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A Unitary GOP Moves to Crush Haley
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A Unitary GOP Moves to Crush Haley

Trump the man has seldom been worse, but his team is running a masterful campaign.

Sen. Tim Scott speaks as former President Donald Trump listens during a campaign event in Concord, New Hampshire, on January 19, 2024. (Photo by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

CONCORD, New Hampshire—First it was Sen. Marco Rubio endorsing Donald Trump over Rubio’s home-state governor, Ron DeSantis, ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

Now it’s South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott with a slap in the face to his former governor, Nikki Haley, ahead of her do-or-die New Hampshire primary bid. 

“We need a president who will unite our country. We need Donald Trump,” Scott told an audience here, not betraying even a wink at a statement that is, even by Trump’s biggest fans, preposterous. 

The veepstakes has a new frontrunner, ladies and gentlemen.

The timing and sheer brutality of these endorsements is masterful politics. In both cases, former presidential candidates who were once darlings of the same conservative movement that Haley and DeSantis have been trying to rally, sent the same message: Resistance is futile, so get the best deal you can for yourself while you can.

Scott’s rebuke of Haley is particularly painful for his former home-state rival, but also for DeSantis in its own way. Insofar as what’s left of the 2024 primaries is also jockeying for 2028, Scott’s capitulation is  a strong cue that the race is over, denying the Floridian the chance to give chase and show himself as a serious contender. 

DeSantis actually needs Haley to have a good showing here. If Trump romps to a win like the one he enjoyed in Iowa, DeSantis won’t even get the chance to play spoiler later on. If Trump becomes the first Republican candidate who wasn’t a sitting president to win both Iowa and New Hampshire, the one-month span until South Carolina, which already looks like a blowout for Trump, would become unsustainable for either of his rivals. 

And while Haley is desperately trying to catch the frontrunner in New Hampshire, Trump is working to cut her supply lines. Her Granite State strategy depends on enticing independent voters and some crossover Democrats to vote for her to try to slow Trump down. It worked for Sen. John McCain here in 2000, and it could still work for Haley. 

That’s why while at the same time Trump is denouncing Haley as a RINO squish to Republican audiences, he’s also attacking her as too conservative, reminding liberals and moderates who despise Trump that they’d be casting their protest vote for a small-government, Tea Party star who, by policy standards, would be the most conservative Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan. Turn on MSNBC and you’re likely to get the idea from Trump’s ads that Haley is slightly to the right of Attila the Hun

If it works as intended, Haley’s reinforcements will stay home rather than associate themselves with a person who they only came to think of as a moderate by comparison to Trump. And Trump can count on Democrats to reinforce his message about Haley, whom the Democratic National Committee calls a “MAGA extremist.” They don’t want Haley getting crossover support any more than Trump does. Indeed, Democrats are enthusiastically helping Trump get to the nomination

Again, the strategy and execution here by Trump is impressive. The avalanche of endorsements, the ground game, the ad barrages. Primo stuff. This isn’t the 2016 Trump campaign of misfit toys Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowski, and Roger Stone. Now it’s real pros and veterans of the Bush era and before, like bulldog Chris LaCivita, management guru Susie Wiles, and ad wiz John Brabender. Karl Rove himself could hardly have done better than Trump’s effort so far. 

And yet, Trump the man has seldom been worse than he is these days. Still obsessed with his loss in 2020 and consumed by his ongoing legal woes, Trump isn’t the boisterous, tireless campaigner he was when he was, essentially, his own campaign manager eight years ago. 

His vendettas are deeper. His lust for power is stronger. Rather than the persona he adopted for 2016 of a billionaire playboy willing to give up his easy life to whip the government into shape, 2024 Trump seems desperate to return to authority. There was a madcap quality that has been replaced with a kind of cultish, often morose religiosity. His rallies used to feel like professional wrestling matches. Now they look like mega-church services with their own liturgies and hymns. 

There’s a doctrine of presidential power referred to as the “unitary executive,” which holds that everything in the executive branch falls under the authority of the president.

In the simplest sense, it holds that the president has constitutional authority, within the bounds of the laws passed by Congress, to direct the activities of all executive branch agencies as one unit. If President Joe Biden wants a permit granted, an employee reassigned, the walls painted yellow at the J.C. Watts Federal Building in Frankfort, Kentucky, the president can order it done. 

But while the branch may be unitary in this theory, the president isn’t. The president is also his appointees, whom he has deputized to execute his wishes. When a Cabinet secretary or agency administrator gives orders, it’s no different than if the president himself gave the directive.

There’s plenty of debate over how far this theory goes, but the idea is pretty well baked into our thinking about the presidency. Sometimes we write “the Biden administration,” but very often, especially in headlines, it just gets shortened to “Biden.” As if Biden himself had reclassified a wetland habitat for endangered toads, fired some wayward deputy assistant undersecretary, or raised the minimum price for whole milk. 

That’s a helpful way to think about Trump’s campaign, too.

