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The Ghost of You-Know-Who
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The Ghost of You-Know-Who

Checking in on the GOP primary contest playing out in Trump’s shadow.

Happy Halloween! We hope you and yours are responsibly celebrating the holiday in SAG-AFTRA-approved costumes. Does dressing as Barbie (the doll), and not Barbie (the movie character who is also a doll), absolve a reveler of the dreaded “scab” label?

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories 

  • The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) moved deeper into Gaza on Monday in a major advance toward Gaza City, the largest city in the strip, encircling from multiple directions with armored vehicles and troops. IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari reported the Israeli military had killed dozens of Hamas fighters during Monday’s advance, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally rejected calls for a ceasefire. “Calls for a ceasefire are a call for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terror, to surrender to barbarism,” Netanyahu wrote in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. “Just as the U.S. wouldn’t have agreed to a cease-fire after the bombing of Pearl Harbor or after the terrorist attack on 9/11, Israel will not agree to a cessation of hostilities with Hamas after the horrific attacks of Oct. 7.” 
  • House Republicans released a standalone proposal on Monday to provide Israel with $14.3 billion in aid, offsetting the funds with cuts to money allocated for the Internal Revenue Service in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. “We’re going to have pays-for,” Speaker Mike Johnson said of the measure he spearheaded. “We’re not just going to print money and send it overseas.” The Biden administration has requested Congress pass a $106 billion package, including the $14.3 billion in aid for Israel but also aid to Ukraine and funding for border security. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the rescinding of IRS funds would make the GOP bill “much harder to pass” in the upper chamber.
  • President Joe Biden issued a broad executive order on Monday attempting to establish some guardrails around the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI), including provisions surrounding safety, security, consumer protection, and privacy. Most of the order involves the establishment of monitoring and review programs within various federal agencies, directing them to develop standards and best practices for AI use. It also requires companies to submit information to the government about potential national security, economic security, and public health risks, relying on presidential authority from the Defense Production Act. “To realize the promise of AI and avoid the risk, we need to govern this technology,” Biden said yesterday at an event unveiling the order.
  • The United Auto Workers (UAW) reached a tentative deal with General Motors on Monday, marking the end of a month-and-a-half-long strike launched against the Big Three automakers. The deal is broadly similar to the agreements the union reached with Ford and Stellantis in recent days, including a 25 percent wage increase over the course of a four-year contract. “We wholeheartedly believe that our strike squeezed every last dime out of General Motors,” said UAW President Shawn Fain. Union members must still vote to ratify the deals, but will return to work in the meantime. 
  • Venezuela’s high court, the Supreme Justice Tribunal, suspended the results of the opposition party’s primary election on Monday, reneging on a promise by President Nicolás Maduro to allow the opposition to choose their own leader. María Corina Machado, a former lawmaker barred from public office by the Maduro government, won the primary with 93 percent of the vote, according to the primary commission. Maduro and the opposition reached a deal earlier this month to hold elections next year, resulting in the easing of U.S. economic sanctions against the country. The Tribunal is dominated by judges appointed by Maduro’s socialist government.
  • The trial began Monday in a Colorado lawsuit alleging former President Donald Trump should be excluded from the ballot for violating the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment as part of his attempts to overturn the 2020 election. The Minnesota Supreme Court will hear a similar case later this week, and one of the two lawsuits is expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. 
  • Wesley Bell, a prosecutor based in St. Louis, Missouri, announced on Monday he was dropping his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Josh Hawley to instead mount a campaign against left-wing Rep. Cori Bush, a fellow Missouri Democrat. Bell criticized Bush in his announcement speech over her lack of cooperation with Democratic leaders on key legislation—pointing to her vote against the bipartisan infrastructure deal as an example—as well as her criticisms of Israel in the wake of the Hamas attack. “We must stand with our allies,” he said.

Zombie Primary?

Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks to potential voters during a campaign event at Central College on October 21, 2023 in Pella, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks to potential voters during a campaign event at Central College on October 21, 2023 in Pella, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The purge of Republican presidential candidates kicked off this weekend—just in time for Halloween—when former Vice President Mike Pence became the first casualty of the 2024 GOP primary contest. Or at least the first casualty among the characters who have received any significant screen time.

