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Stirewaltisms: Fail Fast
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Stirewaltisms: Fail Fast

The most valuable attribute in a candidate might be knowing when to quit.

Jeb Bush speaks at Harvard University in 2016. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

It doesn’t matter how many Republicans get into the presidential race. What matters is how many get out.

A year from today, depending on the final jockeying of state nominating contests, it will be five days after the delegate bonanza on Super Tuesday when 13 states including the two biggest, California (169 delegates) and Texas (162 delegates), cast their ballots. 

It will be two days before the March 12 primaries, when Republicans will go past the halfway mark on delegates allocated—1,354 awarded, 1,113 remaining. There will still be eight contests left in the month of March, including the big prizes Florida (125 delegates), Ohio (78 delegates), and Illinois (64 delegates). 

But in most scenarios, by March 10, 2024, the race will be, as they say, all over but the shouting. In the 44 years of the modern primary system, no Republican who was ahead after Super Tuesday has ever been denied the nomination. By the time a majority of the delegates have been allocated, the race has always been effectively over. Donald Trump  may have had a raggedy run to the finish line in 2016, but he was the frontrunner going into March and came out of it the presumptive nominee.

It may happen differently this time, but probably not. 

There is a huge amount of attention being paid to the question of how many Republicans should get into the race to afford the party the best chance to block Trump from a William Jennings Bryan-esque third nomination. After the former president’s cuckoo-bananas speech at CPAC and news that he is increasingly likely to face criminal charges in one of the many probes into his conduct, the urgency for Republicans to come up with a plan obviously feels intense.

Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan took himself out of consideration this week, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is so far pretty much the only one out there. And her mangled MAGA-meets-moderation message doesn’t seem to be drawing much interest. Former fellow Trumpsters Mike Pompeo and former Vice President Mike Pence are eyeing the starting gate. Govs. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina are all still in the paddock, but looking pretty frisky these days.  

The one keeping them off the track right now is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has entered the candidate-in-all-but-paperwork phase. He’s got a team, a super PAC, a soft schedule for his announcement. Trump holds a real lead over DeSantis in most national polls, but in his home state and in many precincts of the traditional GOP, Meatball is the man to beat.

As the others consider potential campaigns they want to see if DeSantis is for real. Their donors and potential coalition members are asking another question, though: How many is too many? 

Presidential campaigns are a massive exercise in sunk-cost fallacy. They are expensive, intense, time-consuming and, usually, mostly worthless. Sometimes you get to go from, say, the mayor of a small city to secretary of a small Cabinet agency for your trouble. But usually, it’s a big waste of time and effort. Ask Rick Perry or Jeb Bush, Scott Walker or Ted Cruz. The ride from high expectations to low delegate counts is not a fun one. 

But even as campaigns are tanking, candidates stay in the race. They stay for their causes, yes. They stay because they have hope. They stay for the staffers and donors who believed in them. But they also stay because it is very hard to be the person who puts several hundred million dollars and thousands of man hours in a pile, lights it on fire, and heads home with nothing to show for it but their singed eyebrows.

Running is so hard, it’s nearly impossible to believe that it happens that fast. So candidates stay too long—until we get to our home state, they say. Or maybe until someone else drops out and they get a “lane” to themselves. The real race is only five or six months long, but it feels like a lifetime because they had spent the previous 18 months making a plan and preparing. But they usually book only a one-way trip, seldom thinking about how to get home.

Democrats passed this test in 2020. They had “so many great candidates,” which is always a bad sign. That’s another way of saying that no one was setting themselves apart. That’s the kind of situation in which Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might have done what Trump did in 2016 and roll right past the competition with concentrated plurality support. But eventually all of the mainstream candidates dropped out and allowed the party to find its real center of gravity, Joe Biden.

That’s a long way of saying that it doesn’t much matter how many Republicans get in the race or how soon. What matters is whether they have exit plans. Get in now or in the summer. Announce in the basement of the Alamo or in a hot air balloon. Start in New Hampshire or with a new hamster. It’s all fine. But know when you’re ready to get out. Tell your loved ones and your donors (and yet I repeat myself), how many delegates you need by the start of March to stay in the race, and then allow them to hold you to it.

It’s worth thinking about the end before the 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: 44.2%
Average disapproval: 51.2%
Net score: -7.0 points 

Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.2 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↓ 0.4 points

[Average includes: Fox News: 44% approve-55% disapprove; Emerson: 44% approve-50% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 49% approve-45% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve-54% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 42% approve-52% disapprove] 

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: HORSE POWER 

Phys Org: “Researchers have discovered evidence of horse riding by studying the remains of human skeletons found in burial mounds called kurgans, which were between 4,500 and 5,000 years old. The earthen burial mounds belonged to the Yamnaya culture. …The use of animals for transport, in particular the horse, marked a turning point in human history. The considerable gain in mobility and distance had profound effects on land use, trade, and warfare. If the primary use of horseback riding was as a convenience in a mobile pastoral lifestyle …[Yamnayans] were able to greatly enhance their mobility and exploit a huge energy resource otherwise out of reach. Thus committing to a new way-of-life, these pastoralists … expanded dramatically within the next two centuries to cover more than 5,000 kilometers between Hungary in [the] west and… Mongolia and western China in the east.”


