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Stirewaltisms: A Weakened Trump Will Draw More Challenges 
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Stirewaltisms: A Weakened Trump Will Draw More Challenges 

But that does not necessarily mean a quick 2024 GOP primary.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)

I had been able to mostly avoid the pointless speculation about the upcoming Republican presidential nominating contest to this point by pointing out that we won’t know what the red team thinks about 2024 until we know what they think happened in 2022.

And here we are.

Note well that it’s a matter of perception, not empirical fact. Democrats in 2020 and Republicans in 2012 took the wrong lessons from largely unearned midterm wins the cycles beforehand and concluded that radicalism was popular, so we know it’s certainly possible. But so far, the party out of power seems to be learning the correct lesson from its midterm fizzle.

A trio of polls shows that Republicans are ready to move on from former President Donald Trump after his kooky preferred candidates and bad reputation with persuadable voters cost Republicans the Senate and maybe more than a dozen seats in the House. After Trump-fueled losses in 2018, 2020, and 2022, Republicans seem ready to finally kick the habit. 

But the polls that show big leads for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis do not indicate a short primary process or a quick, decisive end to Trump’s rule. Indeed, those polls aren’t really about DeSantis at all. They echo the same sentiment often heard over the past years from Republicans: It would be awfully nice to be done with Trump. While the hand-wringing commences again, though, Trump is seemingly unfazed. He’s bragging about his claim that he got people to spend $4.3 million this week on digital pictures of him dressed up like a soldier or a cartoon superhero. For a self-deluding solipsist, that’s got to hit way better than any poll.

But outside the Vaseline-lensed view from Mar-a-Lago, Republicans are getting serious about what to do with Trump, who these days looks like a sure loser, even against an unsteady President Biden, and a down-ballot disaster for the party. In the 2016 cycle, Trump had a massive advantage in being an unknown quantity. He is now the best known political figure in modern American history. Trump followed his surprise victory over the GOP primary field and then Hillary Clinton with some successes in office but mostly predictable chaos and defeat. There’s no rebooting Trump, and the results keep getting worse.

Certainly Florida Sen. Rick Scott, whose debacle of an effort at MAGA fusionism as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee got shredded like a January credit card statement, got the message. He dropped out of the 2024 pre-primary the day after the Georgia runoff, the final Republican Senate loss of the 2022 midterm cycle. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton has also bowed out. But the field is looking pretty crowded already.

Former Vice President Mike Pence has found brisk sales of his book to be “a great source of encouragement” as he considers whether to run for president. Or what about Glenn Youngkin? Or Tim Scott? Maybe Larry Hogan, or Nikki Haley, or Mike Pompeo, or Ted Cruz, or… you get the idea.

The Wall Street Journal poll is particularly instructive on this thinking: In hypothetical one-on-one matchups of Trump vs. DeSantis and Trump vs. Pence, DeSantis would beat Trump by 14 points, but Trump would beat Pence by 35 points. 

But no such matchups will ever occur. As Cruz and John Kasich taught Republicans in 2016, the imagained one-on-one confrontation never really comes to be—or at least not for the insurgents. GOPers remember the 2000 primaries as a duel between George W. Bush and John McCain, but Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes were part of the story, too. 

Even in the COVID-compromised 2020 Democratic nominating process that was marked by rapid field-clearing for frail frontrunner Biden, the mano-a-mano showdown with Bernie Sanders didn’t come until after 20 contests had been completed. 

Trump should still be seen as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. He’s nothing like the prohibitive favorite he was when running for re-election, but he’s still famous, funded, and feared. Right now, many Republicans are hoping that Trump can be made to go away under similarly self-deceiving scenarios that have plagued the party since before the Cruz-Kasich goofball routine of 2016. Trump may be the MAGA Jeb Bush, but don’t forget that it took two years and lots of trouble to finally force Bush out of the race. Being a weak candidate and an easy candidate to get rid of are two very different things.

The weaker Trump looks, the more attractive it will be for Republicans to challenge him. The more Republicans who challenge him, the easier it will be for Trump to remain the frontrunner. Trump’s base is, as it always has been, tall but narrow. His followers are the kinds of people who will pay $99 for a picture of Trump shooting lasers out of his eyes. I don’t know if DeSantis could get that for the chance for people to see him do it for real. 

