Fox News reports, using the coalitions to galvanize support for the former South Carolina governor among young professionals and college students, respectively. The campaign claims members from 45 states have signed up for “Young Americans for Nikki,” and says “Students for Haley” is active on 25 college campuses across the country.
- Bill Richardson died Friday at his summer home in Massachusetts. He was 75. The Democrat enjoyed a prolific and celebrated career in politics and government, serving as a congressman, New Mexico governor, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, energy secretary, and a go-to U.S. negotiator whenever unique diplomatic troubles arose. Richardson also ran unsuccessfully for president in 2008, dropping out early in the race and endorsing Barack Obama over longtime ally and friend Hillary Clinton.
Pence Fights Rising Tide of Trump Populism
Mike Pence is traveling to New Hampshire Wednesday to defend the Republican Party from the populists who would rip the final vestiges of Reagan-era conservatism from its personality, platform, and purpose. The former vice president’s weapon of choice? What else: a speech.
Senior Pence advisers previewed the address during a conference call with reporters, insisting the talk wasn’t directed at any populist in particular—not at Donald Trump, the former vice president’s old boss and frontrunner for the 2024 nomination; nor at Vivek Ramaswamy, the wealthy biotech entrepreneur whom he sparred with during last month’s Republican debate in Milwaukee.
Rather, the Pence advisers said the former vice president’s forthcoming speech, titled “Populism vs. Conservatism: Republicans’ Time for Choosing”—aptly alluding to the address that launched Ronald Reagan as a conservative icon and, eventually, to the White House—was about the party writ large.
“The timing of this speech is, I think, there’s an important battle right now, going on over the future of our party—and frankly, the future of our nation,” says one of Pence’s senior advisers. Pence is scheduled to address an audience on Wednesday afternoon at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester.
“Many of you will recognize the significance of the title, ‘A Time for Choosing,’ as we head into the second debate at the Reagan library later this month,” this adviser adds. “I think that the vice president approached this from recognizing the appeal of populism is rising not just in this race for president but also in the halls of Congress and also some of the flagship institutions of our conservative movement.”
In other words, Pence is seeing and experiencing what everyone else is.
The race for the Republican presidential nomination is being dominated by populists and populism. Trump, the former president and his old running mate, is the overwhelming frontrunner, while the trailing candidates generally polling the best or generating the most interest—Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Ramaswamy—are doing their best to ape Trump and offer more authentic versions of Trumpism. Pence and the other candidates rooted in Reaganism? They are struggling to achieve a decisive breakthrough.
In a Dispatch Podcast interview in the spring, Pence insisted Reagan-era conservatism was still the dominant force in the Republican Party. Asked Tuesday by Dispatch Politics if the former vice president still believes that, they said he does.
But the Pence advisers indicated the former vice president believes the battle must be fought or else be lost, revealing a heightened level of anxiety about the direction of the GOP compared to a few months prior.
“I would say that I think Mike’s view is still the same as it was a couple months ago,” one adviser said. “But I think there’s no doubt that there’s a populist wave that’s getting more social media and other attention, and I think it’s an appropriate time for us to address that.”
Ironically, Pence deserves some credit for mainstreaming Trump and conservative populism inside the Republican Party.
In 2016, the future president’s selection of Pence, a Reagan conservative who had demonstrated his bona fides over nearly two decades as a congressman and Indiana governor, gave many traditional Republican voters skeptical of a bombastic, populist New York City real-estate mogul the confidence to take a chance on him. They combined with the working class, conservative populists who joined the GOP coalition because of Trump, and together delivered him the presidency.
Vivek Ramaswamy: ‘I Will Be Better’ Than Donald Trump
AMHERST, New Hampshire—Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy is convinced he’s mastered the art of telling Republican voters what they want to hear.
“In this primary for U.S. president, we do face a choice,” he tells a crowd of Republican voters gathered outside a barn on Saturday morning. “The choice is this: Do you want incremental reform? Or do you want revolution? Do you want a revival of those 1776 ideals? I stand on the side of the American Revolution.”