DESANTIS SETS UP SESSION AS SPRINGBOARD 

New York Times: “Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has made it his political mission to, as he likes to say, put points on the board. He is about to run up the score. … Most — and perhaps all — of Mr. DeSantis’s wishes will likely soon be granted by the Republican-held State Legislature, giving him a broader platform from which to launch a widely expected 2024 presidential campaign. … Democrats have characterized Mr. DeSantis’s priorities as solutions in search of problems, intended to impress the national Republican base. … But the opposition to Mr. DeSantis has not been very effective. … Tending to the legislative session buys Mr. DeSantis time to test the waters before announcing a run for president. … He has recently fueled speculation by crisscrossing the country to give campaign-style speeches and planning stops in the early presidential primary states.”

Cuccinelli to head pro-DeSantis PAC: Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who served as a top immigration official in the Trump administration, announced Thursday that he has formed a PAC to urge Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to run for president in 2024. … Cuccinelli said: ‘I have been speaking to many grassroots conservative activists around the country who are very enthusiastic for Governor DeSantis to run for President in 2024.’ … While DeSantis has not yet announced a presidential bid, he is making moves that appear he plans to run, releasing a book, speaking Monday at the Reagan library in California and planning a trip to Iowa on Friday.”

DAINES LOOKS TO AVOID REPEAT OF GOP’S SENATE MISTAKES

Washington Post: “As he takes the helm of the party’s Senate political apparatus, [Montana Senator] Steve Daines’s personal connection to MAGA figures like Trump Jr. has lent him credibility with the base. Meanwhile, more establishment Republicans — still upset over a crop of inexperienced and deeply flawed Trump-backed candidates losing swing-state races in 2022 — are relieved to see him taking an active approach in recruiting and supporting candidates they believe can win a general election.  … [The 2024] map should make for an easy walk to the majority in two years. But 2022 showed the potential for untested and often scandal-ridden candidates, such as Trump-backed football legend Herschel Walker in Georgia, losing even in a favorable political environment for Republicans.”

Rosendale’s neo-Nazi photo-op bad look for Senate hopes: Billings [Mont.] Gazette: “U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale said he unwittingly posed for a photo with high profile members of the neo-Nazi movement last week walking between congressional hearings. … ‘I absolutely condemn and have zero tolerance for hate groups, hate speech, and violence. I did not take a meeting with these individuals,’ Rosendale said in an email. This isn’t Rosendale’s first compromising photo with rightwing extremists. The Eastern Montana representative is trolled constantly on social media with a 2014 photo of Rosendale speaking at an Oath Keepers rally in Kalispell.”

Mastriano eyes Senate run: Politico: “Doug Mastriano lost the Pennsylvania governor’s race last year by double digits, an almost unheard-of shellacking in a battleground state where winners and losers are often separated by a single percentage point. But another way to look at the election … is that he converted millions of voters to his cause and can now strategize, politically, about how to use them. … If he pulls the trigger, Mastriano would run in a primary for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, an institutional figure in the state. Mastriano’s flirtation with another statewide campaign is sure to give heart palpitations to GOP leaders. … The Senate GOP’s campaign arm intends to get involved this time around. Party leaders at the national and state level have aggressively courted Dave McCormick. … Republicans believe he has a mainstream appeal that would attract suburban voters. ”

MANCHIN SNUBS BIDEN AS 2024 DECISION LOOMS

The Hill: “Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) did not outright offer his support to President Biden should he become the Democratic nominee for president in 2024, instead saying that he wanted to wait and see ‘who all the players are.’ … ‘The bottom line is, let’s see who’s involved,’ Manchin said. … Manchin is notoriously noncommittal about what, if any, office he plans to run for when his term is up in 2024. … Manchin will likely face pressure from Senate Democrats to run for reelection in West Virginia, as the party faces a less-than-favorable Senate map in 2024, with a number of opportunities for Republicans to pick up Democratic seats, including in West Virginia.” 

Ballot access win for ‘No Labels’: The Hill: “A centrist political party that has some Democrats concerned about the potential for it to play a spoiler role has made the ballot in Arizona in 2024. … The Democratic think tank Third Way criticized No Labels. … The memo states that No Labels’ plan to put forward a “unity ticket” in the 2024 presidential election would only lead to former President Trump being reelected. It states that the group is “serious,” as it is also seeking to make the ballot in other battleground states like North Carolina, Florida and Nevada and has already made the ballot in Colorado. … No Labels said on its website that the unity ticket would be an ‘insurance plan’ if Democrats and Republicans both choose ‘unreasonably divisive’ presidential nominees.” 

