Welcome to Thunderdome, where this week for the first time we saw major backlash to Donald Trump over an issue that was key to his past political success. The relationship between pro-life voters and Donald Trump was always transactional. The question Trump raised in comments this weekend is whether he views that transaction as over. In 2016, he needed the support of abortion foes to win the GOP nomination. Now, he doesn’t think he needs them at all, and it seems he’s more focused on a general election mindset of the suburban voters he lost in 2020 and his endorsed candidates struggled to win back in 2022. There’s already major backlash to Trump’s language from leading pro-life groups and figures — but is it enough to make an opening for another candidate to rise in response?
We discuss all this and more on the Thunderdome podcast this week. Listen and subscribe today.
Sending a message that Ron DeSantis is wrong about everything is something that Trump wants to do every moment of every day. But in doing so, he is also signaling disagreement with the many states and governors who made the same decision DeSantis did in signing a six-week abortion ban. That list includes Kim Reynolds, Henry McMaster, Brian Kemp, Mike DeWine, Greg Abbott, and they’re not irrelevant to the GOP nomination process states of Iowa, South Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Texas, and, of course, Florida. Calling the decision made by these pro-life governors to sign heartbeat bills “terrible” is much harsher language than the more subtle critique raised by Nikki Haley, and prompted the sharpest criticism yet not just from Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence but from Tim Scott.
It’s an open question how much this matters in pulling people away from Trump, especially given his significant polling lead (the latest Fox Business poll finds Trump 31 points ahead of DeSantis in Iowa, and 28 points ahead of Haley in South Carolina). But pro-life voters are an outsized contingent in GOP primaries going back decades, and they care far more about this topic than the general electorate. If Trump doubles down and repeats these comments as he tends to do, it’s the first sign of an actual break with his base of support, which this time around is built more on conservative voters than on moderates.
For opposing takes on the subject, read Rich Lowry in Politico (who thinks Trump won’t feel pain over this) and Chris Bedford in the Telegraph (who thinks he definitely could). And in case you want a bigger picture look at the issue, my latest Spectator World magazine article focuses on the idea that Dobbs is turning into a Pyrrhic victory… and it doesn’t need to be.
Could Iowa break things open?
Karl Rove might be engaging in some wishful thinking in the WSJ, but he’s not wrong about the comparisons:
It’s beginning to dawn on Donald Trump that Iowa matters.
Until now it looked as if the former president was devoting more time to meeting with lawyers than engaging with voters, so his recent burst of activity in the Hawkeye State is revealing. His notoriously cheap campaign dropped $700,000 on Iowa TV last week. He finally hired a director to oversee his Iowa ground game. On Wednesday he stopped in Maquoketa and Dubuque, and he vows to return to the state four times in October. That means that over the next six weeks he’ll spend about as many days in Iowa as he has over the past nine months.
Team Trump appears to have realized that Iowa could end the GOP nomination or set up a long battle akin to what the Democrats went through in 1984. Before voting started that year, front-runner Walter Mondale, a former vice president, was way ahead. In the last Gallup survey of Iowans before they voted, Mondale scored 49 percent to 13 percent each for Jesse Jackson and Ohio Sen. John Glenn. Five percent went for South Dakota Sen. George McGovern and 3 percent for both Sens. Alan Cranston of California and Gary Hart of Colorado.
When Hawkeye Democrats caucused Feb. 20, Mondale won his 49 percent, but Mr. Hart finished a surprising second with 16%. Propelled by fawning coverage and aided by a well-organized New Hampshire apparatus, the Coloradan scored a 10-point victory in the Granite State primary eight days later. Mondale’s hold on the nomination suddenly was shaky.
The Minnesotan went on the offense, attacking Mr. Hart in a March 11 debate for his vacuous platform: “When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad, ‘Where’s the beef?’ ” Still Mr. Hart won 24 more contests and the race wasn’t settled until June 5, when Mondale won enough delegates in New Jersey and West Virginia to clinch the nomination with only 22 delegates to spare. A campaign that looked invincible before voting began nearly collapsed when things didn’t pan out as predicted. It could happen again, and Mr. Trump’s recent Iowa moves shows his campaign knows it.
Mr. Trump’s insistence that his victory is inevitable makes a Mondale scenario more likely. The higher he raises expectations, the easier it will be for his performance to disappoint. Mondale’s performance in Iowa matched the polls, but Mr. Hart’s sudden jump was enough to shake public confidence.