The charismatic ex-pharmaceutical executive barnstormed the Granite State over the weekend, riding his post-debate surge of attention as he continues to twist himself into pretzels on all matters of foreign and domestic policy.
Ramaswamy’s recent flip-flops include reversing his position on whether former Vice President Mike Pence did the right thing on January 6, when the U.S. should phase out aid to Israel, whether as president he’d pardon members of the Biden family, and even whether Juneteenth is a holiday worth celebrating.
Also on that list of flip-flops is Ramaswamy’s evolving rhetoric surrounding frontrunner and former President Donald Trump. Roughly a year after he blamed the former president in his 2022 book, Nation of Victims, for the “persecution complex that swallowed much of the Republican party,” Ramaswamy said on the debate stage last month that he considers Trump the “best president” of the 21st century.
On the campaign trail, his praise for Trump is just as effusive. “In my first year, I want him to be my most important mentor and adviser when I’m in the White House,” the 38-year-old millionaire tells The Dispatch aboard his campaign bus en route to Newport on Saturday evening.
Then why is he running against him? “Because I think I will be better,” Ramasway says without a moment’s hesitation. “The America First agenda doesn’t belong to one man. It doesn’t belong to Trump. It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the people of this country, and we have to act accordingly.”
Ramaswamy believes that if elected, he will take Trump’s America First vision to new heights. His platform includes plans to dismantle the FBI and Department of Education, end birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, deploy military force against Mexican drug cartels south of the U.S.-Mexico border, and somehow strike a deal with Russia that would cede parts of Ukraine to the Kremlin in an effort to distance Vladimir Putin from China.
These controversial policy proposals stem from Ramaswamy’s view that the country is undergoing a “national identity crisis” that has starved its citizens of purpose and meaning. “Faith, patriotism, hard work, family. These things have disappeared, only to be replaced by new secular cults, actually,” he tells voters at another campaign stop in Dublin on Saturday afternoon. “Woke-ism, transgender-ism, climate-ism, COVID-ism, globalism,” Ramaswamy says, tacking on “Zelensky-ism” in reference to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Ramaswamy’s isolationist foreign policy and brash way of speaking is attractive to some Republican voters who feel out of touch with the more traditional, interventionist Republican candidates. “He says a lot of things that are controversial sometimes,” says Bob Williams of Mont Vernon. “But it’s what people are thinking.”
Others view his candidacy as nothing more than a speed bump for the former president. Mike Hershberger, who watched Ramaswamy speak Saturday morning in Amherst, tells The Dispatch he is open to voting for him because he “just can’t take the drama” of Trump anymore.
But with a sigh, Hershberger quickly snaps back into reality. “I’m trying not to be cynical,” he says, “but I just see it as a battle that probably won’t be won.”
Youngkin PAC Rakes in Cash Ahead of Virginia’s Off-Year Elections
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s political action committee, Spirit of Virginia, raised $3.3 million in August for the Old Dominion’s off-year legislative elections. The sum dwarfs the $1.2 million the Democratic National Committee has invested in the November 7 contests so far as both parties battle for control of the Virginia General Assembly. Republicans are vying to hold the majority in the House of Delegates and flip the state Senate from the Democrats.
Youngkin’s PAC has raised $12 million since March, his spokesman tells The Dispatch.
“While far left Virginia Democrats are turning to D.C. for bailout cash from Joe Biden and the DNC, Governor Youngkin is uniting people across the Commonwealth behind his commonsense agenda,” Spirit of Virginia Chairman Dave Rexrode tells The Dispatch in a statement. “He is going everywhere and competing for every vote because Virginians want leaders in the General Assembly who will work with him to lower the cost of living, empower parents, support law enforcement, and keep our communities safe.”
The news comes as some deep-pocketed Republican donors continue to hope Youngkin will launch an eleventh-hour bid for the White House if he manages to win control of both state legislative chambers in November. Youngkin’s team has not ruled out the possibility.
Notable and Quotable
“Some run as ‘Trump-lite,’ while others throw rocks at Trump to win points in the media. All are wrong, all will fail, and all show a lack of leadership.”
—Nikki Haley campaign manager Betsy Ankney in a memo to “interested parties,” about the state of the GOP primary, September 5