As Dems shift left, Asian voters go right: New York Times: “In the past two elections — 2020 and 2022 — Asian Americans have moved toward the right, according to election returns and exit polls. Democrats still won Asian voters by a wide margin in last year’s midterms but by less than in the recent past. … Republican campaigns have recently increased their outreach to Asian voters, while Democratic candidates had grown complacent. Education issues hurt Democrats. Asian voters have been unhappy with proposals to change the rules for magnet high schools… Perhaps most important, the Republicans’ anti-crime message resonated, following increases in both citywide crime and anti-Asian violence. … Nationally, the rightward drift of Asian voters is connected to a new class divide in American politics. The Democratic Party, especially its liberal wing, has increasingly come to reflect the views of college-educated professionals.”

Wisconsin court race gets nasty as outside cash pours in: The Dispatch: “Wisconsin’s April 4 election for a 10-year seat on the state’s supreme court is technically nonpartisan, but from the outside it’s hard to tell. Spending in the race is on track to shatter records, and the two candidates are trading barbs resembling those of any other election. … Wisconsin’s Democrats have rallied behind liberal Milwaukee County judge Janet Protasiewicz, while state Republicans have done the same for former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly. … Protasiewicz has focused on clashes over Wisconsin’s abortion laws… Crime is also dominating the campaign. … State Republicans employed similar messaging on crime and public safety in November but got mixed results. …That and Protasiewicz’s performance in the February primary are encouraging Democrats.”

BRIEFLY

‘CSI’ Actor Hill Harper planning to jump in Democratic field for open Michigan Senate seat—Puck 

Congressional Dems fume over Biden immigration plan—Axios

Red states ditch voter database partnership—NPR

WITHIN EARSHOT: OHHHHHHHHHH…

“LUVTOFU”—License plate of Maine motorist Peter Starostecki who is fighting the state to keep his personalized tags that he told the AP are his “protest against eating meat and animal products.”


MAILBAG

“I’ve appreciated your humor and insight into the political arena. I’m a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor in Austin, Texas, and for the last four years, it’s been a doozy trying to walk with my congregation through this political upheaval we’re in. According to Ryan Burge, our denomination is the seventh-most Republican leaning, which means a large portion of my members get a very steady diet of Fox News. It’s not been helpful nor healthy for them (tl;dr, ‘Not great, Bob’). I’m very aware that the left plays the same propaganda game, but for years it seems Fox News has been putting on a master class in tribalism while the left wing news outlets are stuck in a freshmen debate club. And I’m not alone. A few weeks ago, I was at a conference in Arizona, and in between breakouts, I was emptying my inbox and sitting next to three other pastors. They spoke in hushed voices on the topic of how almost all of their members were consuming the narratives on Fox, lamenting the corrosive effects it was having on their faith. Yet they each felt like they couldn’t speak against it, out of fear they’d be accused of wokeness or other such cultural betrayals. I have my own political leanings (I consider myself a moderate conservative FWIW), but people do not come to my church to get my political views. Amen. They do, however, come to get my take on Jesus, and a big part of his message was built on loving our neighbor as ourselves. My problem with so much of the tribalism in the media, is the more we consume, the more we turn the other side into demons, and I’m not supposed to love demons. In fact, I’m allowed to hate them. What’s more, people are putting their absolute faith and earthly security in their side winning the next general election, which literally breaks the first commandment Jesus taught about. The type of content they regularly consume is literally perverting their faith and destroying our witness in the process. Yet if we as leaders in faith refuse to call out what we’re seeing, no other type of leader still has the authority to begin to help soften hearts to help people cut off the dopamine drip of anger politics. I’m writing to the choir, but I guess I want to say it’s worth it to keep trying. I’m not a perfect pastor, some days I’m not even sure I’m an adequate one, but the more we can get men and women in faith to speak out against political tribalism (on both sides, we don’t need Biden or AOC acolytes either), I truly believe there’s a way forward. I appreciate The Dispatch for the posture of minimal hot take, tribal news. I also know I’m not alone as clergy. The more you guys at The Dispatch can create spaces and content to help us navigate this season, the better equipped we’ll be to lean into and lead these crucial conversations.”—Josh, Austin, Texas

