A song came to mind as we enter the bound-to-be-consequential but patently
unpredictable election year of 2024. The chorus goes like this:
“I'm goin' back in time; And it's a sweet dream
It was a quiet night; And I would be all right; If I could go on sleepin'
But every mornin' I wake up and worry; What's gonna happen today
You see it your way And I see it mine
But we both see it slippin' away”
Fans of 1970’s classic rock will undoubtedly recognize the Eagles’ “Best of My Love” words, a song obviously written to describe the end of a brief but passionate relationship. It’s highly doubtful, at least, that the band members who penned the lines ever considered the tune as applying to politics. (Here’s a video of the single, should you choose to reminisce.) From personal experience, the song isn’t as easy to sing around a campfire as the group’s “Take It Easy” or “Peaceful Easy Feeling” or “Tequila Sunrise”, but it works in other ways, too.
The winding down of political relationships is exactly what’s happening in Iowa and New Hampshire these days, as the Hawkeye State’s caucuses and Granite State’s primary are now basically two and three weeks away, respectively. The surviving GOP candidates certainly must wake up every morning wondering… what’s going to happen today? It’s impossible to prophesy, which is fitting for this entire year, really. Is it slippin’ away, though?
One Republican candidate in particular is taking the final campaign phases seriously. In a lengthy report titled “Two Minute Warning: On the Road in Iowa With Ron DeSantis”, the always reliable Philip Wegmann wrote at Real Clear Politics recently:
“DeSantis has been blitzing Iowa non-stop, making stops in all 99 counties, many of them more than once. Ahead of the holidays, he mops up the western side of the state where he tells voters the country needs ‘a new birth of freedom’ and promises to be their ‘change agent.’ This isn’t just talk. Voters can see what he did in Florida. On policy, and more importantly, on getting that policy enacted into law, DeSantis has what many conservatives consider a perfect record.
“But if it hasn’t already, the race for the Republican nomination may be shifting from a conversation about the fate of the country to a question about the fate of one man. ‘This whole legal stuff has had a big impact on the overall dynamics,’ DeSantis says of how former President Trump’s myriad of felony counts and other legal challenges to his empire and his candidacy have changed the race. And this, among other factors, he says during an interview with RealClearPolitics, is ‘beyond my control.’…
“[A]s the day draws to a close, the candidate predicts that all the hard work will soon be worth it. ‘I think you’re going to see it really come to fruition when we get to the caucus,’ DeSantis tells RCP. After all, the governor did all the leg work already.”
And work hard DeSantis has done. He entered the GOP race late and decided to announce his candidacy on Twitter, a stunt that went remarkably wrong when the platform crashed before the candidate had a chance to say anything. It was an inauspicious beginning for the Florida governor, who likely surmised that his wildly efficacious Florida experience would translate to the national campaign trail.
DeSantis’s failure to catch proverbial fire isn’t necessarily his fault, as he pointed out to Wegmann in the report that is definitely worth reading in its entirety if you have time. Gov. Ron has been swamped by the tsunami of news coverage surrounding Donald Trump’s legal woes, which has only served to rally the former president’s troops around him and weave them into a tighter knot than there was to begin with.
But it isn’t necessarily just Trump that’s credited with DeSantis’s (somewhat) underwhelming 2023 campaign narrative. It’s really just simple human nature. For a conservative Republican electorate quite conditioned to Trump after eight years of the career real estate developer/tabloid celebrity/reality TV star, DeSantis’s comparatively mild-mannered spiel just couldn’t keep up. It’s not that people disliked Gov. Ron, in most cases they just liked Trump better as a figurehead of the type of political leader who fits these impossible times.
Both Trump and DeSantis are system-disruptors who tear up the train tracks behind them wherever they go. But Trump’s very-public struggles and battles have been front and center the whole time. Trump didn’t need to build a brand or explain who he was, and his “Make America Great Again” slogan was always there to reinforce his attempt to gain the second term he still insists was stolen from him.
Trump began the race with enormous plusses and the advantages have carried through to today. As the primary and caucus voters’ mindset shifted from “discovery” mode to “viability” mode, the emphasis went from learning everything there is to know about a candidate within the span of an hour or two – and reinforced, over and over again, by advertisements (TV, radio and internet) and, to the extent the individual engages with friends, relatives, passersby and the clerk down at the local store, word-of-mouth – to a process of elimination.
