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The Non-Trump GOP Presidential Primary Gets Going
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The Non-Trump GOP Presidential Primary Gets Going

Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Ron DeSantis—oh my!

Happy Friday! Consider this your semi-annual reminder from your friendly neighborhood TMD writers to make an effort to keep things civil in the comments section. 

We take a ton of pride in the quality of the discussions that happen there everyday, and we hope you do the same. Remember, there’s a human being on the receiving end of your words—and that human being is a fellow Dispatch member. Odds are they’re pretty cool.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported yesterday the producer price index (PPI)—a measure of what suppliers and wholesalers are charging customers—rose 0.7 percent month-over-month in January after falling 0.2 percent in December and increasing 0.3 percent in November. Producer prices were up 6 percent year-over-year in January, and Thursday’s reading—along with recent labor market and consumer spending data—will likely lead Federal Reserve officials to decide additional interest-rate hikes are necessary to cool inflation. The Department of Labor also reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—decreased by 1,000 week-over-week to a seasonally-adjusted 194,000 claims last week, suggesting the labor market remains tight despite recent layoffs at many high-profile companies, especially in the tech sector.
  • President Joe Biden delivered a speech at the White House on Thursday addressing the three unidentified objects the U.S. military shot down in American and Canadian airspace last weekend. “The intelligence community’s current assessment is that these three objects were most likely balloons tied to private companies, recreation, or research institutions studying weather or conducting other scientific research,” he said, adding there is no indication the objects were related to the Chinese spy balloon that recently traversed the country. “We don’t have any evidence that there has been a sudden increase in the number of objects in the sky. We’re now just seeing more of them, partially because [of] the steps we’ve taken to increase our radars.”
  • North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) announced yesterday F-16 fighters scrambled Tuesday—for the second time this week—to intercept four Russian jets in the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone. The Russian planes—which NORAD said weren’t seen as a threat—did not enter U.S. or Canadian airspace. 
  • U.S. Africa Command announced Thursday that—at the request of the Somalian government—U.S. forces conducted a “self-defense” strike near the town of Bacaadweyn along Somalia’s border with Ethiopia, reportedly killing five members of the al-Shabaab terrorist group. U.S officials believe no civilians were injured or killed in the strike due to the “remote location of the operation.”
  • The Defense Department on Thursday announced a host of policy changes regarding service members’ reproductive healthcare, including granting military personnel expense reimbursement and up to three weeks of leave to travel for abortions, in vitro fertilization (IVF), and other procedures that could be prohibited in states where they’re stationed. “While [service members] certainly have a voice in the process of where they’re assigned, ultimately, decisions are made in the best interest of the department’s mission requirements,” a senior defense official told Military Times. “And we strongly believe that these moves should not impact their access to essential health care.”
  • Another Norfolk Southern train derailed 30 miles west of Detroit on Thursday, weeks after one of the company’s trains crashed in East Palestine, Ohio, spilling hazardous chemicals and requiring residents to be temporarily evacuated. Michigan officials reported no injuries resulted from Thursday morning’s derailment, and assessed there was no risk to public safety. Only one of the two dozen derailed cars contained cargo—agricultural grain—while a car containing liquid chlorine remained safely on the tracks.
  • President Biden had a routine physical exam on Thursday, after which his longtime physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, issued a summary concluding the 80-year-old “remains fit for duty, and fully executes all of his responsibilities without exemptions or accommodations.” Biden is currently being treated for atrial fibrillation, hyperlipidemia, and gastroesophageal reflux, but all three conditions are considered stable. One “small lesion” on Biden’s chest was excised yesterday and sent for a biopsy.
  • On the recommendation of Congress’ attending physician, Democratic Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Wednesday to receive treatment for clinical depression, Fetterman’s chief of staff Adam Jentleson announced yesterday. Fetterman has struggled with depression “off and on” throughout his life, Jentleson said, but his condition “only became severe” in recent weeks. The freshman Democrat suffered a stroke last May, and was briefly hospitalized last week after he felt “lightheaded.” Aides reportedly expect Fetterman’s stay at Walter Reed to be “longer than a few days.”
  • Tesla issued a safety recall on Thursday affecting more than 360,000 vehicles due to problems with cars’ “Full Self-Driving” Beta, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) believes may cause crashes by “allow[ing] the vehicle to act unsafe around intersections.” The recall will not require the cars to be taken off the road, but Tesla plans to release an “over-the-air” software update addressing the issues in the coming months.
  • YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced Thursday she is stepping down from her role after nine years running the video platform and almost 25 years with Google. Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer, will take charge of the streaming service.

2024 Is Upon Us

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign event in New Hampshire on February 16. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Like the first soldier to stick their head over the parapet—desperately hoping not to get decapitated—Nikki Haley officially joined the Republican presidential primary this week.

