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Thunderdome: Shall We Try a Little Roleplay?
Spicing things up by justifying your vitality
Welcome to Thunderdome, where this week we finally got to hear some fundraising numbers from the candidates and campaigns who were none too eager to share them… including a number who may not make it to even the first debate stage. The guys discussed this by engaging in a little bout of roleplay in the latest podcast, because who hasn’t wanted to pretend to be Doug Burgum for a day? Listen and learn, and stick around to hear why Democrats should be very nervous about RFK’s independent path…
The Carolinians overperform
One of the biggest questions heading into this quarter’s fundraising reports was what the performance would look like among the top three non-DeSantis candidates — Mike Pence, Nikki Haley and Tim Scott. Pence’s campaign has yet to release numbers, but has been lowering expectations. But we now know the Haley and Scott figures, and it clearly shows one in a better position.
That would be Scott, whose campaign reported raising a little over $6 million, with $21 million cash on hand. The more impressive figure is for outside groups backing Scott, the most prominent of which, chaired by former senator Cory Gardner, raised over $19 million in the quarter. Altogether, these outside groups have over $17 million cash on hand. Having $38 million to play with is a far cry from Ron DeSantis’s figures, but it’s definitely enough to stay in the race for quite some time… giving Scott more opportunities to be viewed by big donors as a fallback from DeSantis.
Nikki Haley’s numbers were close to the same, spread across a number of groups — $7.3 million raised in the quarter, and more than $18 million for her Super PAC. But the cash on hand numbers show that Haley has a much higher burn rate, with $9.3 million cash on hand for the campaign, and $17 million cash on hand for the Super PAC. That’s a good ten million behind Scott, and it shows that of the two campaigns, Haley’s is likelier to struggle to make it all the way to when South Carolina votes next February.
Given that both these campaigns can be fairly viewed as strongest in the Palmetto State, their presence is a thorn in the side of DeSantis, who would very much like to get one or both Haley and Scott out of the race by the time the voting starts. Thanks to the RNC’s shifts in schedule, South Carolina will get outsized attention this cycle, with more than two weeks remove from Nevada. It could prove the decisive blow for or against DeSantis’s chances.
Brother can you spare a dime?
Then we get to the people who just need you to give, and they don’t care how much. Of the rest of the Republican field, Chris Christie has shown real progress toward ensuring his presence on the debate stage with the necessary 40,000 donors — a threshold that the RNC plans to shift upward in 10,000 donor increments for the following showdowns. Christie still has to get two more polls at or above 1 percent, but with his name ID alone, that seems ensured.
Vivek Ramaswamy claims to have cleared this bar as well, and just needs to maintain his existing performance in polls to make the debate. But perhaps worried about the future ratcheting up of donor numbers, this week he announced an odd commission offer, where anyone can become a fundraiser for his campaign and get a 10 percent commission on the money they bring in. If that sounds like a multi-level marketing scheme, that’s because it basically is… but it seems legal, and it’s less desperate than other options!
For desperation, look to Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson, who even as current and former governors seem ill-prepared for the fundraising challenge of running for president. Hutchinson has indicated that he’s far below the 40,000 threshold at the moment, so he’s paying people per donor they bring in. And Burgum is perhaps the most blatant: he’s giving donors $20 gift cards in exchange for just a $1 donation — offer good for up to 50,000 people. There’s no shame in getting some Burgum bucks, folks — and for some Americans it might be the first time a politician going nowhere put money in your pocket.
Iowa Evangelicals deploy Tucker
The sight of Donald Trump in the belly of UFC 290 in Las Vegas showed the former president in his raucous element this week — loud, brash and decidedly secular. A very different scene will play out tomorrow in Iowa, where Christian pastors will gather under the organization of Bob Vander Plaats of The FAMiLY LEADER for a gathering with appearances by DeSantis, Pence, Scott, Haley, Ramaswamy and Hutchinson.