“Your task is to give us government as good as our people again, and I know you will,” Pence told attendees at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday, where he announced his campaign’s end. “I urge all my fellow Republicans here to give our country a Republican standard-bearer that will, as Lincoln said, ‘appeal to the better angels of our nature,’ and not only lead us to victory but lead our nation with civility back to the time-honored principles that have always made America strong, prosperous, and free.” 

With less than three months to go before the first primary contest, when actual voters will have a chance to make good on Pence’s request, the field looks ripe for further winnowing as candidates face the dual numerical challenges of fundraising and polling. Former President Donald Trump can still claim a healthy lead in each category, as the remaining candidates fight to see who will be the last (wo)man standing in the undercard race. The third Republican debate next week—and the Republican National Committee’s stringent requirements to make the stage—may hasten the culling of the rest of the field, which will be necessary if the “Not-Trump” candidates wish to mount a meaningful challenge against the indicted former president.

For Pence, his campaign’s demise was all about the money—according to third quarter Federal Election Committee filings at the end of September, his campaign only had $1.18 million in the coffers, and more than half of that amount in debt. By contrast, Trump reported $37.5 million on hand in the third quarter. “It doesn’t really matter where you’re at in the polls: When you run out of money, your campaign’s done,” David Kochel, an Iowa-based Republican consultant, told TMD.

But Pence’s polling wasn’t that impressive either: In the latest Des Moines Register survey— which was in the field before Pence dropped out and published Monday—the former vice president was registering only 2 percent of the vote in Iowa. In New Hampshire, the RealClearPolitics polling average had him netting a meager 1.4 percent.

Polling and campaign cash are certainly linked—few big donors, especially at this point in the race, will dole out the big bucks to someone they don’t think has the juice. And recently, non-Trump donors and voters have increasingly gravitated toward former Gov. Nikki Haley as the best bet to take down her one-time boss—perhaps based on strong performances in the first two GOP debates. “[The debate performance] helped her with voters, but the other thing it did—it helped her immensely with donors.” Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant in California, told TMD. “Some of the rise in the polls can be attributed to the fact that she’s been [running] a better-funded campaign.”

Third quarter FEC filings show Haley raked in $11 million between July and September, up from the $7.3 million she collected the quarter before. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—once the presumptive second-place candidate—brought in $15 million over the same period, down from the $20 million he pulled in during the previous three months. It’s a sign the donor class may be migrating from DeSantis to Haley as the most viable candidate to take on Trump “mano a mano,” as Stutzman put it. 

The polling trendline for both candidates matches that of their respective cash hauls. In Monday’s Register poll, Haley and DeSantis were in a dead heat, tied for second at 16 percent each after the former U.N. ambassador vaulted 10 points from her August levels. DeSantis fell three points since the late summer—the last time the poll was in the field. “She’s got two types of momentum, and it’s money and poll numbers,” Stutzman said. “And no one else is comparable to that over the last six, eight weeks.”

Haley’s fellow South Carolinian, Sen. Tim Scott, certainly can’t compare, currently sitting at 7 percentage points in Iowa—down from the 9 percent he registered in the Hawkeye State in August. Though he still had an impressive $13 million in the campaign coffers in Q3, he only raised $4.6 million during that three-month period, more than $1 million less than the previous quarter. Scott told Hugh Hewitt on Monday “it’s Iowa or bust” for his campaign.

Earlier this month, Scott’s super PAC—which has advertised more aggressively on TV than the PACs of any other candidates without much of a polling gain to show for it—canceled its planned TV ad buy for the fall. “We aren’t going to waste our money when the electorate isn’t focused or ready for a Trump alternative,” Rob Collins, co-chairman of Scott’s super PAC, said in a memo to donors. “We have done the research. We have studied the focus groups. We have been following Tim on the trail. This electorate is locked up and money spent on mass media isn’t going to change minds until we get a lot closer to voting.”

Scott and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are each running one-state campaigns: Scott in Iowa and Christie in New Hampshire. Christie, who is polling fourth in New Hampshire, is in the race until the Granite State primary no matter what, an adviser to the former governor told TMD—and has the money to get there. “I think we have a long runway ahead of us financially from a donor standpoint,” the adviser said. “We have a lean campaign and a lot of cash on hand and a very low burn rate. So we have a lot of financial stability and we’ve been watching polls in New Hampshire as we continue to get closer and rise there.” Christie characterized the future of his campaign with his signature bluntness last month: If he fared poorly in the New Hampshire primary, “then [he’ll] leave.” 

