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Trump Raises the Rent on Republicans
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Trump Raises the Rent on Republicans

He’s back in fighting form, and party members are rushing to clean up after him.

Former President Donald Trump drives a golf cart at the Trump Turnberry Golf Courses in Scotland on May 2, 2023. (Photo by Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images)

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about how members of the Republican establishment were talking themselves into lying down for Donald Trump in his bid for a third GOP presidential nomination.

The thinking behind decisions like those of National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Steve Daines or South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster to fall in line for Trump seems pretty obvious. If you fight Trump, it will be messy and he will probably end up winning the nomination anyway. Watching the springtime struggles of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his pre-candidacy phase only seemed to confirm that. And, in the likely event that he loses again in the general election, Trump will finally be finished.

But this line of thinking is lately complicated by a couple of factors.

First, Trump might actually win the White House again. The recent polling that shows President Joe Biden starting his reelection campaign with a substantial deficit to Trump in a head-to-head matchup certainly caused a stir among Democrats. But it got wide notice among Republican insiders, too, and not in a good way.

What if Biden’s age and feebleness is similarly disqualifying to swing voters as Trump’s chaos and corruption? What if the race is cast as between one between a coot and a crook and voters chose the crook? What if Trump is returned to power, vindicated in his efforts to steal a second term and beyond the reach of voters for four years?

As North Dakota Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer said of the potential for a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024: “It’s the damnedest thing, but a race to the bottom does produce a winner.”

Hot on the heels of the bad poll for Biden came a double whammy for Republicans looking for an easy way out of the Trump trap. First, a New York jury found him liable  in a high-profile sexual abuse lawsuit, and CNN offered Trump a prime-time platform in early primary state New Hampshire. Trump strutted and mugged his way through the show to the delight of his fans in the crowd, turning the strenuous efforts of the moderator to impose some kind of factual framework on the session into a prop for his we-hate-the-liberal-media act.

This week was a reminder for Republicans of the problem with lying down in front of the stampede: You still have to go through the trampling.

If Trump was back in his old fighting form, congressional Republicans were back in their old roles too: a broom and shovel brigade cleaning up behind him.

“I say to the Republicans out there—congressmen, senators—if they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re gonna have to default,” Trump said before going on to minimize the potential consequences of such an event.

That’s pretty tough talk for a guy who presided over a $1 trillion deficit before the pandemic spending spree started. But it also increased the misery index for Republicans trying to keep their conferences together. Back to their brooms they went, trying to clean up his mess.

As they did, they were given a foretaste of what the next year-and-a-half would bring with Trump rolling along as the presumptive nominee. Giving up to Trump without a fight means having to resume their roles as surrogates and apologists or risk getting a beating from Trump anyway.

Indiana Sen. Todd Young made no bones about his opposition to Trump the day after the town hall. Asked to list his reasons, Young replied, “Where do I begin?” And others may soon be so emboldened.

If the point of lying down is to avoid the fight, including Trump pushing another raft of low-quality Senate candidates in key races, how does it look if it’s not a one-time decision but a daily struggle? What if, like Mike Pence, you do everything you can to serve Trump and he still ends up sending a murderous mob after you?

If you have to take a beating either way, there’s got to be some appeal to starting on your own two feet instead of flat on your back.


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: 41.6%
Average disapproval: 54.4%
Net score: -12.8 points 

Change from one week ago: ↓ 1.2 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↓ 0.2 points

[Average includes: ABC News/Washington Post: 37% approve-56% disapprove; Fox News: 44% approve-55% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 43% approve-50% disapprove; CBS News: 43% approve-57% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 41% approve-54% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: TURNING BACK THE CLOCK

George F. Will, rightly esteemed for his deep knowledge and appreciation of baseball (especially for a Cubs fan), offers an appreciation for the unexpected success of the pitch clock: “Even if, inexplicably, you are not a fan, pause to appreciate Major League Baseball’s solutions to the problems caused, paradoxically, by everyone in the game behaving reasonably on the basis of accurate data. … Stuffed to the gills with ‘analytics’… baseball sagged into longer nine-inning games — 3 hours and 5 minutes on average last season. … It seemed sensible to try to score with one mighty home-run swing than by stringing together hits. So, soon there were seasons with thousands more strikeouts than hits. As games lengthened, action became rarer. … Major League Baseball’s solution this season? Change some rules, beginning with adding a pitch clock. … In this season’s first 383 games, scoring was up over this point in the 2022 season. The average nine-inning game took only 2 hours and 36 minutes. … Baseball has revived itself by remembering something that is encoded in America’s DNA, something that has been intensified by life lived at digital speed: impatience.”