When they signed up for the summit, these candidates apparently thought it was just to give speeches to the evangelical group. But now they won’t just be talking: they’ll be grilled by Tucker Carlson from the main stage. Phil Wegmann reports at RealClearPolitics:
Granted anonymity to speak freely, the aide wasn’t offering an endearing assessment. RealClearPolitics spoke to multiple campaigns scheduled to attend the Des Moines forum. Some love Carlson and see the sit-down as a friendly media opportunity. Others loathe him and still remember how he laid waste to numerous pols on his primetime show…
In Carlson, the candidates will confront a firebrand with a loyal audience but without sympathy for old-guard GOP orthodoxies. Campaigns have scoured his old Fox News monologues, read his private text messages made public because of litigation, and reviewed clips from his new Twitter show. “Am I preparing for this differently than I would for other interviews?” asked a senior operative, scouring the material. “Yeah, of course. I’d be fucking stupid not to. I’d get fired if I didn’t.”
One thing that could prove interesting is what posture some candidates take vis-à-vis Tucker. Ramaswamy was boosted by Carlson immensely in his time at Fox. But Mike Pence and Nikki Haley were regularly subjected to his wrath, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them take a more stubborn stance opposite Tucker’s questioning.
The real goal here is to impress Vander Plaats, whose support has proven key in Iowa. His chosen candidates in the past three competitive Iowa contests — Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz — all went on to win the state. It may not have made a difference in who won the nomination, but it did firmly establish each campaign as a viable alternative to the front-runner. DeSantis needs that more than anyone. But he’ll have to get through Tucker first.
One more thing
It’s no secret that there are donors who play both sides of the partisan divide every year, giving to Republicans and Democrats as they see fit. Typically, they’re hedging their bets on the two candidates likeliest to win, especially in open seat races. What’s more odd is to see a significant group of donors supporting outsider candidates on either side — something that is happening noticeably in 2024 with the rise of the DeSantis-RFK Jr. donor.
As we discussed at the end of this week’s podcast, I’m of the mind that Democrats need to be very careful in playing the RFK game. Total animosity from the party leadership would open up the possibility that Kennedy takes his unique brand of populism to an Independent run, one which would almost certainly doom Joe Biden. It may sound farfetched, but if there’s no home for someone like RFK in today’s Democratic coalition, it sends a message to a lot of left-populist candidates who are just the types to consider off-the-wall runs on principle. The podcasters would love it — and that should make DC Democrats worry.
Who’s Afraid of Moms for Liberty?
In a breakout session in a windowless conference room at last weekend’s Moms for Liberty “Joyful Warrior Summit” in Philadelphia, Christian Ziegler, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party and father of three school-aged daughters, is stiffening spines. Dozens of attendees, mostly women, are nodding and taking notes as Ziegler explains how to work with local news media.
“Your product is parental rights. Your product is protecting children and eliminating indoctrination and the sexualization of children. You’re the grassroots. You’re on the ground. You’re the moms, the grandparents, the families that are impacted. The stories you tell help set a narrative,” Ziegler coaches them.
One story above us, the ballroom floor of the downtown Marriott is groaning under the weight of crowded press risers, where camera crews have set up for the parade of Republican presidential hopefuls coming here to curry favor with the more than 600 Moms for Liberty members attending—and a few thousand more watching the livestream.
Ron DeSantis held forth this morning. Nikki Haley is scheduled to speak at lunch. Donald Trump will close things out later this afternoon. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson are on tap for tomorrow.
It’s an astonishing display of political drawing power, considering Moms for Liberty didn’t even exist three years ago. The candidates have all come to pay obeisance to the animating idea that has galvanized these women: that parents—not the government—should be in charge of how their children are raised and educated.
If you want to understand why these politicians have come, you need to go to the breakout sessions, away from the camera’s gaze, where, hour after hour, Moms for Liberty chapter leaders and foot soldiers learn how to run for school boards—and if they win, how to advance their agenda even when in the minority. There are talks on messaging strategies and mining school board minutes for signs of “woke indoctrination.” There are workshops on how to file public records requests and navigate the legal system.