Before Iowa caucus-goers can gather in drafty high school gymnasiums and first-in-the-nation primary voters in New Hampshire can cast their ballots in public libraries, there will probably be several more Republican debates—including one next week in sunny Miami, Florida—where candidates can make their case to voters (or just beat up on biotech mogul Vivek Ramaswamy). The threshold to get on the stage next week is even higher than it was for the previous two programs: Candidates must register at least 4 percent in two national polls or in a national poll and in two early state polls. They must also have 70,000 unique individual donors, including at least 200 per state in 20 or more states. So far, DeSantis, Haley, Ramaswamy, Christie, and Scott claim to have qualified—though the official lineup won’t be verified by the Republican National Committee (RNC) until just before the debate. Trump has once again said would skip the event.

The elevated bar to get on the stage may prove to be a tripping hazard for North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The latter didn’t make the cut for the debate last month at the the Reagan Library, and the former may miss the bar this time around, lacking adequate polling numbers. “If you don’t have any money, and you’re not raising any money, and you don’t make the debate, what’s the point?” asked Kochel. “I think that the field is ready for some consolidation.” 

The candidates’ debate performances will give voters another data point to make their choice, but the Register poll shows 43 percent of Iowa caucus voters already favor a man who won’t even be on the stage next Wednesday—and who’s running 27 points ahead of the two second-place candidates. Monday’s survey featured a glimmer of hope for the non-Trump candidates, however: Only 27 percent of respondents said they were committed to voting for the former president; the rest “could be persuaded” to support another candidate.

“So the real question is, who’s going to win the undercard contest?” Kochel said. “Somebody’s going to have to emerge from Iowa, New Hampshire, as the sole alternative to Trump. And that might—or might not be—worth something. Who knows.” 

Worth Your Time

  • The 12-foot-tall Halloween Home Depot skeleton, Skelly, took the country by storm when it debuted in 2020, but the decoration has since acquired an even spookier nemesis: homeowners associations (HOAs). “The ‘12 Foot Skeleton Owners Group’ on Facebook has 268,000 members and a healthy feed of posts with topics like how to use guy wires to erect your Skelly and photos of HOA complaints that Skelly’s humans have received,” Molly Liebergall and Matty Merritt wrote for Morning Brew. “One example: Tampa, Florida, resident Corey Bassett first put up his Skelly, which he affectionately named Hal, outside his home in late August. ‘My neighbors love him,’ Bassett told Morning Brew. ‘There’s even a little toddler who loves to see him every day on their walk with their mother.’ But that didn’t sway his HOA. He received a warning that gave him seven days to remove what the association labeled ‘Improper Item in View—Seasonal Decorations.’”

Presented Without Comment

The Verge: X is Officially Worth Less Than Half of What Elon Musk Paid for It

Toeing the Company Line

  • The Dispatch is growing again, as we’re looking for an assistant editor to play a key role on our editing team. An obsessive focus on detail and accuracy is crucial, as is the ability to see the big picture and provide substantive and structural edits. Think you—or someone you know—might be a fit? Apply here.
  • The Dispatch Book Club (🔒) is back, with lots of books (and movies) to dive into! The Revolutionary, Killers of the Flower Moon, American Prometheus, and The Big Short are on the docket for the next few months; to get the latest episodes, members can subscribe to The Skiff (🔒)—the members-only podcast superfeed. 
  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew covered Pence’s withdrawal from the race, Nick gamed out (🔒) Nikki Haley’s unlikely path to beating Trump for the nomination, and Kevin argued (🔒) that empowering politicians like House Speaker Mike Johnson is pushing real conservatives away from the GOP.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David discuss the states’ Meta lawsuit, the law of armed conflict and the invasion of Gaza, the Connecticut Supreme Court weighing in on a sexual assault and due process case, and more on Advisory Opinions.
  • On the site today: Chris unpacks the significance of Pence’s exit from the race and Charlotte reports on the rise in antisemitism in the wake of the Hamas-Israel war.

Let Us Know

Do you think culling the primary field is the job of the RNC, or should that responsibility be left to the voters?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.