DESANTIS PAC REBRANDS IN CLEAR SIGN OF COMING CAMPAIGN

Politico: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis severed his connection to his long-standing state political committee and the tens of millions of dollars that it now controls, a step he needs to take ahead of a presidential campaign. … [T]he move to rebrand his Florida political committee — called Friends of Ron DeSantis — is the most concrete sign so far that his candidacy is imminent. … Current campaign finance records show that the committee has nearly $86 million in the bank. … That money could be shifted to a super PAC that backs DeSantis if the governor is no longer connected to the political committee. … This step comes as DeSantis ratchets up plans to start stumping for his White House bid.”

DeSantis allies plan Super Tuesday hiring spree: Associated Press: “The super PAC promoting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to have dozens of staff in place in the first 18 states on the Republican presidential primary calendar in the coming weeks. … The plans are part of the group Never Back Down’s strategy to begin political organizing for DeSantis all the way through Super Tuesday on March 5 and point to a novel approach the super PAC is attempting. … In Iowa, where the leadoff GOP caucuses are expected to begin the 2024 voting, the group has placed about a half-dozen staff, including the former chief of staff to Gov. Kim Reynolds. … The concept has been tried in previous election cycles, though less ambitiously and with little success.”

Drucker: DeSantis donor drama exaggerated: The Dispatch: “The Florida governor’s sagging presidential poll numbers, and Trump’s increasingly commanding lead, have led to countless stories about the Florida governor’s evaporating support from major Republican benefactors. Donors and consultants connected to them tell The Dispatch those reports are ‘overblown’—though they acknowledge that some are scaling back contributions or hitting pause on more giving. … And they’re comfortable waiting until the governor jumps into the race before deciding whether he’s a good investment. … Policy differences persist too. Many benefactors liked DeSantis despite, not because of, his cultural populism. … ‘People that liked DeSantis early on still like DeSantis,’ [GOP donor Bill] Stern said. ‘Until the governor announces and is in the race and gets out there and starts campaigning, you can’t judge.’”

Trump, Pence, DeSantis to headline North Carolina GOP convention: North State Journal: “The North Carolina Republican Party’s annual convention will see a trio of likely Republican presidential candidates make their case to win the party’s nomination in 2024. … The convention, which is taking place in Greensboro, is expected to be the first event in which both Trump and DeSantis appear in person. … According to the party’s convention schedule, DeSantis will speak at a Friday night dinner. Pence is scheduled to speak during a Saturday luncheon event and Trump is that night’s headliner. The party’s convention will take place June 8-11…”

Cheney bashes Trump in New Hampshire spot: NBC News: “Liz Cheney isn’t a presidential candidate — at least not yet. But the former Wyoming congresswoman launched her first TV ad of the 2024 election cycle in New Hampshire on Tuesday, warning voters of the ‘risk’ of a second Donald Trump presidency. … Airing in New Hampshire, the first GOP primary state, the ad [coincided] with the former president’s televised town hall on Wednesday at Saint Anselm College, just outside of Manchester.”

MANCHIN HINTS AT INDEPENDENT BID

Axios: “Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) may not have announced that he’s running as a third-party candidate for president. But he’s acting like it. Manchin took time from his busy Senate schedule to tell a gathering of Iowa business and community leaders Wednesday in D.C. that he’s ‘fiscally responsible and socially compassionate’ — another hint that he’s considering a potential third-party presidential bid. … ‘When people say, What’s your politics? I say I’m fiscally responsible and socially compassionate, which I think most Americans are,’ he said… The group No Labels is raising money to build a presidential launchpad for a bipartisan ticket, with plans for their own nominating convention in Dallas in April 2024…”

Meanwhile … GOP fears more Manchin magic in West Virginia: Politico: “Republicans’ best option for unseating Sen. Joe Manchin: Pray that he retires first. … Republicans still see the contest against him as treacherous. Manchin is a West Virginia institution who has repeatedly defied the odds in a deep-red state. … A GOP group tied to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell launched a $2 million ad campaign bashing Manchin a year and a half before the election. … National Republican leaders have recruited popular Gov. Jim Justice to run for Manchin’s seat. … [But] there’s no sugar-coating the dire position in which Manchin finds himself. After Democrats dominated West Virginia for decades, the state has gone full-blown MAGA in recent years.”