“We’re ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past, and we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us into the future,” the former governor of South Carolina declared in her announcement speech on Wednesday. “Our moment is now, our mission is clear. Let’s save our country.”

Former President Donald Trump, the only other declared candidate in the race, welcomed the woman he made U.N. ambassador to the field, telling Fox News he’s “glad” she’s running and “the more the merrier.” Within minutes, however, Trump’s campaign was sending a document to reporters titled “The Real Nikki Haley” that highlighted, among other things, her previous support for entitlement reform and ongoing support for both legal immigration and Ukraine’s fight against Russia. Littered throughout Trump’s comments were reminders Haley had previously said—publicly and repeatedly—she would not challenge him for the Republican nomination in 2024 if he wanted it.

Trump’s in a strange place as the 2024 GOP primary gets going in earnest, as, somewhat paradoxically, his chance of securing the nomination is arguably inversely correlated with his strength as a candidate. The weaker he looks, the more Republican challengers will jump in the race, splitting the vote and boosting his odds of squeaking through the primary with narrow plurality support. “I think President Trump is by far the most likely to become our nominee,” GOP Sen. Mitt Romney said this week. “If there’s an alternative to that, it would be only realistic if it narrows down to a two-person race.”

The field is unlikely to balloon to the size it did in 2015, but it’ll almost certainly max out at a number larger than seven or eight. Haley became the first to throw her hat in the ring this week with a slightly revised version of a message she could have run on in 2015–supplementing traditional Bush-style conservatism designed to appeal to younger and non-white voters with a focus on combating the “woke” ideology that has become pervasive in a number of American institutions. But Haley’s clearest pitch on Wednesday was generational. 

Speaking from downtown Charleston, she suggested it’s time for some fresh blood, remarking that candidates over 75 should have to submit to cognitive testing. President Joe Biden is 80, and Trump 76, but Haley swiftly specified her full confidence that Trump would pass. “I think he did great the last time he did it,” Haley told Fox News’ Fox and Friends Thursday. “I have no reason to think he wouldn’t do well this time.”

This jab and duck on Trump’s age is only the latest example of Haley’s flip-flopping on the former president. She skewered Trump’s character during his run for office, then joined his administration. After the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack, she declared Trump’s actions since Election Day would be “judged harshly by history,” and she told Politico’s Tim Alberta, “We can’t let that ever happen again.” But she eventually came around, even promising never to run against Trump for president.

Just in time for Haley’s entry, Trump has been picking up the campaign pace. He recently visited New Hampshire’s annual state GOP meeting—insisting “I’m more angry now” than ever before—and gave a speech to a few hundred supporters packed into the South Carolina statehouse. He then stopped off at an ice cream and hamburger shop for photos with supporters and a chocolate-dipped cone. Trump has spent comparatively less time on his stolen election claims or abortion than on education and gender controversies, declaring, “We’re going to stop the left-wing radical racists and perverts who are trying to indoctrinate our youth, and we’re going to get their Marxist hands off our children.”

Whether or not Trump’s message lands, Haley’s an underdog. The latest Morning Consult polling shows her at 3 percent, equal to Sen. Ted Cruz and former Rep. Liz Cheney and eons behind Trump’s 47 percent and DeSantis’ 31 percent. Quinnipiac polling released Thursday shows Trump at 42 percent among Republican voters, DeSantis at 36 percent, and Haley at 5 percent. At this point before the 2016 election, Jeb Bush led the field at 14 percent in a RealClearPolitics polling average, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in second at 11 percent and Trump not even in the race.

So at this point in the race, we’re not going to take these—or any polls—as gospel lest Sarah materialize beside our desks to yell at us. But they’re certainly suggestive. And as Andrew, Audrey, and David M. Drucker reported in Dispatch Politics just this week, Haley’s campaign seems to have no staff or advisers in Iowa or New Hampshire, potentially weakening her position in those key states. Aware of the odds—and likely anticipating the chorus of pundits scoffing at her candidacy—Haley projected confidence at her first rally. “I’ve been underestimated before,” she said. “That’s always fun.”

Haley’s fellow South Carolinian, Sen. Tim Scott, may be next to brave the campaign waters. He spoke yesterday at an event celebrating Black History Month in South Carolina and has another event scheduled later this month in Iowa. He’s reportedly already been testing messages on key voters and plans to travel a lot over the coming months. A solid fundraiser with a conservative voting record, Scott’s name has been on the list of possible Republican presidential contenders for years. But for the moment, his path to victory also isn’t especially clear—the same Morning Consult poll showing Haley at 3 percent has Scott at 1 percent. 

Beyond the early hopefuls, potential Republican candidates abound. There’s former Vice President Mike Pence, who has solid name recognition and has been traveling a good amount but has turned off both Trump opponents and Trump superfans—the former by refusing to condemn Trump’s behavior, the latter by refusing to accommodate the president’s push to overturn the election. Beside him stands a long line of other options: former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, and of course, [insert your favorite semi-known Republican here]. Though DeSantis reportedly plans to wait until at least late May or early June to declare candidacy, others may jump in later this spring.