In one part of Trump World, things are going better than ever. He’s one more big win away from winning the nomination by acclamation. Despite the rapid consolidation of the Republican field. Despite the ample funds provided to his challengers. Despite the many prosecutions. 

A couple of months ago, Republicans were bracing for a replay of 2016 and doing delegate math. Now, Trump is three days away from winning by acclamation.

But the Trump that is winning is the unitary Trump—the Trump that encompasses his professional campaign, legal team, army of surrogates, and now, the broad Republican establishment.

What we don’t know, though, is what would happen after an early knockout win and a general election season an unprecedented nine months in length. What happens when the story shifts from Godzilla Trump smashing the Republican villagers and Trump, outrageous and outraged legal defendant, to Trump, one step away from a return to the Oval Office? Especially if the economy keeps inching toward the sunny side of the street?

That could be a very abrupt adjustment for a party that seems to have forgotten what life in a general election with Trump is really like


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 38.4%
Average disapproval: 57.6%
Net score: –19.2 points 

Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.0 points

Change from one month ago: ↓ 1.2 points

[Average includes: ABC News/Ipsos: 33% approve-58% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 39% approve-58% disapprove; Fox News: 43% approve-57% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 38% approve-58% disapprove; NYT/Siena: 39% approve-57% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: SAUSAGE AND CHEESE FOR SPICOLI

The Atlantic: “Even in our strange attire, we delivery drivers were like kings who wore the jewel of a Domino’s sign on our crowns. … I found myself thinking of my two glorious summers delivering for Domino’s this month when an Uber Eats driver arrived at my doorstep. … Chillier than the pizza was the realization that pizza delivery drivers like I once was are a dying breed. … Although delivery in the era of apps may have become more efficient, it’s also more fraught, more exploitative, and in some ways, just worse. I’ll miss the pizza delivery driver—and so will you. Americans didn’t just order pizza to their home. They believed in it. Pizza-delivery trends were an assessment of the country’s mood and interests: Domino’s reported a surge in sales during O. J. Simpson’s infamous low-speed chase in 1994. And think about the role of the delivery driver in movies: He (and for whatever reason it is always a he) scrambles away from fake gunshots in Home Alone, interrupts a classroom in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and delivers a fateful pizza in E.T.” 


AMASH FLIRTS WITH MICHIGAN SENATE RUN

Detroit News: “Former U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of west Michigan said Thursday he’s forming an exploratory committee as he mulls joining the Republican primary contest for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat. … ‘I’ve been humbled in recent weeks by the many people who have urged me to run for Senate in Michigan and to do so by joining the Republican primary,’ Amash wrote. … Amash’s joining the Senate GOP field would further crowd the race, which includes former U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers of Brighton and Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids [and] former Detroit Police Chief James Craig. … Amash represented the Grand Rapids area in Congress for 10 years and saw his national profile soar after he became the only Republican member of Congress to support Trump’s first impeachment.” 

Rosendale plans early March campaign launch: Washington Examiner: “Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) is eyeing a Montana Senate launch right before the March filing deadline, a move national Republicans fret could jeopardize a winnable seat. … This would change the outlook on the race as Senate Republicans already have their preferred candidate, Tim Sheehy, and view Rosendale as a liability, as he has already lost to Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) once before. … Even if Rosendale lost the primary, Sheehy would have to spend more money and take more attacks, potentially weakening him for a general election bid against Tester.”

Fetterman backs Kim over Murphy in New Jersey: New York Times: “Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania is endorsing Representative Andy Kim of New Jersey in the primary to unseat Senator Bob Menendez. … Mr. Kim, a three-term congressman representing a southern New Jersey district that former President Donald J. Trump won twice, is running for the seat against Tammy Murphy, the first lady of New Jersey and a first-time candidate who is a former registered Republican. Ms. Murphy has locked up much of the institutional support in a state where county leaders hold enormous power in primary campaigns but has struggled to gain grass-roots traction.”

Poll: Schiff builds lead, Garvey pulls into second: KTLA: “Democratic Representative Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) has expanded his lead while Republican hopeful Steve Garvey has climbed into second in the race to fill the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s U.S. Senate seat, according to the latest poll. … At 25%, Schiff’s support is almost double that of his closest Democratic challenger, Representative Katie Porter (D-Orange County), who is polling at 13%. … Porter has also dropped to third place behind Garvey. The former Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres slugger has been climbing in the polls of late.”

BRIEFLY

No Labels files suit over ballot access—CBS News

RFK Jr. gets creative with ballot push—New York Times

Arizona searches for remedies to slow vote counting—AZ Mirror

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine sides with trans candidates on ‘deadnaming’—Cleveland Plain Dealer

Rep. Nancy Mace could face former chief of staff in primary—Politico

WITHIN EARSHOT: WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING

“We always wanted to have a strong second. That’s the only expectation we ever laid out here.”— Gov. Chris Sununu lowers the bar for Nikki Haley’s performance in next week’s New Hampshire primary. 

