Thunderdome: Republicans Can't Quit Trump, Or Won't
He's winning the polls, and it doesn't matter what the polls say
Welcome to Thunderdome! For the latest edition of our podcast, head over here — this week, we talked about steel manning the legal woes of Trump and Biden, DeSantis’s plateau, Christie’s surge, the Kamala problem, what’s a Uighur, and in a new tradition, named our King of the Week. Listen here and subscribe today!
Republicans Can’t Quit Donny
Try as they might, and much as many of them want to, Republicans just can’t quit Trump. Everything about this moment suggests that nominating a candidate in 2024 who has just a modicum of likeability would be a genius play. Joe Biden’s job approval hovers around 40 percent, and only a quarter of voters are positive about the direction of the country. So nominating someone who is just on the positive side of fav/unfav would seem like a very good idea.
It’s also an idea that Republicans think is just so boring, dude. Donald Trump’s poll average of favorability among the electorate is essentially identical to Kamala Harris’s, the most unpopular vice president in the history of recorded polling. it’s clear the latest indictment hasn’t boosted him the way that prior legal woes have among Republicans. The AP-NORC survey is just the most recent example:
The AP-NORC survey found that 60 percent of Republicans surveyed currently view Trump favorably, down from the 68 percent who said they had a favorable view of him in April. Also, 38 percent of Republicans now say they have an unfavorable view of Trump, an uptick from the 30 percent in April…
Republicans’ view of the classified documents case remained about stable from April to June, with 23 percent of them saying the former president did something illegal. Nearly 30 percent of Republicans said in the new poll that what he did was unethical but not illegal and 26 percent maintain that Trump did nothing wrong.
When just a quarter of your own party think you did nothing wrong, that means you probably did something wrong. But does that matter? Not when you look at who Trump is up against. While poll aggregation shows Ron DeSantis has a negative rating hovering in the single digits, Chris Christie’s negative margins are in the twenties, and two of Mike Pence’s most recent polls has his negative margin at more than thirty points. If he were running in the Republican Primary, the most popular candidate would be Robert F. Kennedy Jr. People love the guy.
So you’d think it would be obvious that whatever his hold on the party, Trump certainly can’t be described as the strongest presidential candidate. But Kevin McCarthy got in trouble just this week for suggesting on CNBC that it’s even an open question.
“Can he win that election? Yeah, he can win that election,” McCarthy said, referring to a Biden-Trump matchup. “The question is: ‘Is he the strongest to win the election?’ I don’t know that answer.”
Trump world flipped out. Top aides to the former president and allies who know both men quickly traded messages asking, in short: What the fuck? …
McCarthy immediately pivoted into clean-up mode. He called Trump to apologize, according to the New York Times. He offered Breitbart reporter Matt Boyle an exclusive interview, during which he walked the comments back and accused the media of taking them out of context.
“Trump is stronger today than he was in 2016,” McCarthy told Boyle.
Except no, he isn’t. He very clearly isn’t. In 2016 Trump wasn’t a known quantity, he was a roll of the dice risk — a hardways bet on trying something completely different. Well, having been tried, Americans in general are not eager to try it again. The one thing that can bail out CPAP Joe is a general election that is all about Trump’s legal conflagrations and not about this administration’s lackluster record. And Republicans seem intent on giving that gift to the Democrats.
Perhaps things will change. But for all the insistence among Republican voters that what they care about the most is winning in 2024, their inclination thus far seems to be: damn the polls, full speed ahead.
Will Joe’s Woes Expose Foes?
The Hunter Biden death spiral hasn’t been stopped by the plea deal announcement, much to the detriment of this White House — instead, it seems as if it’s accelerated toward the earth. The tax focused whistleblowers — plural, now — are increasingly engaged in sharing information that can be independently verified. The Last Great News Man, Bret Baier, interviewed IRS special agent Gary Shapley yesterday, and the details were damning to say the least:
Shapley alleged during the interview, and in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, that DOJ prosecutors directed investigators to avoid asking witnesses questions about President Biden; chose not to collect search warrants related to the president’s son; and more.
"We weren’t allowed to ask questions about ‘dad.’ We weren’t allowed to ask about ‘the big guy.’ We weren’t allowed to include certain names in document requests and search warrants," Shapley said. "So, you know, we were precluded from following that line of questioning." …
"Ultimately, you know, if it was going to lead to another individual, you know, we should follow that to determine what was actually happening," Shapley said. "But, you know, there were definitely hinderances that I’ve never seen before in my 14 years concerning this investigation that didn’t allow us to follow through on an investigation of any other individual to include President Biden."