Voters in the early states, despite the “lack of diversity” talk from the establishment media, aren’t all that different from politics watchers anywhere. They have a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, experience, opinions and culture to guide them on how to handle the awesome responsibility of weighing-in first in any particular party presidential race. They just might have different preferences from residents of major cities, etc.
For “new” candidates like DeSantis, the task of educating open-minded voters became that much more arduous, since someone like former president Trump already had a huge head start over everyone else. It goes without saying that there’s a pool of “anyone but Trump” caucus and primary participants out there, and the not-Trump candidates were all competing for that slice, plus attempting to poach some from the “Only Trump” faction.
Obviously, if the polls are to be believed, this voter-stealing exercise was not successful. That’s where viability enters the picture. Every nominating cycle offers a period where voters are susceptible to arguments in favor of particular candidates. Full spectrum principled conservatives, thoroughly turned off by the Republican establishment over the years, automatically dismiss any candidate who smells too swampy or tied to the bluebloods. Think Nikki Haley here.
The typically small sampling of liberty-loving hopefuls then compete for the much larger smattering of informed conservative voters. In 2016, for example, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump vied for the conservative Iowans, with Trump then picking up the preponderance of “burn down the system” populist adherents, the rest going to Cruz and Ben Carson.
It’s a little hard to recall now, but Jeb! Bush was supposed to run away with the nomination due to his tangible connection to the only successful Republican candidate from the previous 20 years. Iowans and New Hampshire-ites had other ideas, however, more closely sticking to the we-need-a-massive-switch campaign messages of the “outsiders” group, which included Trump and Cruz but also Carson, Carly Fiorina and Senator Rand Paul.
After a time in 2015 and 2016, just like with 2023 last year, some of the candidates lost momentum and were switched from every voter’s “maybe” mental category to “but he/she’s not gonna win” designation. The only three GOPers who came out of Iowa with viability eight years ago were Cruz, Trump and Marco Rubio. It should also be pointed out that the establishment favorites, Rubio and Bush, only commanded about 25 percent of the vote at the time.
In 2024 it’s safe to say the Bush/Romney-types would be thrilled with a quarter of the caucus vote – primarily directed towards Nikki Haley… and possibly a couple percentage points to Chris Christie. The balance of the conservative not-Trump pool will gravitate towards DeSantis, and, again, a few percentage points for Vivek Ramaswamy.
Note: Last week Ramaswamy predicted there will be a “big surprise” on caucus night, but he wasn’t clear what it would be. Will he drop out and endorse Trump in two weeks? The announcement wouldn’t be much of a shocker, but it would certainly generate a couple days’ worth of side news coverage after Trump’s win. Get ready for a rush of “Let’s consolidate the Republican vote” stories.
But a lot of folks, perhaps myself included, will be left wondering why DeSantis didn’t do better. Ramaswamy’s ascendance and then semi-rapid deflation was foreseeable from a long distance. Late 30-somethings with no political experience and a penchant for stream-of-consciousness insulting remarks towards the old guard (not Trump, mind you) have a tendency to flame out over time.
The same massive intellect and internal fortitude that allowed Ramaswamy to climb the early polls was arguably his downfall, because, at some point, he went from the future of the Republican party to the guy that the establishment candidates loved to kick around. Mike Pence branded Vivek as inexperienced in the first party debate. Nikki Haley called him “scum” in the third debate. Chris Christie scolded him like a child in the last forum.
What could Ramaswamy possibly counter with? There was no record, no backstop, no “pull in case of emergency” lever to revive his flagging campaign. Viability was lost in these moments.
The only question remaining regarding the 2024 Republican race is how many – if any – of the not-Trump candidates can achieve “viable” status once the first two states vote this month. Finishing second in a primary race is usually seen as a positive thing for any contender, but this year’s contest is clearly different. Coming in second by a point or a few points means something.
Finishing second when the winner has close to or over 50 percent… big deal?
It would be challenging for any song writer to come up with a tune that encapsulates the 2024 Republican presidential race as it steadily moves towards the first official votes being cast in a matter of weeks. Perhaps Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” or Queen’s “We Are the Champions” could be applied to Donald Trump? For the rest, it’s what’s going to happen today?
Joe Biden economy
Biden cognitive decline
January 6 Committee
Build Back Better
Marjorie Taylor Green
2024 presidential election