This is particularly important in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the former president is running below his national number. Rivals claim their early-state polls show him in the mid-30s to the low 40s, compared with 58.8 percent in the RealClearPolitics national average. That’s because voters in early states are paying more attention than Republicans elsewhere and are seeing more of Mr. Trump’s competitors. It isn’t wise for Team Trump to keep claiming that “even the most conservative polls” in Iowa have him more than 24 points ahead of anyone else. What if he polls lower next year?
Is No Labels for real?
More than 15,000 people in Arizona have registered to join a new political party floating a possible bipartisan “unity ticket” against Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
While that’s less than the population of each of the state’s 40 largest cities, it’s still a number big enough to tip the presidential election in a critical swing state. And that is alarming people trying to stop Trump from winning the White House again.
The very existence of the No Labels group is fanning Democratic anxiety about Trump’s chances against an incumbent president facing questions about his age and record.
While it hasn’t committed to running candidates for president and vice president, No Labels has already secured ballot access in Arizona and 10 other states. Its organizers say they are on track to reach 20 states by the end of this year and all 50 states by Election Day…
In Arizona, which Biden won by about 10,000 votes, the state Democratic Party sued Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, also a Democrat, to try to prevent No Labels from being on the ballot. The party lost in court and then dropped its lawsuit. Now Democrats are pushing Fontes to force No Labels to disclose its donors, having insinuated that the group is being supported by conservatives attempting to thwart Biden. No Labels has so far refused to name how it is funding its work, saying it follows federal law and wants to protect the privacy of its donors.
Fontes has not commented publicly but is expected to announce a decision in the coming weeks after telling No Labels he may take action against the group for failing to register under the state’s campaign finance law. His decision is likely to be challenged in court.
Tim Scott downplays debate performance
Well, this is one way to deal with a lackluster debate performance: seed the ground for doing it again!
“I’d encourage you to remember that these nights are merely a single moment in time,” Scott’s campaign manager, Jennifer DeCasper, wrote in a memo to donors obtained by POLITICO. “Any candidate who hopes to truly capitalize on it must be disciplined and built for the long haul.”
The memo, an effort to frame expectations for the next debate, follows the first debate in August during which the South Carolina senator faded into the background for long stretches, sparking concern among some supporters. It does nothing to suggest that Scott will deviate from once again being Mr. Nice Guy on stage, arguing he ultimately stands to benefit from his likable demeanor.
Without name-checking other candidates, DeCasper wrote, “Press hype or a few snappy lines on national television don’t change the fundamentals of a campaign.”
It’s all well and good for Scott to be the candidate in the race with the highest positives, but if you can’t deliver a punch on stage, it’s also a sign that you may not be the best choice for presidential nominations in the 2020s, or vice presidential for that matter.
Scott faces a real challenge as the only senator in this race, potentially with a long career ahead of him (if he doesn’t stick to self-imposed term limits). The lesson of 2016 was that a lot of new senators hurt themselves by staying in too long and underperforming at the ballot box, and it would be a shame to see that happen to someone who could potentially be a leading voice in the Senate.
One more thing
Rupert Murdoch is stepping down as chairman of Fox and News Corp. in a move that will prompt a ton of speculation about the future under his son Lachlan and the shifting politics of conservative media. Murdoch writes in his letter announcing the shift to a “chairman emeritus” role:
Our companies are in robust health, as am I. Our opportunities far exceed our commercial challenges. We have every reason to be optimistic about the coming years – I certainly am, and plan to be here to participate in them. But the battle for the freedom of speech and, ultimately, the freedom of thought, has never been more intense.
My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause. Self- serving bureaucracies are seeking to silence those who would question their provenance and purpose. Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites, peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth.
The ramifications of this move could be massive, but how much it is felt in the immediate sense remains to be seen. But for the moment, it’s incredible to consider how much of an impact he had on the world of media and politics:
Murdoch inherited a small Australian newspaper business and built it into a colossus, acquiring or creating iconic brands across publishing, television and film. He snapped up newspapers including the Times of London, the New York Post and the Journal; launched the Fox network on the back of franchises like “The Simpsons” and NFL football; presided over the Hollywood studio behind “Avatar” and “Titanic”; built up pay-TV giant Sky in the U.K.; and reshaped U.S. cable news with Fox News, whose conservative commentary drew loyal viewers and fierce critics and became one of his most successful bets.
I’m sure Michael Wolff will have some opinions now.