They aren’t messing around. More than half of the 500 candidates Moms for Liberty endorsed for local school board elections last year won their races. “School choice moms” provided the margin of victory in DeSantis’ first run for Florida governor in 2018. Democrat Terry McAuliffe was leading the race for Virginia governor in 2021 before his debate remark that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” handed the win to Republican Glenn Youngkin.
Moms for Liberty is the beating heart of this country’s movement of angry parents—and American education has never seen anything quite like it.
Heritable Guilt is in Vogue
Imade a poor excuse for a Presbyterian even as a kid. I resented religious indoctrination every precious school-free Sunday. Yet despite my apostatic nature, any number of biblical tenets with broad secular application have become touchstones. Of particular value during our post-Floydian festival of flagellation is Ezekiel 18: ‘The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.’ Ergo, while we can’t take credit for our forebears’ virtues and achievements, at least whatever horrors our ancestors got up to is not our fault.
The handing down of grudges generation after generation inculcates a dismaying moral helplessness in so-called culprits who were supposedly born into sin but never themselves did anything wrong, while stoking an unappeasable resentment in the descendants of long-dead ancestors whose injuries can never be healed. Sound like a world you recognise? The left increasingly embraces the highly un-Christian principle of heritable guilt.
Last week, the NewsHour on PBS (America’s similarly hectoring version of the BBC) began its Tuesday evening programme with the obligatory rundown of the day’s mass shootings coast to coast. There followed another obligatory report on the nation’s ignorant right-wing militias, whose members resist all social progress since 1960 and have never heard of slavery or Native American genocide – which, given today’s cultural climate, is quite an achievement; clearly the Proud Boys do their drills in caves.
The highlight of the show was an interview with one Tom Lasseter. The Reuters journalist had just released a report exposing five living presidents, two Supreme Court judges, 11 governors and more than 100 members of Congress as having one or more ancestors who owned slaves. What made the whole broadcast especially obnoxious? Of all days, this sweeping national diss aired on 4 July.
The Reuters report itself begins with an array of photographs of all these morally contaminated national leaders that’s evocative of an FBI Most Wanted poster. Piquantly, the first photo is of Joe Biden, who’s cornily played up his dilute Irish origins rather than his equally British roots, while curiously underplaying his connection to a great-great-great grandfather who enslaved a 14-year-old boy in 1850. Among the outed senators is Elizabeth Warren, who has infamously touted her Native American ancestry, which, as a DNA test subsequently demonstrated, constitutes between 1/32nd and 1/1,024th of her genetic heritage; maybe the proportion of slaveholders in her background will prove more impressive. Another president with enslaving blood is none other than Barack Obama. Inconveniently, because his ancestors arrived in the US after the Civil War, the purest of living presidents is Donald Trump.
Maybe that tells us something about the questionable merits of this elaborate exercise. Note, digging up an orchard’s worth of American leaders’ family trees entailed shedloads of work. Reuters journalists examined thousands of pages of census records, tax documents, family Bibles, estate records, newspaper articles and birth and death certificates. But to what end?
This isn’t merely naming; it’s shaming. The journalists may claim their intention was simply to reveal ‘how intimately tied America remains to the institution of slavery’ – meaning, OK, slavery happened, and the people who participated in the practice bore children, most of whose distant descendants still live in the US. And the report may dutifully include one quote from Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr, who states plainly: ‘We do not inherit guilt for our ancestors’ actions.’ But the very conception of the study suggests otherwise. Implicit in going to all this bother to unearth buried badness is that the sins of the father are indeed visited upon the sons. When Reuters contacted the singled-out notables about their polluted genes, the journalists hardly expected these politicians to be disinterestedly curious, much less pleased; no, they expected news of a morally blighted heritage to make their targets feel abashed. Little wonder that only a quarter of this naughty list replied.
Items of Interest
“Loneliness becomes a lover, solitude a darling sin. History is moving pretty quickly these days, and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts. I was just running away from the person I'd been for the past five years.”
— Ian Fleming