The Sweep: The GOP 2024 Primer Concluded
We round out our 2024 list with some celebrity candidates and take a look at a special election in Ohio.
We’re finally done! Here’s our last installment of potential 2024 candidates—the celebrities.
Following that, we’ve got a full rundown of everyone we’ve covered with links back to their initial descriptions.
Tucker Carlson: The Platform
52 years old, Host of Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News
Known for his half inquisitive, half accusatory monologues, Tucker Carlson has quickly become one of the most influential voices in the conservative sphere since the debut of his show on Fox News in 2016. To the three million viewers who watch his show nightly, Carlson is a symbol of defiance against corrupt elites who censor conservative views and subvert American democracy. To his critics, Carlson is a voice of “white grievance” and a peddler of conspiracy theories.
Over the last four years, Carlson has become known as the “the highest-profile proponent of Trumpism”, a blend of nationalism, economic populism, and military isolationism that he believes propelled Trump to victory in 2016. Last summer, he argued Republican leaders were guilty of ignoring the views of the people they claimed to represent, saying their “so-called principles turned out to be bumper stickers they wrote 40 years ago.”
On his show, Carlson often makes hyperbolic or factually disputed claims. Carlson has suggested that making children wear masks outside is akin to “child abuse.” He has claimed that the government’s efforts to promote vaccines are evidence “the Biden administration has decided it owns your body.” And he has baselessly accused government agents of organizing the January 6 Capitol riot. Nevertheless, Carlson’s message continues to resonate with his audience—one which has propelled him to the highest ratings on cable news.
Carlson has said he won’t be running for president in 2024, but Republican strategists say he would make a formidable candidate if he decided to enter the race. “No one carries more weight in Republican and conservative politics—no one—than Tucker Carlson,” one Republican strategist told TIME. “He doesn’t react to the agenda, he drives the agenda.”
Strengths: He’s ubiquitous for potential GOP primary voters. He’s one of the smartest people out there and part of that is knowing himself—something few politicians do.
Weaknesses: He’s been on TV a long time and he’s been all over the place. Plus, it’s a lot easier to throw shots from the cheap seats than it is to enter the arena.
2024 Tea Leaves: He likes his life and time with his family, neither of which is compatible with running for—let alone being—president. He could be a kingmaker in 2024 if he chooses not to run, and that might be enough to keep him out.
Dave Portnoy: The Troll
44 years old, Founder of the sports and pop culture blog Barstool Sports
Tim Miller (see below) described Dave Portnoy as “the pizza-loving frat star who founded the extremely popular digital media empire Barstool Sports.” But that’s an understatement. Portnoy’s got 2.6 million Twitter followers, his net worth is likely north of $100 million, and he’s one of the celebrities most proficient at capturing attention on new media platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram. His review of Chuck E. Cheese’s pizza has 2.2 million views (for reference, Fox News averaged around 2.1 million viewers in primetime last month). And he’s not done: As of just a few weeks ago, his company launched a new marketing company that now represents dozens of college athletes eager to sell their endorsements.
So what makes me think he might run for president? For starters, his website sells Portnoy 2024 shirts. Sure, it was a joke, but still. After Echelon included him in one of their 2024 polls, Politico wrote that “the Republican Party has become the party of Barstool Sports,” writing that the GOP now shares “Portnoy’s single-minded obsession with scoring headlines and affirming their constituents’ cultural identities at any cost.” In fact, the article went so far as to describe an entirely new brand of Republican voter:
The Barstool Republican now largely defines the Republican coalition because of his willingness to dispense with his party’s conventional policy wisdom on anything—the social safety net, drug laws, abortion access—as long as it means one thing: he doesn’t have to vote for some snooty Democrat, and, by proxy, the caste of lousy deans that props up the left’s politically-correct cultural regime.
Does this mean he’s a viable candidate? Eh, not yet. But his nickname, after all, is “El Presidente.”
Strengths: Not a single person on this list understands new media even half as well.
Weaknesses: Not a single person on this understands political campaigns as little.
2024 Tea Leaves: Probably not, but I’m still intrigued.
Don Trump Jr.: The Name
43 years old, Executive Vice President of Development & Acquisitions at The Trump Organization
Don Jr. is the former president’s oldest son. When Axios polled the favorability of seven key Republicans in July, the younger Trump topped the list with a net favorability of 55 percent among GOP voters—statistically tied with Ron DeSantis, significantly better than House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene. He’s omnipresent both online and at Republican events, with a constant stream of culture war grievances to dole out, as evidenced by his books “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us” and “Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats' Defense of the Indefensible.” Since his divorce in 2018, he’s been dating another right-wing celebrity, Kimberly Guilfoyle, making them the uncontested GOP primary power couple.
