The Sweep: Trump, the Whole Trump, and Nothing But the Trump

Campaign Quick Hits

Retirement Watch: As we mentioned last week, Iowa Sen.—and very old guy—Chuck Grassley officially declared that he would run for an eighth term.  The 87-year-old tweeted: “It’s 4 a.m. in Iowa so I’m running. I do that 6 days a week. Before I start the day I want you to know what Barbara and I have decided. I’m running for re-election—a lot more to do, for Iowa. We ask and will work for your support.” Music to Mitch McConnell’s ears, who now has one less open seat to defend in 2022.

But the music kept playing for Ol’ Cocaine Mitch. The Huffington Post reported that Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski filed the necessary papers to run again in 2022 also. Trump has already endorsed a candidate to run against her in the primary: Kelly Tshibaka, the former state administration commissioner. But it’s hard to imagine Murkowski—or McConnell—is too worried at this point. In 2010, Murkowski won as a write-in candidate when she lost the GOP primary. And in her last election in 2016, despite never endorsing Trump, she won by 15 points.

Busted: According to Lachlan Markay over at Axios, “a group tied to prominent Democratic strategists is posing as a conservative outfit to try to drive a wedge between the Republican candidate for Virginia governor and his core voters.” Accountability Virginia PAC has been whacking Youngkin from the right with ads like this: “While the NRA backs Donald Trump, they REFUSED to endorse Glenn Youngkin. We can’t trust Glenn Youngkin on guns.” 

There’s no public information on who is paying for the group, but Markay did some top-notch reporting to find that its “online donation page is hosted by the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue,” its “bank account is at Amalgamated Bank, a labor union-owned financial institution popular with Democratic political groups,” it’s using “consultants at the MBA Consulting Group, which works uniformly with Democrats,” and its “ads on Snapchat were purchased by Gambit Strategies, a firm founded this year by the Biden presidential campaign’s digital director and the former head of Democratic super PAC Priorities USA.” Yeah. So this PAC quacks like a duck, has webbed feet, and was last seen taking care of some ducklings. 

What’s interesting is how often this almost certainly happens and how rarely anyone seems to care. Remember this from Claire McCaskill’s memoir about her 2012 race against Todd Akin? “Running for reelection to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat from Missouri, I had successfully manipulated the Republican primary so that in the general election I would face the candidate I was most likely to beat.” Turned out that in two weeks, she spent more money on ads for Todd Akin than he spent during his entire primary campaign. Akin’s “legitimate rape” gaffe happened shortly thereafter, and McCaskill glided to victory that cycle.

Mixing Religion and Politics: Alex Samuels at FiveThirtyEight has some fascinating reporting on progressive Evangelicals that is well worth your time. Here’s my favorite nugget: “As of 2020, nearly 34 percent of Republicans (including those who lean toward the GOP) were white evangelicals.” Meanwhile, just 7 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaners were white Evangelicals. And Evangelicals’ share of the electorate—and the GOP—is growing. Samuels notes that the percentage of white Evangelicals voting for Trump jumped 7 points between 2016 and 2020. Why? Well, our own David French argues that, during that time period, white Evangelicalism “likely grew because of Donald Trump.” Not because Trump supporters necessarily found religion, but because they found a label. 

Just compare:

Or as David puts it, “Evangelicalism is now only partially a religious movement, and the religious component may now be smaller than the political.”

Audrey texted me about her interview with one of the candidates for Michigan secretary of state. This is a race that we’d have never dreamed of covering in 2018. But here we are in 2022, and these down-ballot folks are the center show.

SOS! Michigan Gets Another GOP Secretary of State Candidate

Michigan Rep. Beau LaFave, a state legislator from Iron Mountain, formally announced on Monday that he is running as a Republican candidate in Michigan’s secretary of state race in 2022. He joins Trump-endorsed state committee member Kristina Karamo of Oak Park, the only other declared candidate in the race. (Sitting Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has not said whether she plans to run for reelection.)

This being a down-ballot, state-level race, some of the issues at play might seem parochial or even quaint. LaFave’s opening argument against Benson was Michigan residents have had to wait an unduly long time during the pandemic to register their vehicles or renew their licenses. (“Enough is enough! Our current Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson would continue making the 10,000,000 people of Michigan wait weeks and months to see her staff at local offices … AFTER booking an appointment online.”)

But the secretary of state also plays one role of high national importance: As the top election official in the state, he or she is responsible for administering election law and voter registration. That includes overseeing audits of election results, like the one Michigan conducted in the wake of the 2020 election.

Joe Biden won the state by 154,000 votes in November, or 3 percentage points. But that hasn’t stopped both GOP candidates from making “election integrity” platforms the center of their campaigns. “The election was stolen through four years of fake news, propaganda, bad headlines and sensationalism, as well as through the Trump-Russia hoax,” Lafave told the Detroit News on Monday, making an early pitch to voters ahead of next year’s GOP convention on April 23.