“If she doesn’t get traction in New Hampshire, you don’t throw money down a rat hole.”—GOP mega-donor Ken Langone, who has endorsed Nikki Haley, tells the Financial Times that he’ll keep his powder dry until after the results of the New Hampshire primary. 


MAILBAG

“I just wanted to know your take on if Trump manages to win the 2024 election. I remember you discussing it with [Brother Jonah] on The Remnant a bit, but I was hoping you could elaborate on it a bit more. I think you believe that it will be damaging to the nation, but do you think that it will actually be the end of American democracy as we know it? Or do you believe that it will cause some damage to our institutions, but they will ultimately hold, just as they did during his first presidency? I personally am incredibly concerned about it, but I also tend to be rather cynical and pessimistic in general, and especially so with politics.”—Justin Bliley, Washington Court House, Ohio

Well, that depends on quite a lot, Mr. Bliley! First: How? Does Trump win easily in an election that all but a handful of Democrats acknowledge as legitimate? Does he win in a nail-biter full of allegations of electoral misconduct with many prominent Democrats casting his return to power as illegitimate? Does the matter end up at the Supreme Court, as it did 24 years ago? Is there violence during or after the contest? Then there’s the consideration of the circumstances under which he would attempt to govern. Do Republicans have a majority in either chamber of Congress? Both? If so, how large? Are we back to divided government and gridlock or does the new president have a chance to push through an agenda? How that shakes out would partly determine the next question: Who? Does Trump stock his Cabinet and top positions with loyalists from outside of the mainstream of politics, or is he forced to accept more typical Republican nominees and, of considerable interest, qualified and vetted members of the national security, law enforcement, and intelligence communities? We could guess at a lot of those things, but all that speculation would go back to the first question of how it would come to pass that Trump was returned to power. There is one danger that we know of, however. And that’s not about Trump, but about a country and a party that would reward with another term a person who tried to topple a legitimately elected successor. However that would come to pass, that would be a blinking red indicator on the dashboard of the republic. A voting public that is willing to accept that degree of anti-republicanism will surely get more of it.  


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes, and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the perspicacious Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


CUTLINE CONTEST: TENNESSEE TAILORED

Snow covers half the face of former President Abraham Lincoln's statue at the Iowa State Capitol building on January 9, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Snow covers half the face of former President Abraham Lincoln's statue at the Iowa State Capitol building on January 9, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A tough one this week! No one in the photo is speaking. Indeed, the picture illustrates stillness and inertia. On the plus side, bringing President Abraham Lincoln into the game opens up lots of new avenues for jokes, and Lord knows I am a sucker for 19th century political humor. Our winner managed to be dialed in to both the 1860s and the 2020s with cutline that pulls an, ahem, thread from Lincoln’s choice of a running mate in 1864 and that eventual successor’s inability to deal with the radical Republicans all the way up to the radicalism in today’s GOP. Best of all, he did it without any wasted words. A snug fit!

“I knew I shouldn’t have picked Johnson.”—Chris Debaillon, Rosenberg, Texas

Winner, Tainted Holster Division:

“Either Abe lost a snowball fight, or he’s developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms.”—Jack Funke, Poplar Bluff, Missouri 

Winner, News Snooze Division:

“After shoveling the driveway, Abe nods off during the debate.”—Linda McKee, Dubois, Pennsylvania

Winner, Avert Your Eyes Division:

“Trump vs. Biden again? I can’t watch this.”—Julie Parker, Denton, Texas

Winner, Sad Trombone Division:

“It’ll be a cold day in Hell before Donald Trump gets nominated for president by MY party!”—Brent Hall, Edina, Minnesota

Winner, Our American Cousin Division:

“Mr. Lincoln, are you sure you want to audition for the Phantom of the Opera? The last time you were in a theater, it didn’t go very well for you …”—Derek Lyttle, Chicago

Winner, Fact Checkers Division:

“Geez, I’m glad it was warm those three days I spent in Iowa in 1859!”—Cliff Painter, Wendell, North Carolina

Winner, Out Standing in His Field Division:

“Tragically, the NewsNation producer forgot to bring Chris Stirewalt inside after an Iowa caucus live-shot.”—Tripp Whitbeck, Arlington, Virginia


‘MAILBOX NUDIST’

Cowboy State Daily: “Sometimes, it’s not obvious a law is needed until a situation presents itself outlining a glaring hole. That’s exactly what’s happened in rural Crook County [Wyoming], where a nudist refuses to wear clothing in public when picking up his mail at a rural mailbox center. On one occasion, when asked to put on clothes, the man responded by bending over and spreading his buttocks, said House Majority Floor Leader state Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett. ‘It was full-on intimidation,’ Neiman said of the nudist’s response. ‘He’s using his nudity to intimidate his neighbors.’ … Neiman said the man also has a spouse who practices nudity, a lifestyle he said he has no problem with as long as it happens on their private property. … ‘Come on people, let’s act like grown-ups can we?’ he said.”

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.