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The Sweep: Democrats to Continue Meddling in GOP Primaries
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The Sweep: Democrats to Continue Meddling in GOP Primaries

Plus: How South Carolina’s early contest could be bad for Haley and Scott.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer talks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol on February 14, 2023. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

We’re going tapas style for this week’s Sweep

Ceviche

The New York Times reported that “in a race for a State Senate seat in Wisconsin, Democrats are replicating their midterm strategy of elevating far-right Republicans in hopes of beating them in the general election.” I’m livid, but what did I expect? Chuck Schumer’s 2022 strategy worked. In every race where the Schumer-backed Republican won their primary, the Democrat won the general election. It worked for Claire McCaskill in 2012. It’s worked every time the Democrats have tried it. I’m sure the GOP will get in on the game soon enough and then we’ll really be off to the races. 

And I’m not immune to the pushback that it’s the voters’ faults. Sure. Kind of. If the ads said, “This person is a lunatic and is being backed by the Democrats because that’s how sure they are that he can’t win a general,” I’d be totally on board. If the ads just said, “This person has repeatedly said the 2020 election was stolen,” I’d be pretty close. But that’s not what they say!

“Janel Brandtjen is as conservative as they come,” reads a postcard sent to Republican voters from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which calls her “a conservative pro-Trump Republican.”

The TV ads being run by the presumptive Democratic nominee note that their preferred Republican won an award for being “pro-life legislator of the year” from a state organization. 

A candidate who otherwise would have very little funding and low name recognition is suddenly up on television and in every voter’s mailbox as the “conservative pro-Trump Republican.” 

I don’t think it’s entirely fair to “blame voters” at that point.

At the same time, I don’t see this ending any time soon unless someone figures out how to get those same voters to understand what’s going on. The stated goal of Republicans was always to pick the most conservative candidate who can win. I’d argue these folks aren’t conservative anymore—but that’s at least up for debate. The second part isn’t. 

Chuck Schumer has proven that he’s very good at picking Republicans who can’t win. When the Dems start putting money behind a GOP candidate, they’re doing it because that’s how confident they are that this person can’t get through a general election. It’s time for GOP primary voters to start believing them! 

Paella

Tim Scott and Nikki Haley have a problem. So does Chris Sununu. They all come from early primary states. This has long been regarded as a plus for candidates, but I’m baffled as to why. Politics is about expectations, and when you’re from the state, you’re expected to win. So if you do win, it’s largely dismissed as par for the course. And if you don’t win, it’s catastrophic. 

Tom Harkin won Iowa in 1992. Nobody cared because he was the senator from Iowa. And by wiping Iowa off the map, he allowed Bill Cinton to get all the momentum when he won New Hampshire a week later.

Mitt Romney had it even worse. In 2008, Romney came in second in New Hampshire. If Mike Huckabee had come in second, it would have been a huge boon to his campaign. But Romney was the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts (as if Granite Staters feel some affinity for Massholes?), meaning a second place finish was underperforming expectations. Then Romney won in Michigan, but that was merely meeting expectations and was largely ignored because of his home field advantage as “a Romney.” (How many voters in 2008 were even of voting age back in 1968, when Mitt’s father, George, was governor of the state and challenged Nixon in the GOP primary?)

Scott and Haley are in a pickle. If either one were running, it would be hard enough to outperform expectations in their home state of South Carolina. But with both running—and presumably splitting the hometown vote—they’re even worse off. A small poll in the state from last week, from Neighborhood Research and Media, put Trump at 35 percent, DeSantis at 22 percent, Haley at 16 percent, and Scott at 2 percent. A different poll from January, from Moore Information, had the same lineup. And one from Trafalgar Group had Scott in third and Haley in fourth. It doesn’t matter. Haley or Scott coming in third in South Carolina will be crushing to either’s presidential hopes. Coming in second—which would be seen as a big coup in a state like New Hampshire—will be dismissed in South Carolina as home field advantage. 

They can lose, but they can’t win. 

Patatas Bravas

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel is understandably concerned that the 2024 GOP presidential primary could be a fecal performance. Her solution? Any candidate who wants to be on the debate stage has to pledge to support the eventual nominee. There’s only one problem: Donald Trump. 

In 2015, Trump refused to raise his hand during a debate to pledge that he wouldn’t run as an independent. In response, Reince Priebus pushed every campaign to sign a pledge to support the eventual nominee, which Trump did. But then, come March 2016, he backed off again. Asked whether he still stood by the pledge, Trump said “No, I don’t anymore. We’ll see who it is.” 

This time around, Trump is currently refusing to take the pledge because “it would have to depend on who the nominee was.” Fun! Where does that leave the debates? 

For 2016, the first debate was in August 2015. There’s still time, but there’s a world in which there are no debates. Even if McDaniel relaxes her pledge requirement, Trump still may decide not to show up. On the one hand, he enjoys the attention and he likes combat. On the other hand, he’s a much weaker frontrunner than he was in 2016 and he may realize that a side-by-side comparison with Ron DeSantis is not the best strategy.

Either way, it leaves McDaniel in a pickle. Would she really hold a debate and refuse to invite Trump? That I find hard to believe.

Flan

A few months ago in my “mom pod” (we all had babies born in the summer of 2020—when COVID pods were all the rage), we were talking about something Tucker Carlson had said and one of the women said, “Wait, who is Tucker Carlson?” I liked her before, but from that point forward, she was pretty much my favorite person on the planet. 

But take your responsibility toward this 2.7 percent (or 3.8 percent) seriously. If you find them in the wild, DO NOT ruin them. Enjoy their company. Watch them in their natural habitat. They are not to be domesticated! 

Sarah Isgur is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in northern Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she had worked in every branch of the federal government and on three presidential campaigns. When Sarah is not hosting podcasts or writing newsletters, she’s probably sending uplifting stories about spiders to Jonah, who only pretends to love all animals.