Thank you, reverend. I waived our rule about using the full names of correspondents for your letter so that you could share an important message without that message itself becoming a political controversy. I have heard from many who could use your words of encouragement. And I certainly take your point about Fox, the dopamine drip, and the consequences of political tribalism for the church in America. I would also point out that the tribal zeal you see in conservative churches also finds expression in the secular religions of the left. The concern when the religious right got engaged in Republican politics in a serious way 50 years ago was that it would wreck secular politics. The opposite seems to have happened. Republican politics are far less about “values” now than perhaps ever, while the price Evangelical leaders have paid for their short-term political influence has been a very steep one for the church. But it bears remembering that the political mobilization of the conservative part of the church in the 1970s was itself a reaction to the political mobilization on the left side of the aisle before that. The engagement of many liberal congregations and clergy for the cause of civil rights led next to activism against the Vietnam War, for environmental causes, economic equality, immigration, same-sex unions, and more. We could trace the roots back to women’s suffrage, prohibition, and abolition, but political activism for liberal or progressive causes is a very old story indeed. You know the story well as reflected in your own demonotion and the turbulence among American Lutherans in the late 1960s and 1970s. The fights were doctrinal, but reflective of the broader cultural tumult and the frustrated public policy goals of the church. The 50 years since the Roe v. Wade decision have seen a rightward political shift in the church and the hollowing out of the mainline denominations that were at the vanguard of liberal activism in the decades before that. Conservative congregations fared far better as the church generally shrank in power and prestige in our society. Fifty years ago, an at least nominal Christian affiliation was helpful, maybe even necessary, for access to the elite spaces in our society. Now it is mostly unnecessary and, in some circles, disadvantageous. The cost of discipleship is going up, and many American Christians are looking to political leaders for protection and power. That runs at odds with the true story of the faith, which is one of risk and submission. But telling congregants, especially older ones, that there is no returning to the more comfortable past is a hard message to have to carry. A martyr’s hymn tells us, “Though none go with me, I still will follow … no turning back, no turning back.” That’s a hard sell compared to the secularized Jesus of the modern right who is an avenging superhero who wants us to be rich and protected. But that isn’t a new one, either. Jesus went to His death at the demand of an angry mob who wanted Him to be a political revolutionary, not a loving sacrifice. He has always confounded the demands of those who wanted to turn Him into a political tool. Now, many pastors find themselves where you are: yearning not for a change in political direction, but to move away from politics itself. The COVID struggles, the debate over police brutality and criminal justice, and the disputes over sexual orientation and gender have left the American church battered, divided, and exhausted. Rather than a refuge from the brutality of secular culture, the church often seems like a cauldron of it. Along the way, the real message can easily get lost. The only good advice I can offer is to listen to the guy I listen to, my pastor, David Glade. I interviewed him for my 2020 post-mortem podcast The Hangover. His insights on how to navigate these narrow passes ring truer and truer for me all the time. Keep it up. I know your service is appreciated.

“I enjoyed reading [last week’s lede] until you referenced the ‘Democratic Primary’ election. We have had a ‘nonpartisan’ mayoral election for some years now. Thanks.”—Peter Vilkelis, Chicago, Illinois

And I hope you enjoyed it thereafter! Quite right, Mr. Vilkelis. I goofed on that one. Because Chicago is so overwhelmingly Democratic, I forgot that the primary is officially nonpartisan. Thank you for flagging.


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: SENDING IN THE BUNT SIGN

Police tape at a crime scene. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Police tape at a crime scene. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

I really like the cutline contest in weeks when there isn’t a notable figure in the photo. I love topical humor, but there’s something nice about more conceptual gags that come from pictures like these. And, heaven help me, wordplay. Not only did our winner deliver a pun, but kept it pithy!

Winner:

“Debunting the police”—David Houggy, Allison Park, Pennslyvannia 

Winner, Yellow is the New Black Division:

“I need more tape to make my statement dress for the next MET gala.”—Frances Plouffe, Clearwater, Florida

Winner, And Dawn Division:

“Tie a yellow ribbon . . .”—Charles Watkins, Arlington, Virginia

Winner, R.C. P.D. Division:

“It would be ok to genuflect, however.”—Bob Goldman, Gilroy, California

Winner, Day-O Division:

“Unless you’re feeling the urge to limbo, of course”—Fredrick Whaley, Portage, Michigan

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!


IDIOCRACY WAS A DOCUMENTARY CNBC: “WWE is in talks with state gambling regulators to legalize betting on high-profile matches, according to people familiar with the matter. WWE is working with the accounting firm EY to secure scripted match results in hopes it will convince regulators there’s no chance of results leaking to the public, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Accounting firms PwC and EY, also known as Ernst & Young, have historically worked with award shows, including the Academy Awards and the Emmys, to keep results a secret. … WWE is targeting Michigan, Colorado and Indiana as potential states to pursue legalization, two of the people said. According to a Michigan gaming spokesperson, the Michigan Gaming Control Board publishes a Sports Wagering Catalog. When updates to the catalog are approved, the information is shared publicly through the agency’s website and with sportsbook operators.WWE has already registered with the Indiana Gaming Commission, a move related to this initiative, one of the people said.”

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.