GOP hopes to dodge 2022’s candidate catastrophes: Wall Street Journal: “Headed into the next election, GOP leaders want to make sure they don’t blow it again… NRSC Chairman Steve Daines (R., Mont.) ‘is working hard to recruit candidates who can win both a primary and a general election.’ … The model race for Republicans is Indiana, not a battleground but one that leaders hold up because congressional leaders as well as Mr. Trump have unified around Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) to fill a seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Mike Braun. … In Michigan, GOP Rep. Bill Huizenga is looking at a possible run. … In Arizona, former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has declined to run. … Defeated gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake is expected to jump into the race for the seat currently held by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. … Another top target is Montana. … Rep. Matt Rosendale (R., Mont.), who lost to Sen. Jon Tester in 2018, has been working the phones to test support for a run.”

Florida Dems chuck up outside shot to sink Scott: NBC News: “NBA legends Dwyane Wade and Grant Hill have rocketed to the top of the recruitment lists for some Florida Democrats looking for a strong candidate to run against Sen. Rick Scott in 2024. … The party operatives and donors see the need for a moonshot-type candidate to reverse the trend of Republican dominance in the state. … Yet even they acknowledge that getting either one of them is a long shot. … Beyond having star power in the state, Wade has become an outspoken advocate for transgender rights. Democrats familiar with the effort to coax Wade into politics say he would be a ‘dream candidate,’ if an unlikely one.”

BRIEFLY

Biden ditches Eric Adams from surrogate roster after migrant critique—Politico

DiFi returns to D.C. after three-month absence—San Francisco Chronicle

Whitmer’s sister launches campaign for New York battleground—Washington Post

WITHIN EARSHOT: GREENWORKS 

“Whether somebody is doing this out of their passion and belief in the president — fantastic. If they’re doing it out of anxiety of what the alternative is — fantastic. The color of the green is the same.”—DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, a national campaign chair for Biden 2024, talking to the New York Times about the motivations for donors to the president’s reelection campaign.  


MAILBAG

“What percent of the GOP will ‘never’ vote for Trump? If he has lost independents, lost every Democrat and some percentage of the GOP … I don’t see a path. Unless … if Joe quits, gets sick, or dies after the nominating convention Kamala Harris would likely lose even to Trump. I would assume, scary LOL, that there is a ‘never vote for Trump’ number somewhere in the polls are there?”—Earl King, Colts Neck, New Jersey

That’s a very hard question to answer, Mr. King, because of the variables involved. If “never” means never, then you’re probably talking about a small-ish number of Republicans, maybe a bit more than the 6 percent of self-described Republicans who told exit pollsters they voted for Biden in 2020, a number almost the same as the 5 percent of self-described Democrats who voted for Trump . But if “never” means “unless Kamala Harris is the nominee,” or “unless the economy is cratering,” or “unless the border collapses,” or … then it’s probably now something more like 10 percent. I would also suggest that both parties have lost the independents, and while unaffiliated voters have come down against Trump and the GOP in recent cycles, they are the most changeable group. Biden won them only narrowly in 2020 and they would be even more subject to the effects of changes in the political climate than the “never” Trump Republicans who might come crawling back anyway. I think the most important thing to remember here is that while partisanship is a rigid concept for most voters, it is still malleable for a large minority. Think of it this way: There are people who today might not think of themselves as Republicans, but who might if the party had a different image a year from now with a presumptive nominee other than Trump. On the other hand, if Trump were unhorsed, there are people who are now proudly MAGA Republicans who would cease to identify with the party. Something like 40 percent of the electorate is persuadable to some degree and for them, very often their sense of party affiliation changes to reflect their preference in the election at hand. Maybe not from R to D or D to R, but more easily from partisan affiliation to independent status. Lastly, I’d say that the number of voters who currently identify as Republicans who would not vote for the party’s nominee if it is anyone other than Trump is liable to be at least as large as the “never” constituency.     