But all these other candidates could end up mostly as spoilers if they end up merely siphoning bits of the “Not Trump” vote away from DeSantis, who at the moment looks like Trump’s greatest threat. From his perch in Tallahassee, DeSantis has forged a fighting reputation, reopening Florida quickly amid COVID-19, pushing restrictions on how teachers talk about race and sexuality in classrooms, and taking on the House of Mouse. Despite not having declared, he’s been neck and neck with Trump in various polls—and he’s more likely to creep ahead of the former president when a poll doesn’t include other candidates like Haley and Pence to divide his support. That bodes ill for the results of a crowded primary swinging in DeSantis’ favor, though it’s certainly too soon to make any sweeping pronouncements of the outcome. 

Still, Trump has taken several preemptive strikes on DeSantis. Along with trying out a couple of insulting nicknames, the former president has attacked DeSantis from seemingly every angle he can think of—supporting Paul Ryan’s entitlement reforms, being a RINO GLOBALIST, working with lawyers supposedly connected to 2020 voting fraud—and Trump even suggested DeSantis “groomed” high school girls with alcohol while a teacher. DeSantis has largely ignored or deflected these attacks, painting himself as too busy delivering for his constituents to worry about tearing others down. “I spend my time delivering results for the people of Florida and fighting against Joe Biden,” he said after the “groomer” attack. “I don’t spend my time trying to smear other Republicans.”

Worth Your Time

  • The biggest takeaway from the 2022 midterms, Marc Thiessen writes in his latest Washington Post column, was that extreme nominees whose only qualification was fealty to Trump cost Republicans a number of winnable races. But as evidenced by recent efforts to drive former Gov. Mitch Daniels out of Indiana’s 2024 Senate race, party activists don’t seem to have learned their lesson. “When former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels (R) announced he was exploring a 2024 bid to succeed Sen. Mike Braun (R), who is running for governor, Republicans should have been elated,” Thiessen writes. “He ended collective bargaining for state employees, privatized Indiana’s toll road, established one of the country’s largest school choice programs for low-income students and created a conservative alternative to Medicaid that gave citizens more control over their health-care choices. He inherited a $700 million deficit but left the state with a $2 billion budget surplus—achieved while he implemented the biggest tax cut in Indiana history.” Daniels is exactly the kind of “thoughtful conservative reformer” voters supported last November, Thiessen noted, and he was already leading in primary polls over Trumpier challengers. “Then came the RINO hunters. The Club for Growth released an ad excoriating Daniels as a tax-and-spend ‘old-guard Republican clinging to the old ways of the bad old days.’ Donald Trump Jr. tweeted ‘The establishment is trying to recruit weak RINO Mitch Daniels’ to run for Senate, adding that ‘he would be Mitt Romney 2.0.’ It worked.”
  • A redacted version of Dominion Voting Systems’ motion for summary judgment in its defamation lawsuit against Fox News was released on Thursday, and if you don’t have time to get through all 179 pages, you should at least read Erik Larson’s writeup of the remarkable document for Bloomberg. “Dominion said internal Fox email and text messages back its claim that the network pivoted to the conspiracy theory to retain and attract viewers who were upset when Fox became the first network on election night to call the vote count in Arizona for Biden,” Larson writes. “‘Getting creamed by CNN!’ Rupert Murdoch wrote to Fox News Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Scott. ‘Guess our viewers don’t want to watch it.’ [Tucker] Carlson texted his producer with a warning: ‘Do the executives understand how much credibility and trust we’ve lost with our audience? We’re playing with fire, for real….an alternative like newsmax could be devastating to us.’”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On Thursday’s episode of The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah, Steve, Jonah, and David M. Drucker break down Haley’s first few days on the campaign trail, discuss Democratic officials’ behind-the-scenes disdain for Vice President Kamala Harris, and ask why the Biden administration has been so evasive about all the objects floating overhead.
  • And for a decidedly less rosy assessment of Haley’s chances, be sure to check out Nick’s latest Boiling Frogs (🔒). “Nostalgia without nostalgia, identity politics without identity politics, MAGA without MAGA,” he writes. “Because Haley lacks the nerve to challenge Trump on policy or to forthrightly contrast the differences in their backgrounds, the lone woman candidate in the 2024 race stranded herself in a sort of political no man’s land on day one.”
  • On the site today, Harvest breaks down the controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reforms to the country’s judiciary, and Alec gives an update on Meta’s metaverse gamble.

Let Us Know

If you’re planning to vote in the Republican presidential primary, what factors will weigh most heavily on your mind? Ideology? Record? Tone? Electability? Something else?

If you’re planning to vote Democratic, which prospective Republican nominee scares you the most?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

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.