Welcome to Thunderdome, where we had a brief glimpse last night of everything we could’ve gotten from a meaningful contest about America’s next generation of leadership, with two Generation Xers from opposite ideologies and coasts taking the stage together for what has to be considered the best debate of the cycle. It showed the clear differences between the governing styles of Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom, included some zingers and insults, but also left viewers with a clear idea of the differences between both states and both men.
Congratulations are also due to Sean Hannity, who showed himself more than capable, even as a conservative partisan, of managing a high-quality debate. Why on Earth has the GOP let other networks get away with the falsity that somehow Wolf Blitzer has any less of a partisan lean as a debate moderator? It’s much better to have a debate run by Rachel Maddow and Hannity, where your cards are on the table.
Given the quality of the fight, it sure is a shame that it was nothing but an exhibition match where the stakes don’t matter. DeSantis is fighting in the moment, but most everyone seems to think he’s really fighting about getting another shot in 2028 at this point. And Newsom — who DeSantis openly pressed to admit he’s running a shadow campaign — seems completely content to wait things out and run for a presumably open seat in four years.
Newsom’s bet, though, requires either Trump to win or Joe to finish out his second term, doesn’t it? Taking something away from Kamala, first minority female president, once she has ascended to the role will require more than just pronouncing her name according to her current wishes… and there will be some Democrats pressing Joe Biden to make that elevation his legacy, if his second term continues to show his accelerating decline. It’s a hard challenge for Newsom to face.
In 1976, when Ronald Reagan stood up in Kansas City to give his impromptu last-minute speech on bringing the party together and the threat of nuclear destruction, Republicans realized they’d made a mistake. For four years, they looked back on the moment they nominated Gerald Ford as a missed opportunity. DeSantis has to hope, given all the polling numbers, that this is the way Republicans come to view him as well. That could prove even harder.
Blue Horseshoe loves Nikki Haley
On this week’s Thunderdome podcast, we focused on the question of Nikki Haley’s dominance among the donor class — including the Koch network, Wall Street and now, apparently, Paul Ryan:
SPOTTED during a flight from Canada to DC on Tuesday morning: former Speaker PAUL RYAN attempting to persuade Representative MIKE GALLAGHER via text message to endorse NIKKI HALEY’s presidential bid.
“I think now is the time for a guy like you to endorse,” Ryan wrote, per photographs reviewed by Playbook. “Plus, Her foreign policy/world views track closest to yours. She brings the most excitement. I like RON [DeSANTIS], but don’t think he is the growth stock Niki [sic] is. Just following up per our talk [in] September. Go Packers!”
Said a Gallagher spokesperson, “As Congressman Gallagher has repeatedly said, he has no intention to endorse any candidate at this time.” A spokesperson for Ryan, who opposes DONALD TRUMP’s re-nomination but hasn’t endorsed an alternative, noted that the former speaker publicly praised Haley as “the growth stock” in a CNBC appearance yesterday.
The money is good, and helpful — but can it elevate Haley enough? Henry Olsen is skeptical.
Haley does not essentially differ from the pre-Trump Republican consensus on any issue. She’s the most aggressively hawkish candidate, fully backing military aid to Ukraine. She also is soft-peddling her pro-life bona fides, refusing to endorse a nationwide fifteen-week ban on abortion. Both stances are music to the ears of the type of voter who would reluctantly prefer Joe Biden to Donald Trump. It’s grating for many conservative Republicans whose overriding passion to move away from what they call “the uniparty” in favor of aggressively populist conservatism.
Haley’s best hope rests in mobilizing millions of moderate and less conservative independents who don’t usually vote in Republican primaries. She could give them a choice, not a MAGA echo. Those voters wouldn’t be captured in current polls, which presumably are modeling a more traditional electorate. That’s not impossible, but it’s hard to see how a grassroots entity dedicated to backing libertarian-leaning policies can help.
Nikki Haley has made herself into a serious contender for the nomination, and she won’t look Mr. Koch’s gift horse in the mouth. If she knows what the real barrier is to her victory, though, she’ll quickly move on to focus on energizing a constituency that AFP doesn’t know much about.
Can Trump win younger voters?
One of the challenges raised by all of the primary candidates in some way or another has been the question: Joe Biden is very weak among younger voters, but how is the Trump campaign going to woo them to an almost just as elderly candidate? Shelby Talcott describes the plan:
Already, Trump has ramped up his visits to sporting events: he’s shown up at UFC fights, attended major college football games and even spent time at a college fraternity, where he threw footballs out to a crowd of students. The former president, known for his obsession with TV ratings, has appeared on a number of non-traditional media platforms with younger followings. In July, he sat down with a popular UFC podcast, and he’s also done sitdown interviews with shows like the Full Send podcast…
They are looking at ways to leverage Trump’s inroads in pop culture, especially hip hop, as one route to nudge younger voters into giving him a closer look. His relationship with Ye, formerly Kanye West, became a liability after his antisemitic turn, but advisors point to other figures who have Gen Z appeal.
“President Trump has all sorts of celebrities and famous people that are promoting his presidency, are saying positive things about him — people that you might not expect for a Republican presidential candidate: you look at Kodak Black, you look at what Lil Wayne has said, you look at Lil Pump, you look at Sexyy Red. You look at Jorge Masvidal, you look at Jelly Roll. You look at all these various performers from all the way across the spectrum — in addition to athletes,” a senior Trump advisor pointed out.
The Trump campaign’s push coincides with a number of recent polls suggesting Biden is in hot water with this group of voters: an NBC News poll from earlier in November found Biden behind Trump among those aged 18-34; A set of New York Times polls published at the beginning of the month had Biden ahead by only one percentage point with the same voting range group; A Quinnipiac poll found him to be up by nine, far behind his twenty-four-point margin in 2020 exit polls. There are exceptions — a YouGov poll this week found Biden leading Trump with under-thirty voters by twenty-seven — but the overall trend has been unmistakable.
The biggest problem here, of course, is that the pullaway from Biden is almost assuredly driven by opposition among younger Democratic leaning voters to his pro-Israel agenda. Unless Trump decides to start saying “from the river to the sea,” can he really bring them along?
One more thing
The third party machinations continue apace, with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. holding a rally in Salt Lake City last night, designed to gain the thousand signatures he needs to be on the ballot in Utah as an independent candidate. Meanwhile, No Labels is canceling its planned convention to give Joe Manchin more time to consider a run, even as the shell group for a candidate to be named later promises it’ll be at or near thresholds to be on the ballot in at least twenty-seven states by the end of the year.
But one name who swears he’s not getting in, no way, no how is Mark Cuban, who sparked speculation with his recent sale of Dallas Mavericks and announcement that he’s leaving the hit show Shark Tank. He tells Axios that he’s never running for elective office, period. And why would he? What person in their right mind would want this job, or any job in elected office? And that’s how you get George Santos.