Shapley had testified before the House Ways and Means Committee that assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Wolf repeatedly worked to "limit" questioning related to Joe Biden.
This case seems to have finally broken into the open, with coverage from all NBC, ABC, and most notably CBS, and questions that certainly raise the likelihood that the House will pursue impeachment hearings for Attorney General Merrick Garland, who promised that the Weiss investigation would be a hands-off affair.
But the case only really matters if it spawns something that hasn’t yet happened: another candidate announces a serious challenge to Joe Biden, based on the idea that his unpopularity, age, and increasing legal problems — on allegations that he denied unilaterally all the way up until this week — make him a liability for any reelection campaign.
Biden offered a simple "no" in response to a reporter's query, "Did you lie about never speaking to Hunter about his business deals?" Days earlier, White House spokesman Ian Sams responded to mounting evidence to the contrary by claiming simply that President Biden "was not in business with his son." Sams's statement itself contradicted Biden's oft-repeated claim, which the president has maintained since 2019, that he’s never discussed foreign business deals with his son.
That candidate would logically be Gavin Newsom, according to everyone in Washington… but it doesn’t have to be. Joe Manchin has been wooed by third party group No Labels and hasn’t ruled out a run on their ticket, but why run the risk of getting ballot access and ditching your Senate hopes just to come in third? A Democratic candidacy by Manchin, even just a testing of the waters, wouldn’t preclude a run for re-election to the Senate — the filing deadline in West Virginia is in January. If RFK can get to the high teens, certainly Manchin could get that much or more, particularly with the crossover interest of right-leaning Independent voters.
With no one else on the Democratic side willing to break with the White House, Manchin could make the case that he would be a much stronger candidate in a general election against any Republican — capable of winning the contest with a solid standing in battleground states like Pennsylvania that are still wavering in the Trump-curious direction.
It’s probably a West Wing-style fantasy to consider such a possibility. But of the potential candidates who could actually beat Joe and win working class voters back to the Democratic coalition, Manchin is the best bet. He’s also 75, which makes him a spring chicken compared to Biden and Trump. Why not end your career with a bang?
In Praise of Hugh Hewitt
On the podcast I make mention of the fact that Hugh Hewitt and I tangled a good bit back in the day about my criticisms of Mitt Romney, made at RedState at the time — a site that still has decent traffic! — but in no way does that make me believe Hewitt is anything but a great interviewer of candidates on his long-running radio show. He has an outstanding ability to ask critical questions without the “gotcha” frame, just seeking out the practical knowledge levels of politicians who don’t often have to break from their talking points.
That skill was on display once again when Hugh brought on Mayor Francis Suarez this week, and had this conversation about China’s genocide:
HH: Penultimate question, Mayor. Will you be talking about the Uyghurs in your campaign?
FS: The what?
HH: The Uyghurs.
FS: What’s a Uyghur?
HH: Okay, we’ll come back to that. Let me, you won’t be, you’ve got to get smart on that.
And at the end…
HH: Okay, last chance, what’s the website again, Mayor Suarez?
FS: The website is www.FrancisSuarez.com. And you gave me homework, Hugh. I’ll look at what a, what was it, what did you call it, a Weeble? (laughing)
HH: The Uyghurs. You really need to know about the Uyghurs, Mayor. You’ve got to talk about it every day, okay?
FS: I will talk about, I will search Uyghurs. I’m a good learner. I’m a fast learner.
Oh, I’m sure you are, Francis.
One Last Thing
The Supreme Court has been in the crosshairs of a dark money-backed ProPublica investigation for the past several months, targeting conservative justices for their relationships and financial benefits received from wealthy donors. Paired with the Nancy Pelosi comments about term limits for justices this week — a more tone deaf opinion from the octogenarian class, I don’t think you’ll find — it seems clear that Democrats have run the numbers and figured out packing the Court is out of the question. The voter backlash is severe.
So instead, they’ve gone about trying to create a scenario where justices will be pressured to recuse themselves from more cases — even ones only tangentially connected to wealthy individuals who have previously paid for fishing trips and the like. Expect that type of push to be a major part of the conversation in the 2024 election, especially in the wake of 6-3 decisions like today’s, which found against the affirmative action programs of universities.
Judicial matters decided the 2016 election, boosted Republicans in the 2018 midterms, and helped shift the very conservative portion of the party to Trump’s side thanks to his choices. In 2024, the general election may turn on keeping the court as it is, or allowing Democrats — those defenders of norms, rules, and democracy — to upend it.
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