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It’s the Hope That Kills You
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It’s the Hope That Kills You

Republicans are setting themselves up for a crisis of overconfidence.

Former President Donald Trump briefly dances after speaking at the Turning Point Action conference on July 15, 2023, in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Republican Party is simmering ratatouille of fratricidal resentments. 

When members of the Republican-controlled House are jonesing for a government shutdown to punish their own leadership and the party’s presidential candidates on the debate stage sound like panelists on The Morton Downey Jr. Show, it doesn’t just speak to the ugliness of politics today. It shows just how deep the divisions are in the GOP.

Look at it this way: President Joe Biden is very unpopular among the members of his own party for an incumbent. Just 82 percent of Democrats in a recent poll said they would support him if he was their nominee in a general election. To even be competitive in November 2024, that number would probably need to be above 90 percent. 

But President Donald Trump’s number is only 74 percent among Republicans, 20 points worse than his performance in the 2020 election. If we look at Trump as an incumbent, which is how the race has shaped up, he makes Biden look like Ronald Reagan in 1984.

In the case of both Trump and Biden, those numbers would drift upward when partisans were forced into a choice, but Republicans are starting from a substantially worse baseline. If Trump does cruise to the nomination, it will be extraordinarily hard for him to keep his coalition together. The quarter of the GOP that is opposed to him didn’t get there overnight, and they already know what the likely alternative is.

But the same would be true if Republicans found a way around Trump in the nominating process. If you think the traditional conservatives bear a grudge against Trump, just imagine what the MAGA community would think about any pretender who usurped his divine right to a third-straight nomination.

Democrats hate Trump, but Republicans hate Biden and the other side of their own party. When you see the venom between the members of the House Republican Conference, they are fulfilling their job description: representative. These warring tribes aren’t just acting out of personal animus. They are giving their primary voters what they want. Their failure to unite is in the political self-interest of the members.

There are lots of cultural and ideological explanations for the GOP civil war, a conflict that stretches back to the 1950s and beyond. But it is also born of a profound overconfidence.

Two years ago, Republicans were looking forward to a year in which they would surf a red tsunami in midterm elections. High inflation, overreach by the party in power, and a foreign policy debacle had set the stage for the kind of thumping that incumbents’ parties had taken in 1982, 1994, 2010, and 2018. It wasn’t whether Republicans were going to crush Democrats, it was by how much and which Republicans would be rewarded.

Fortified like NFL fans looking for a brawl, Republicans drunk on confidence plowed into their primary season ready for the rough stuff. What they ended up with was a divided party, a bunch of low-quality candidates, and a fizzle in November. Sure, Trump was the one who was often pushing the bad candidates, but he couldn’t have found such success getting his oddballs nominated without a primary electorate that felt sure they couldn’t lose.

It looks like the trend is repeating for the coming election.

When Republicans drool over polls showing the incumbent getting thrashed in a rematch with Trump they become less willing to compromise with each other. If you feel certain of a general election victory, why bother with compromise or consensus now? If you think Biden can’t win, why not spend time punishing your intra-party enemies now? 

They’re spending their 2024 victory before they get the check.

Incumbents with serious primary challengers—Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush—have had serious problems in the past. Not because of the challengers themselves, but because of the divisions those candidates represent. Democrats are depressed about Biden, to be sure. But they’re not divided. That an incumbent so feeble has not drawn a single serious challenger is remarkable itself.

But if Trump is correctly seen as an incumbent seeking renomination, he is the weakest one in modern history, with a quarter of his party not only set on opposing him now but unready to back him in another round with Biden.

Overconfidence kills in politics because it invites lazy, petty, indulgent behavior. Looking at the  brawl in Washington and on the debate stage, I see a Republican Party with a very bad case of  overconfidence, indeed. 


