“A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” – Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858, Springfield, Illinois.
Many historically challenged Americans probably think the famous Lincoln quote was uttered during his presidency to epitomize the conflict between the northern and southern states over the institution of slavery, but in reality, the legendary Illinois politician recited the words at a Republican party nominating convention for his U.S. senate candidacy against incumbent Democrat Stephen A. Douglas.
Lincoln was setting the tone for a campaign against Douglas to steer the direction of the United States in the period before the inevitable War Between the States. What gets lost in most of the remembrances was Lincoln’s subsequent prophetic prediction, “It will become all one thing or all the other.”
While it’s doubtful that the conference line-ups (at CPAC in Maryland, near Washington, DC and at The Club for Growth’s private donor retreat in Palm Beach, Florida) will engender as much long-lasting news coverage and ironic historical significance as the Lincoln/Douglas debates did in 1858, the two events will still serve to contrast the distinct worldviews represented by the headliner speakers at each place this weekend.
Donald Trump will be at CPAC; Ron DeSantis will appear at the Club for Growth gathering. Fellow Republican (though DeSantis hasn’t made it official yet) presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy have committed to speaking at both meetings, which will make for a logistical challenge for the two hopefuls to navigate.
But there’s no doubt that conservatives at either end of the political tug-of-war will primarily focus on Trump and DeSantis alone. The former president has let it be known that he regards DeSantis as disloyal for even contemplating running against him, and the Florida governor has mostly avoided any direct criticism of the 45th president while going about his business as the woke-smashing freedom promoting political superhero in The Sunshine State.
A House divided? You decide. In a report titled “Trump and DeSantis attend dueling Republican conferences as GOP primary field heats up”, Cami Mondeaux wrote at the Washington Examiner earlier this week:
“[In addition to appearing at CPAC,] Haley will also appear at the Club for Growth’s annual donor retreat, during which the group introduces possible candidates to big party donors ahead of the primary cycle. Trump, however, was not invited to attend. David McIntosh, president of the group, told reporters last month that the decision to leave Trump off the list wasn’t a personal slight, but he noted that Republican chances to win back the White House would be diminished with the former president at the top of the ticket.
“Several other GOP contenders are expected to attend Club for Growth’s event, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH). Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rick Scott (R-FL) are also set to attend, but neither senator has indicated whether they plan to launch a White House bid.
“Meanwhile, a slate of conservative firebrands is scheduled to attend CPAC, which has more closely aligned itself with Trump in recent years — marking a break from the Club for Growth, which has sought to distance itself from the former president to back DeSantis instead.”
The fact that the two meetings have somewhat split while being scheduled in the same time frame isn’t all that surprising. What is indeed head turning is the fact that many conservatives and elected Republicans appear to publicly be putting distance between themselves and the former president, almost treating him as though he were radioactive or something.
“Oh no, if the establishment media reports that I was on the same stage as Trump, they’ll make it sound like I’m in the Donald MAGA camp and I’ll be closed off from the anti-Trumpers for the primary season.”
Such hesitation is natural for politicians; after all, their livelihood depends on being popular, doesn’t it? But at the same time, putting too much real estate between what they’re trying to accomplish – to further the conservative movement and Republican party – won’t necessarily be better served by making it apparent that they don’t want to be anywhere near Trump at this time.
For it’s becoming obvious that Trump is pulling noticeably ahead in the very early primary race. As reported by the Washington Examiner’s political watcher Paul Bedard, another survey came out earlier this week suggesting that Trump and Trump alone should carry the GOP’s torch next year in the crucial 2024 election against Joe Biden (or whomever the Democrats nominate). The numbers showed Trump was the only one of the current Republican candidates who leads Biden – and his advantage was outside the poll’s margin of error.
What was more striking about the metrics of the poll was revealing where the two candidates’ (Trump and DeSantis) main base of support lies. Simply stated, Trump is hugely backed by Americans with a high school degree or less while DeSantis is favored by those Republicans with college degrees or higher. In other words, the workin’ man loves Trump and the educated (and more likely wealthier) lot is all-in for DeSantis.
Somewhat curiously, DeSantis also leads (by a couple points) among conservative voters over 65 and the Florida governor is gaining ground on Trump in the Midwest (a factor for the Iowa caucuses?).
Talk about a House divided. It signifies a complete divergence of political viewpoints. I won’t be at either meeting, but here’s guessing that the crowds at CPAC and the Club for Growth retreat will not be made up of those from Trump’s base. In contrast, the great preponderance of business attire wearing conference goers will almost certainly have attended college – somewhere.
This division meets with my own experience as well. I don’t meet a healthy representation from the high school diploma and under crowd, but the ones I’ve come across most definitely still love Trump and see him as representing the “regular folks” against the elites in the upper echelons of politics. Meanwhile, the highly educated degree earners concentrate more on Trump’s decorum (or to some of them, lack thereof) and think DeSantis embodies the MAGA movement’s goals without the nonstop controversy the older man carries with him everywhere.
Everyone harbors an opinion about the candidates’ electability, and there are just as many who swear that they won’t vote for the other contender if the choice comes down to it. Such bravado is common this far from entering the voting booth and registering a choice. Hanging over all of this is the specter of senile Joe Biden and the Democrats’ “Let’s destroy America” agenda.
For what it’s worth, it appears both Trump and DeSantis are biding their time waiting for the real fireworks to start later this spring or even well into the summer. Neither Nikki Haley nor Ramaswamy has dramatically altered the dynamics of what looks to be a two-man race. And it’s safe to say there will be a large percentage of attendees at both CPAC and the Club for Growth events who like and appreciate both frontrunners fairly equally.
That being said, as I’ve argued a lot lately, it would not behoove Trump to look at CPAC as an occasion to mercifully bash on DeSantis as the 2024 GOP establishment candidate. And it wouldn’t benefit DeSantis to overtly dig at the Trump administration’s uneven COVID response as a reason why the then incumbent president doesn’t deserve another term in the White House.
Haley will unquestionably make Trump’s age an issue during her speeches to CPAC and the Club’s donors, primarily because the “generational change” line of reasoning is all she has on the man. She’s been asked to articulate a policy difference she has with Trump and hasn’t come up with a very convincing answer.
Folks will pay close attention to Ramaswamy to see whether he has the presence and “it” factor to go from nowhere to a top tier competitor. Otherwise, he’s wasting everyone’s time while clearly attempting to garner name recognition for the future.
Is it really a house divided? Yes, there’s definitely those who are with Trump and those who are against Trump, sometimes known as anti-Trumpers – and this group leans heavily towards DeSantis as the perceived most electable candidate.
The impressive potential candidate group (as listed in Mondeaux’s article) speaking at the Club for Growth event this weekend may also be part of the 2024 equation sometime soon.
With each new entrant into the 2024 GOP field, the questions will continue as to whether Trump will be weakened – or if DeSantis will be strengthened by the growing coalition of those who want to replace the 45th president on the ballot. In the end, the “House” will sort itself out – and more than likely will become all of one or all of the other, just like Lincoln predicted.
And the Republicans will still need to take on the Democrat nominee late next year. Keep your eye on the prize.
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