Do all 2022 Republican candidates really believe election denialism is the only path to victory? Sure seems like it. “For people to pretend that we don’t have a serious problem of election fraud is either: A) Folks who are being willfully ignorant, or B) They’re complicit in the fraud,” Karamo told The Dispatch on Monday. For reference, Karamo spent weeks after the election claiming she witnessed voter fraud when she was a poll watcher at Detroit’s TCF Center. 

“Oftentimes, those of us who share our concerns regarding corruption that we witnessed in the election, we are maligned as conspiracy theorists,” Karamo added. “I find the whole concept of ‘conspiracy theories’ as a way to marginalize and malign people who challenge the narrative.” 

Benson beat her Republican challenger by 9 points in 2018, meaning it’s unlikely that a Republican candidate will be able to capture her seat in 2022. But the fact that both Republican candidates are running on Trump’s stolen election narrative highlights just how pervasive election denialism is in down ballot races nationwide nearly a year after Joe Biden won the election.

Chris is here with some really impressive alliteration around the 2024 Trump coverage that has already started to bubble up. 

Post’s Piffle Misses the Point on Trump 2024

The Washington Post says the word from anonymous sources—as is usual in such palace-intrigue fluff pieces—is that former President Donald Trump was “talked out of” announcing his 2024 candidacy in recent weeks by his “advisers.”

You can tell what kind of pap the story is peddling, because one of the stated reasons for Trump’s decision is that it might hurt Republicans in the midterms if he were already officially running. You know The Donald, always putting his party before himself! One would think that six years of this self-flattering anonymous drivel in the Post and enough hollow, gossipy books to break the backs of 10,000 Amazon delivery people would have long ago sated appetites for empty calories in the entire reading public. But then again, how else will the authors get themselves booked on television?

That there is some strategy around Trump’s campaign, or that there are campaign “advisers” in a serious sense, or that he weighed pros and cons before making a decision about the right time to declare are, of course, preposterous ideas. I certainly allow that Trump, who loves talking on the phone more than the members of The Baby-Sitters Club, likely let his fingers do the walking. I don’t doubt that he bombarded his cronies with calls about some harebrained idea to hold a big, beautiful campaign rally to announce his candidacy while President Biden was sputtering through a botched Afghanistan retreat. But another paper might just as easily find three anonymous “advisers” who will say they talked Trump into an early declaration. It’s all flummery produced with many intentions other than fostering an educated voting public. The writers get to be seen as having access, and the sources get their egos stroked and can try to influence Trump in a public forum.

The truth is that it won’t matter when Trump officially declares his candidacy—if he ever really does—because he will be grinding on 2024 every day. He clearly loves it, and presidential candidate is his favorite role he has ever played. He says of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ expected 2024 bid: “I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else.” There’s the old Trump swagger. What difference does Trump’s official status with the Federal Elections Commission make if he’s out holding campaign events in battleground states, as he will in Iowa this weekend and as he did in Georgia the week before last?

Whether he is a declared candidate or not, Trump, Democrats and the political press will find themselves once again in accord on what the main subject of conversation should be: Trump, the whole Trump, and nothing but the Trump. As congressional Republicans try to make 2022 about Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, they will have to do so over the roar of the Trump wind tunnel. 

Consider the upcoming Virginia gubernatorial election, a contest widely seen as an augury for the upcoming midterms. The good news for Republicans and their nominee, Glenn Youngkin, is that Biden’s standing among Virginia voters in a new Fox News poll is flat—49 percent have a favorable view, 49 percent have an unfavorable view. That’s not super in a place where Biden won 54 percent of the vote less than a year ago. Here’s the bad news for the GOP: 57 percent of Virginia voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, with 41 percent holding a favorable view. Worse still, Trump is still seen favorably by 80 percent of Virginia Republicans, according to the poll.

Compare this to the last time Republicans were running with a new Democratic president in the White House. An August NBC News poll found 38 percent of American adults held positive views of Trump, 12 points more than George W. Bush in a survey by the same pollsters in the spring of 2009. The difference can be understood primarily as a function of partisan unity—or, in the case of Bush—disunity. While large numbers of Republicans turned their backs on Bush, Republicans have largely seemed to stick with Trump. We can attribute some of this to the continuing rise of cultish partisanship. We can attribute some of it to the co-dependency between adulation-addicted Trump and the political press. Whatever the causes, though, the effect is to leave candidates like Youngkin in a pickle. When Republican Bob McDonnell was running for Virginia governor in 2009, he didn’t have to worry about alienating Bush supporters, nor were Democratic efforts to tie McDonnell to Bush particularly salient.

Trump is actually more popular in some of his electoral strongholds, like Iowa, than he was when he left office. That’s further proof that much of the GOP base is still aboard the Trump train and spoiling for a rematch in 2024. And since Trump’s candidacy is still hypothetical, he hasn’t yet forced anyone to make a choice. He can just play kingmaker and political celebrity. And as a still-unannounced candidate he can also count on party elders to treat him gingerly in hopes that he will ultimately choose not to run. His influence on politics in 2022 is arguably bigger as a not-quite-yet candidate than it would be as a declared one. Maybe I should send the Post an anonymous tip …

Correction, October 5: An earlier version of this newsletter misspelled the name of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell.

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