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: 41.4%
Average disapproval: 53.2%
Net score: -11.8 points 

Change from one week ago: ↑ 1.8 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↓ 0.4 points

[Average includes: Monmouth: 39% approve-55% disapprove; NewsNation: 43% approve-57% disapprove; Emerson: 41% approve-47% disapprove; Yahoo News: 42% approve-55% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 42% approve-52% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: ONCE IN A LIFETIME

From writer Alan Siegel, we are blessed with a recounting by The Talking Heads of the creation of the 1984 concert film, Stop Making Sense, in honor of its recent re-release. Read it all at The Ringer: “David Byrne is showing me why a lamp isn’t usually a good dance partner. ‘A normal floor lamp is meant to go alongside a chair,’ he says, springing up and placing his hand on an imaginary object level with his seat. ‘So it would be about that high off the ground, which, if you’re standing, that’s not a good place for illumination of your face.’ Then he points above his head. ‘We want it to be about here. So we had to artificially extend the lamp to still have it look like a floor lamp.’ Talking Heads guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison, who’s been watching this demonstration from across a marble table in an airy Los Angeles conference room, smiles and then distills his old bandmate’s explanation: ‘A floor lamp for Shaq.’”


SENATE VACANCY PUTS HEAT ON NEWSOM 

New York Times: “The death of Senator Dianne Feinstein has put Governor Gavin Newsom of California under immediate pressure to name a replacement, especially given the narrow advantage that Democrats have in the Senate. Under California state law, the governor has the authority to name a successor. Governor Newsom, a Democrat, said more than two years ago that he would name a Black woman to the post should a vacancy arise. Representative Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Oakland and a Black woman, is among several candidates running in the 2024 race to succeed Senator Feinstein. But Governor Newsom said earlier this month that he would not appoint Ms. Lee to a vacant seat if Senator Feinstein were to die in office.”

Menendez makes trouble for Dems: Politico: “[Sen. Robert Menendez’s] refusal to step down despite a scathing federal corruption indictment—which could land him in prison for decades—is making New Jersey Democrats up for reelection next month jittery. If Menendez runs again in 2024 and survives the Democratic primary, Republicans would have their best shot in 52 years at winning a Senate seat in the blue state, forcing his party to invest millions into defending what should be a safe seat. … And as Democrats try to exploit former President Donald Trump’s own legal troubles, including four separate indictments, the case against Menendez risks muddying their messaging—and could drag down the electoral prospects of other Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden. … In a little over a month, all 120 seats in the New Jersey Legislature are up. … Republicans are already trying to capitalize on the indictment.”

Kim launches primary challenge: Cook Political Report: “New Jersey’s bountiful bench of aspiring Democrats has little interest in waiting for [Sen. Menendez’s] defense to make its way through the courts. Last week, 3rd District Rep. Andy Kim announced that he would run for the Senate. … He’s not alone: 2nd District GOP Rep. Jeff Van Drew has publicly floated the possibility of a bid, and at least three other Democrats are expected to give it serious consideration. … It’s possible that the Garden State ends up playing host to a multi-seat shuffle. That’s to say nothing of the fate of 8th District Rep. Rob Menendez, the son of Sen. Menendez, whose career could end up as collateral damage from his father’s imploding reputation. And if that wasn’t enough, another epic showdown is all but guaranteed in the Republican-held 7th District—a top target in Democrats’ hunt for the House majority.

Lake readies run in what may be gift to Sinema: Wall Street Journal: “Kari Lake, the former local TV news anchor turned conservative darling who is still contesting the results of her 2022 loss for governor, told The Wall Street Journal she will launch her next campaign at an Oct. 10 rally. … The race looks likely to be a three-way matchup between the Republican Lake, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego and [Sen. Kyrsten Sinema], who now identifies as an independent. … Lake is expected to win the GOP nomination for Senate, and her aides say they are already looking ahead to a general election. … Blake Masters, who lost his bid to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly (D., Ariz.) last cycle, had been moving forward with a run. … However, he put those plans on hold after Trump called him and walked through Lake’s strengths in a GOP primary.” 