Trump could not clear the field for himself, and neither can DeSantis—nor can any of his powerful backers. The race will have to be run. It will be messy, it will be expensive, and it will go on for far too long. I suspect there will be many lead changes and many boomlets along the way. And I know for sure that Trump, barring obvious exceptions of health and the criminal justice system,  will have to be beaten, and not made to go away. In a field with even eight or nine contenders, a quarter of the Republican electorate is plenty to remain in front.

Republicans have drawn the correct conclusion about Trump and the midterms, but their work is only just beginning.


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: 42.4%
Average disapproval: 52.6%
Net score: -10.2 points                            
Change from one week ago: ↑ 4.0 points                                    
Change from one month ago: ↑ 3.2 points

[Average includes: Wall Street Journal: 42% approve-56% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 45% approve, 52% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 43% approve-49% disapprove; Monmouth: 43% approve-50% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 39% approve-56% disapprove] 

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: QUANTUM COMPUTING’S BATTLE FOR THE FUTURE 

The New Yorker: “Most online communications, including financial transactions and popular text-messaging platforms, are protected by cryptographic keys that would take a conventional computer millions of years to decipher. A working quantum computer could presumably crack one in less than a day. That is only the beginning. … ‘The impact of quantum computing is going to be more profound than any technology to date,’ Jeremy O’Brien, the C.E.O. of the startup PsiQuantum, said. First, though, the engineers have to get it to work. … Still, in anticipation of the day that security experts call Y2Q , the protocols that safeguard text messaging, e-mail, medical records, and financial transactions must be torn out and replaced. … In anticipation of Y2Q , spy agencies are warehousing encrypted Internet traffic, hoping to read it in the near future. … Within a decade or two, most communications from this era will likely be exposed.”


GOP VS. MAGA IN PROXY WAR AT RNC

New York Times: “As anger and frustration ripple through the Republican Party over its underwhelming performance in this year’s midterm elections, Republicans are offering a number of explanations for their losses. … Some in the Trump wing of the party have settled on their own scapegoat: Ronna McDaniel, who has been the chair of the Republican National Committee since 2017. … The latest challenger to McDaniel emerged last week: Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer and committee member from California who was co-chair of the group Lawyers for Trump in 2020. … Dhillon already has the backing of powerful voices on the right, including Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, the Fox News hosts, as well as the executive committees of state parties in Arizona, Tennessee and Texas. …. Dhillon’s tactics have mobilized and infuriated McDaniel’s allies inside the R.N.C.”

How Kari Lake’s blinders lost a winnable race: Washington Post: “‘She would never break frame,’ said a fellow Republican who spoke with Kari Lake about her refusal to acknowledge Trump’s defeat. ‘She’d sort of look at you with a puzzled face and be like, ‘“But the election was stolen in 2020.”’ … Interviews, internal documents and voting data point to the reasons behind her defeat: The candidate, so focused on parroting Trump and settling personal scores, failed to execute on a plan to court the independents and centrist Republicans who decide elections in Arizona, once a red state that now gleams purple. … Rather than concede, as other major election deniers who lost in 2022 have done, she has pointed to problems with printers in Maricopa County. … Lake last week filed a lawsuit seeking an order allowing her to inspect 1.5 million ballots in Maricopa County and declaring her the winner of the election, among other demands.”

McCarthy herds the far right as speaker vote nears: New York Times: “Mr. McCarthy, who is toiling to become speaker next year when the G.O.P. assumes the majority, has so far been unable to put down a mini-revolt on the right that threatens to imperil his bid for the top job. … [S]ome of the hard-right lawmakers with whom he is attempting to bargain do not appear to have a price, and most care less about legislating than shrinking the federal government — or upending it completely. … Their top demand has been that Mr. McCarthy agree in advance to a snap vote to get rid of the speaker at any time, something he has refused to accept. … The California Republican has already made a series of pledges in an effort to appease the right flank of his party. … He promised [Marjorie Taylor Greene], a plum spot on the Oversight Committee.”