“Just started reading Nick Catoggio tonight. So, Newsmax quintupled at 8 p.m. the week after Fox News fired Tucker Carlson. Question, how is NewsNation doing and is it harvesting lonely former Tucksters? Nobody mentions you guys, only Newsmax and [One America News]. Hope you thrive.”—Richard Kennedy, Ferndale, Michigan

Me too, Mr. Kennedy! The sorcery of cable news ratings is a matter of mystery to me. Indeed, I try not to look because of the temptation to chase the audience instead of following my nose to the stories and analysis that interests me and, if you will excuse a serving of corn here, is really news. I’ve seen many a promising journalist get sucked down the long pipe of chasing ratings never to re-emerge. I know, though, that the NewsNation audience is now but a sliver of what industry behemoth Fox News draws in a given hour. But, we have only just gone to 24-hour coverage and are less than a month into our new show, The Hill, weekdays at 5 p.m. ET, which I am very pleased to be a part of multiple times every week. As for Fox viewers who have gone elsewhere because they are upset about the ouster of the network’s 8 p.m. host, certainly they are welcome. But I don’t think the idea for a network offering a more balanced approach to news is to make any sudden swerves to chase viewers who are looking for what is extreme or cast as “forbidden.” My idea in being part of the network is that there are many millions of Americans looking for a fair-minded approach to the news and reporting that can be counted on for reliable information and a balanced discussion of the day’s events. Like with my role at The Dispatch, I hope to show that a wholesome approach can succeed in the market. The problem in the news business isn’t a lack of viewpoints being offered, but rather that they are offered to the exclusion of all others, and, sadly, sometimes to reality itself. So I hope you will give us a try. You can find NewsNation on your local cable provider or streaming platform here.  


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: OPPOSITION PARTY 

Donald Trump appears at an NBC Town Hall at the Today Show on April 21, 2016, in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Donald Trump appears at an NBC Town Hall at the Today Show on April 21, 2016, in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

This week’s contest featuring the 45th president in what appears to be his Madame Tussauds’ pose was a surprisingly hard one for contestants. Trump presents a couple of challenges for satirists. First, he is often beyond parody. Second, he is such an alarming, divisive figure that humor around him tends to veer either toward the cudgel or the feather duster. While he often seems silly, he does not evoke much silliness from his fellow Americans these days. But mock we must, and you all rose to the occasion, and delivered many good gags, starting with this week’s winner, who clearly speaks fluent Donaldese.

“See, it’s an opposable thumb. Many people are saying it’s a thumb like no one has ever seen before.”—Chris Lee, Corvallis, Oregon

Winner, Not Licht Yet Division:

“This thumbs-up was captured in front of a live studio audience.”—Jack Funke, Poplar Bluff, Missouri

Winner, King of Queens Division:

“Yeah, well my tie is longer than yours.”—Bob Goldman, Gilroy, California

Winner, Whorled Leader Division:

“I had the craziest dream last night that there was ink on it.”—Bill Ward, St. Augustine Beach, Florida

Winner, Digital Format Division:

“One, two, three, four.  I declare a thumb war.  Where’s that football?”—Paul Williams, Shaker Heights, Ohio

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!


FIRST RESPONDER KEEPS HIS COOL 

KSNT: “Clay County Kansas Emergency Management said … a tornado likely touched down northeast of Oak Hill on Tuesday evening. The office received damage reports from across the county of limbs down and washed out county roads. But one of Clay Center’s local bakers filed a report the emergency manager said brought a tear to her eye. Nancy Kimbrough … said her son was delivering some of her baked goods to the Clay Center Country Club for its weekly dinner … the wind was so strong, it ripped the meringue top right off a coconut cream pie and splattered it across the parking lot. … Despite the wind damage, the kitchen decided to go ahead and serve the pie to guests. ‘He was digging the Cool Whip out of the freezer,’ Kimbrough said. ‘He goes, ‘Don’t worry about it… We’ll fix it.’’ Kimbrough isn’t sure whether diners knew about the last-second pie repair, but said it turned out just fine. Her strawberry rhubarb, another local favorite, made it to dinner without incident.”

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, 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.