McCormick makes it official in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Inquirer: “Dave McCormick, 57, a former hedge fund executive who lost a grueling and expensive primary to celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz last year, enters the race with more robust GOP backing but similar challenges to his last run. … He hopes to unseat [Sen. Bob Casey], who has been in the Senate since 2006 and held statewide public office for the last 26 years. … McCormick has no primary challengers so far and the bulk of the Pennsylvania Republican Party united behind him.”

HALEY ON COLLISION COURSE WITH DESANTIS 

NBC News: “For months, Nikki Haley campaigned in relative obscurity. But after two debates in which the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations hammered her top-billed rivals while leaving virtually unscathed herself, and a summer in which her national and early-state polling improved while opponents stagnated, a growing number of Republicans see her entering a two-person contest with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for second place, as each seeks to be the leading alternative to former President Donald Trump heading into the early states this winter. Even before the next debate in November, the campaigns are set to go head-to-head: A collective of major Republican donors, known as the American Opportunity Alliance, is summoning representatives from both the DeSantis and Haley campaigns to Dallas on Oct. 13 to make presentations about why the deep-pocketed donor group should back them as the main Trump alternative in the GOP race.”

Yet others thirst for Youngkin: Washington Post: “Some of the biggest Republican donors in the country will converge next month at the historic Cavalier Hotel in Virginia Beach for a two-day meeting to rally behind Gov. Glenn Youngkin. The closed gathering, named the ‘Red Vest Retreat’ after the fleece Youngkin wore during his 2021 campaign, will begin Oct. 17 and be focused, officially, on the Republican effort to win full control of the General Assembly in Virginia’s upcoming elections. But unofficially, several donors [say] it will be an opportunity for them to try to push, if not shove, Youngkin into the Republican presidential race. Others say they will be busy prodding Youngkin and his allies in phone calls from afar. ‘He appears to be leaving the door open,’ Thomas Peterffy, a billionaire who has already given millions of dollars to Youngkin’s PAC [said].” 

Buuuuutttt … The Dispatch: “A looming shutdown of the federal government driven by Republicans in the House of Representatives threatens to derail Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s ambitious campaign to consolidate power in the Virginia General Assembly.”

Aaaannndd … New York Times: “A well-funded group of anti-Trump conservatives has sent its donors a remarkably candid memo that reveals how resilient former President Donald J. Trump has been against millions of dollars of negative ads the group deployed against him in two early-voting states. … But in the memo—dated Thursday and obtained by The New York Times—the head of Win It Back PAC, David McIntosh, acknowledges to donors that after extensive testing of more than 40 anti-Trump television ads, ‘all attempts to undermine his conservative credentials on specific issues were ineffective.’”

BRIEFLY

SCOTUS rejects GOP’s last ditch districting effort in Alabama—Politico

Even in ruby-red Kentucky, Dems rely on abortion messaging—Politico

Pennsylvania poll: Shapiro, Casey remain popular; Biden stuck underwater—ABC

WITHIN EARSHOT: DROP IT LIKE IT’S WARM TO THE TOUCH 

“I know I’m messing with a fatal heat/And I should walk away and let it be/But we lightin’ sparks with our energy”—The bridge from the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s new firework-safety song “Going Off Like Fireworks,” a lead track from their teen-oriented album about household and road safety. 