THE LONG, SLOW DEATH OF IOWA’S DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS

Des Moines Register: “Through a combination of luck, grit and political inertia, Iowa has held the leadoff role in the presidential nominating process for five decades — a role that has come to define the very identity of the state and many of its inhabitants. … And in 2020, the free world itself seemed to hang in the balance for Iowa Democrats who were determined to unseat Republican President Donald Trump. … [But] for years, a growing chorus of voices had said Iowa was no longer up to this herculean task of leading off presidential voting: that not only did the state fail to represent the increasingly diverse face of the Democratic Party, but that the caucus framework itself actively undermined the party’s highest ideals of inclusion. … Frustration boiled over at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago when party leaders ignored popular support for anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy and instead nominated Hubert Humphrey, who hadn’t won a single primary. Demand for change followed, and states were instructed to adopt reforms.”

Raffensperger backs ditching Georgia runoffs: Washington Post: “Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) has come out in favor of changing the state’s current runoff system, which requires the top two candidates to run again if nobody gets a majority of the vote. And the timing is certainly conspicuous. That’s because Republicans have just come off yet another loss in a crucial Senate runoff — their third in the past two years. … What is evident is that runoffs aren’t as favorable for the GOP as they once were. In 10 Georgia runoffs held between 1992 and 2018, Republicans won nine of 10 races and improved their vote shares in eight of the 10 races. … Raffensperger has said his recommendation was motivated by the burden that this system places on election officials. … Among the ideas Raffensperger has floated are expanding early-voting locations, lowering the threshold back down to 45 percent or adopting ranked-choice voting.”

GOP delights at mid-decade redraw in North Carolina: Elections Daily: “Republicans are hoping for mid-decade redistricting gains in a handful of states – North Carolina among them. And they won’t even need a favorable ruling in Moore v. Harper to do it. … The current interim congressional map is just that: a map that only exists for one election. The map that the court-appointed special masters produced — which yielded a 7-7 partisan split — must now be replaced by a map to last the rest of the decade. And the expanded Republican legislature, without a veto or court to push back, seems poised to eliminate all but a handful of Democratic districts. … Republicans are all but certain to draw out three Democrats, and perhaps a fourth. Democrats Kathy Manning (NC-06), Jeff Jackson (NC-14), and Wiley Nickel (NC-13) will face virtually insurmountable odds in 2024 — and Don Davis (NC-01) is likely to be on the chopping block as well.”

BRIEFLY

After recount, Lauren Boebert emerges victorious by 546 votes—Denver Post

Outgoing Gov. Charlie Baker tapped to lead NCAA—ESPN

Dem Rep. Ruben Gallego plans 2024 Senate bid against Kyrsten SinemaCBS News

WITHIN EARSHOT: THAT WAS THEN EDITION

“He’s a shame to Democrats. I don’t even know why he’s running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him—what kind of strategy is that? He’s just pathetic.”— Kyrsten Sinema, in 2003 talking to the Hartford Courant about why she came out to protest then-Senator Joe Lieberman on his Tucson campaign visit for his ill-fated quest for his party’s presidential nomination despite support for the Iraq war.


MAILBAG

“As a Canadian, I don’t understand the big deal with which state goes first in the primary.  While I can see strategy changing as a result, I don’t see the net benefit to anyone by upsetting the apple cart.  What am I missing?”—Dave Kilborn, Saskatchewan, Canada

While I certainly don’t wish the American system was a parliamentary one, you commonwealthers certainly have us beat on candidate selection. While your two parties choose national leaders from among elected members of Parliament, Democrats and Republicans here have fallen into a preposterous system that is at the same time more democratic but less representative than yours. Early-voting states have disproportionate influence on the outcomes because of momentum and winnowing effects. The field that gets to West Virginia in May is very different from the one that arrived in New Hampshire in January. The electorate is different, too. And I don’t just mean that the differing demographics and cultures of the states result in different candidate preferences, but that the overall electorates of the parties nationally change over time. While early states might feel free to indulge themselves in a little Buttigieg or a Newt nibble, as time goes on, voters feel the pressure to pick the winner and consolidate ahead of the general election. The calendar shapes the race in significant ways. We could learn something from Canada on this one, for sure. 