But popularity isn’t the same as support. An online audience can be fickle: The Atlantic noted last month that the “engagement rate on his [Instagram] posts was at a high point in October, then fell off by about 75 percent through February.” Trump Sr. entering the race would almost certainly clear a lot of candidates out of the field. But those same candidates probably wouldn’t have the same compunctions about running against his son.
Trump Jr. says he’ll be out campaigning for 2022 candidates (“you’ll see me everywhere”), but we haven’t seen much yet. He and Guilfoyle have endorsed a couple candidates. If he’s interested in the big prize, he’ll need to get out there soon to keep place with other potential 2024ers, some of whom could already list Iowa as their primary residence.
Strengths: If dad doesn’t run, Jr. could have one of the most famous people of all time speak at all of his rallies. He’s more fluent in the sorts of grievances that motivate the online right than anyone else on this list except Tucker Carlson.
Weaknesses: He’s not his dad.
2024 Tea Leaves: There’s a reason he’s included in every GOP primary poll, but I think it’s dad or nothing for the Trump family in 2024.
Okay—we’re through! Where does that leave the field? I think the horse race—“who’s up and who’s down”—is wildly overplayed at this point, but I have tried to put the contenders in a rough order that takes into account both their likelihood to run and how seriously I take their potential candidacy.
Donald Trump: Duh.
Larry Hogan: If Trump runs, he may be one of the only guys left in the race.
Mike Pence: Trumpism without the Trumps.
Greg Abbott: Desantis without the high profile.
Dave Portnoy: He has a lot of work to do between now and then so I’m in ‘wait and see’ mode on him.
Don Trump Jr: Has the name, but not much else.
Tim Scott: Hard to see him as anything other than a well-liked “also ran” right now.
Liz Cheney: No foreseeable path to winning the nomination, but that may not be her definition of success.
The Operative View
I asked two of my favorite communications people how they would be advising a 2024 candidate right now ...
Kirsten Kukowski was Scott Walker’s communication director in 2016 and is now the founder of public affairs firm, K2 & Co:
I would say keep your head down, travel to the early states, develop relationships with grassroots and media, make sure you get local press when you are there. But there's a lot of time and a lot will happen between now and Iowa, so try not to ride the roller coaster of high highs and low lows.
Perhaps less helpful but highly entertaining, I’m obliged to include Tim Miller’s response. He was Jeb Bush’s communication director in 2016 and is now a writer for The Bulwark:
My first piece of advice would be to fire me and listen to someone who is a Republican in good standing instead. Next advice would be to start a novena for the success of the Manhattan DA.
Ohio Special is Special Indeed
Tonight, Ohio’s 15th congressional district will have a GOP primary special election to replace retiring Congressman Steve Stivers, and Republican endorsements are all over the map. Donald Trump has endorsed coal lobbyist Mike Carey. Stivers, who retired in May, has endorsed former sheriff’s deputy and state Rep. Jeff LaRe. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has endorsed former state legislator Ron Hood. And the wife of Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows has endorsed Ruth Edmonds, former president of Columbus’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Last week, Trump’s chosen candidate lost in a runoff in Texas, prompting speculation that his coveted endorsement may not be worth what it used to be. And while they tried to spin the Texas results (“This is the only race we've ... this is not a loss, again, I don't want to claim it is a loss, this was a win. …The big thing is, we had two very good people running that were both Republicans. That was the win,” Trump told Axios), Team Trump will be feeling the pressure as the results in Ohio come in tonight.
What do we think here at The Sweep? Perception matters. So a win tonight for Trump’s candidate will boost the value of his endorsement heading into 2022 GOP primaries. But the truth is that there are a lot of other factors that are affecting these races and the relative weight of Trump’s endorsement by itself is probably a small one regardless. In Texas, for example, Trump didn’t host a rally or raise money for his candidate, turnout in runoffs in the middle of summer is always going to be low, and candidates still (and always) matter.
For a good breakdown of why Trump’s guy lost in Texas, check out this excellent piece from Patrick Svitek, one of the great Texas political reporters at the Texas Tribune.
Worth The Read
Read up on the latest around the California recall—September 14—with some of my favorite data experts like Geoffrey Skelley here.
The latest polls suggest real danger for Newsom, but he’s still not in the same troubled territory Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was back in 2003, when Californians voted by 11 points to recall him from office. Surveys conducted around the same time in that election cycle found Davis in very bad shape: The vote to recall him led by about 20 points or more in most surveys, and his approval rating was in the 20s. By comparison, Californians are more inclined to retain Newsom, and they tend to approve of his job performance somewhat more than they disapprove (among registered voters, the Emerson and Berkeley polls put Newsom’s job approval at about 50 percent and disapproval at 42 percent).
The biggest thing to know is that there are two questions on the ballot. The first one is a yes or no question—should Newsom be recalled? The second one asks who should replace him. So if a majority vote yes on the first question, then the winner of the second question becomes governor. Newsom doesn’t get the benefit of running against 46 people who all divide their votes. He’s running against himself. And that’s a bad spot to be in.