MAILBAG

“From my [point of view], there are many Republicans who are not Trumpists. … Why can’t the Republican Party, given that Trump has refused to participate in the debates which are by design a sorting of possible candidates, tell Trump to start his own party, but he’s not welcome to run as a Republican … if he won’t play by the rules?”—Margie Rikert, Portland, Oregon

Not to be flip, Ms. Rikert, but what Republican Party? Since the birth of the two-party system as we know it 200 years ago, the normal way of things has been for parties to defer to their presidential nominees and, if they succeed, presidents of their own party. With some notable exceptions, that’s been the norm. But as the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee have hollowed out in the age of primary elections, nationalized politics, and campaign finance laws designed to weaken parties, that normal deference has turned into a kind of zombification. With a president in power, the parties act as extensions of the man himself—note the ease with which then-President Trump brushed aside party rules in 2020 or how President Biden was able to rewrite his party’s primary calendar this cycle. Without a president, the parties stagger on, waiting for the next boss. Trump’s ability to hog-tie his party is emblematic of the dilemma. If the party exists primarily to serve the president, what happens when the former president won’t leave? The hard reality for many lifelong Republicans to face is that at this moment, Trump is their party. If anyone is going to leave the GOP, I think it is much more likely that it will be anti-MAGA Republicans, not the boss. Trump’s advantage is like that of true incumbents in the past: They’re free to leave, but where would they go?


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 natty Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


CUTLINE CONTEST: MANY CORINTHIANS ARE SAYING 

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Pray Vote Stand Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on September 15, 2023, in Washington, D.C.(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Pray Vote Stand Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on September 15, 2023, in Washington, D.C.(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump’s speaking style, like that of his successor, President Biden, relies on tonal juxtaposition. They speak VERY LOUDLY and then shift to faint whispers, as if they were confiding in their audiences. One of Trump’s preferred versions of this is a kind of wistfulness, as if he were suddenly struck by something profound. Those are so funny because often what he’s saying is obvious or banal. Our winner this week, and the final entrant in the September Cutline Contest, perfectly read Trump’s expression and the setting in the photo above, and in just 11 words gave us the essence of Trump’s soap-operatic style.

Kim and I sent epistles—beautiful epistles.  Which are letters, really.”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania

Winner, Peace Through Strength Division: 

“Russia never would have invaded Prayvoteistan if I was the president. I could solve that in 24 hours.”—Chris Lee, Corvallis, Oregon

Winner, Westphalian Division:

“Catholics and Protestants have been fighting for 500 years. But within 24 hours, I’ll make a deal to end the war. BOTH SIDES will LOVE it.”—Edward Grant, Arlington, Virginia

Winner, Vetoed Division:

“I’m here to inform you that your prayers have been denied.”—Robert Zoch, Bayonne, New Jersey

Winner, Bless This Mess Division:

“Meanwhile, Governor DeSantis addressed a mostly empty room at the ‘Live Laugh Love Summit’ presented by HomeGoods”—Bryan Kohan, Raleigh, North Carolina

Winner, James Austin Johnson Division:

“’Pray Vote Stand.’ Not quite ‘Eat Pray Love.’ The movie had Julia Roberts … so overrated.”—Tripp Whitbeck, Arlington, Virginia

Which brings us to our September winner! The prize goes to reader Brett Houseman of Vista, California, who offered the following for a picture of a schtum Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: “Hang on, did you say they’re televising the Georgia trial?” Please email us with your address, Mr. Houseman, so we can send you your prize: A copy of the August 16, 1995, New York Post featuring a front-page headline about the latest courtroom drama from the murder trial of O.J. Simpson and its camera-craving judge, Lance Ito: “Is Ito Finito?”

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the best entrants for each week and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!


NOW SHE’S READY TO RUN FOR CONGRESS 

USA Today: “A woman was rescued from an awkward situation by first responders after bystanders heard her yelling for help. First responders were called to the Dixon Lake boat launch on Tuesday morning after a woman was heard screaming for help, Michigan State Police said in a statement. When they arrived at the scene, they found the woman stuck inside an outhouse toilet. The woman told authorities she had dropped her Apple Watch in the toilet and lowered herself inside in an attempt to retrieve it when she got stuck and could not get out. Authorities removed the toilet, and a strap was used to pull the woman out to safety… The woman had managed to retrieve her watch before her rescue and was not injured. … Authorities have advised the public to refrain from venturing inside the containment area to retrieve lost items as serious injury could occur.”

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. 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.