“‘Republicans rightly laid losses in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Arizona—and thereby the missed Senate majority—squarely at Trump’s feet.’ Absolutely right!  Perhaps you could add Nevada to the list, making Trump’s record 1-5. But then, in all fairness, perhaps you should also include North Carolina, so 2-5.  Still terrible, and probably unprecedented for any ex-president.  Republicans need to understand this better. Better still would be if they could adopt some sort of rank-choice voting in the 2024 primary, so Trump can’t win with a puny plurality as he did in 2016. Previously unpopular ex-presidents have at last had the good sense to ‘go away quietly’; think LBJ, Nixon (more or less) and Carter (and maybe even Truman, although I was too young then to notice).  And however much there was (and still is) to despise about the Carter presidency, he has been an absolute model ex-president that all should seek to emulate. I am not holding my breath for Trump.”—Tom Terwilliger, Cincinnati, Ohio

I think that flight on the Trump Shuttle pulled away from the gate long ago, Mr. Terwilliger. We revere George Washington for his leadership, courage, decency, and wisdom—but also for his leaving. The American Cincinnatus’ example has fallen far out of favor since George W. Bush’s return to private life almost 14 years ago. As for  the win and loss record, I don’t think Trump deserves much of the blame for Nevada or the credit in North Carolina. Both of those were mainstream kinds of nominees who had already attained high elected office. Ted Budd and Adam Laxalt benefitted in their primaries because of their support for Trump, but both had plenty of support outside of MAGA world and it’s easy to see how either might have won without Trump. In Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Georgia, Ohio, and Arizona, Trump asked voters to support unusual candidates who had never run for office and only one survived the general election, and each seat would have been very winnable for a conventional candidate.

“A while ago I won one of the cutline contests, and the prize was an Alf Landon campaign button. I wore it this week when my AP US Government class discussed the 1936 Literary Digest poll. Students were duly impressed. One guessed that I had spent at least $2,000 on EBay to snag such a treasure. Thanks again.”—Chris Lee, Corvallis, Oregon

While I am not at liberty to disclose my black budget for our prizes, let it just be said that you must be teaching history right if your students so highly esteem Landon and the value of his geegaws!


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


CUTLINE CONTEST: CHUCKLES

 U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.)
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.)


We’ve had back-to-back weeks of politicians with perturbed political punims; first with former President Barack Obama and now with Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Our winner this week matched the congressional countenance and added the geographical and biographical nuances to make it to the finish line.

Winner:
“Gawd, I’d rather be iron-manning in the desert than listening to Schumer!”—Ron Smith, Larned, Kansas

Winner, ‘All About Eve’ Division:
“Fasten your seatbelt—it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”—Karen Beach, San Jose, California

And please note: We will not be publishing the final week of the year, so this is the last week for the December contest. Take a break from panic buying and get your submissions in today!

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants 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!


SHOP STEWARD FOR ELVES LOCAL 152 

NPR: “It turns out that Santa might actually *not* be coming to town. Or, at least, it may be harder to book him than it was in Christmases past. And, no, it’s not because kids have been naughty this year. Instead, you can blame the Ghost of Economy Present. … Mitch Allen is the founder — and self-described “Head Elf” — of HireSanta.com, one of the world’s largest staffing agencies for holiday entertainers. … His company has seen a 125 percent increase in demand for Santa compared to holiday seasons before the pandemic. … But while demand for Santa has surged, the supply of Santas remains depressed. ‘The pandemic was particularly hard on the Santa Claus community,’ Allen says. Stephen Arnold is a professional Santa Claus and the president of the International Brotherhood of Real-Bearded Santas (IBRBS). And, yes, this is a real organization. … Part of the issue is that many people demand real-bearded Santas, as opposed to faux-bearded ones. … In case you were wondering, the International Brotherhood of Real-Bearded Santas has gotten more inclusive and does ‘now allow faux-bearded Santas to join as associates.’”

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new 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.