Fresh off the heels of former President Donald Trump’s record-breaking victory in New Hampshire, both he and President Joe Biden have decided it’s time to start the presidential campaign in earnest. With the spin not yet settled, it seems the two front-runners are ready to skip further skirmishes and head straight for the 2024 warzone.
As the incumbent, Mr. Biden’s nomination prospects were never truly in doubt despite longshot campaigns courtesy of Representative Dean Phillips (MN-D) and author Mariane Williamson. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, had all the organs of state against him, much of his own party leadership, and even a significant swath of Republican voters who joined the Never Trump or Never Trump Again bandwagon. Holding off an insurgent campaign by former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to a double-digit win and breaking records for primary votes in the Granite State has – although Ms. Haley may disagree – effectively locked up the GOP nomination.
So, where do the candidates go from here?
The Biden Switcheroo
Speaking with Liberty Nation Radio, senior political analyst Tim Donner pointed out a paradox in the Team Biden narrative. For months, the dominant story has been that Joe Biden welcomes the prospect of running against Donald Trump – after all, he has already beaten him once. But those were different times beset by a once-in-a-generation pandemic, and Biden himself was an unknown quantity in terms of presidential fitness.
Mr. Donner astutely notes that the dozens of felony charges across four indictments have failed to scupper Trump’s support – as proven by his being the first non-incumbent to win both Iowa and New Hampshire since the modern election system came into play. In fact, with each new indictment, Trump seemed to gain in popularity. If he were genuinely the candidate Team Biden wanted to face, why have Democrat activist groups and donors been pouring so much time and treasure into the Haley campaign?
After three years with Biden in office, the economy and immigration are the two hot topics for voters – both areas in which the incumbent is deep in the red. And more importantly, these are two key areas where both men are polar opposites.
According to the latest CBS/YouGov polling, 70% of respondents disapprove of the current president’s handling of immigration, with only 30% believing he is doing a good job – that’s a 12-point drop since last year. As for the economy, Biden is again underwater to the tune of 28 points, with 36% approval vs 64% disapproval. Digging deeper, just 13% say they are better off financially than when Biden took office. Coincidentally, only 13% said they were less well-off under Donald Trump.
Legal issues have – so far – failed to tarnish Trump, and the two areas of policy he is best known for are now at the forefront of voter concerns. Could this be why an administration and progressive movement that once welcomed the prospect of a rematch has been so keen to get Haley across the finish line?
Signals that President Bidden considers the primary contests over include a reshuffling of staff with two senior White House advisors, Mike Donilon and Jen O’Malley Dillon, being seconded to the campaign team.
Trump Digging In
Donald Trump has decided to put the donor class on notice as he seeks to shore up his support as the “presumptive nominee.” Writing on his TruthSocial platform:
“When I ran for Office and won, I noticed that the losing Candidate’s ‘Donors’ would immediately come to me, and want to ‘help out.’ This is standard in Politics, but no longer with me. Anybody that makes a ‘Contribution’ to Birdbrain [his nickname for Nikki Haley], from this moment forth, will be permanently barred from the MAGA camp. We don’t want them, and will not accept them, because we Put America First, and ALWAYS WILL!”
“From this moment forth” is, indeed, a threat with an air of tacit forgiveness. He seems to be saying that donors can be forgiven for supporting Haley in the past but that after his Iowa and New Hampshire wins, any cash handed over is an “anti-Trump” move and one that will be viewed harshly.
But cash is just one string of the campaign violin.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has decided that Trump is their man. She said: “I’m looking at the math and the path forward for Nikki Haley, and I don’t see it.” McDaniel then called for her party to “unite around our eventual nominee, which is going to be Donald Trump.”
So far, at least 30 sitting US senators have given Trump their endorsement, along with more than 130 US representatives. These numbers are expected to rise over the coming week.
But What of Nikki Haley?
The former governor and UN ambassador has fought off tough competition from eight opponents. Among the heavy hitters were a former vice president, a handful of governors, and a sitting US senator – an impressive feat by any standard. But her continuing campaign has been tainted from the start by the perceived reliance on Democrats to drag her across the finish line.
LinkedIn founder and Democrat donor Reid Hoffman made a case for his quarter-of-a-million-dollar donation to Haley’s campaign. “While we are fighting to defend the idea of America from the threat of Trumpism, we need to engage with people with whom we disagree about many areas of policy and culture. Nikki Haley would not be as good for America as Joe Biden, but America would survive her administration,” Hoffman wrote – and he is not the only high-profile character to get on this train.
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon implored an audience last November:
“If you’re a very liberal Democrat, I urge you to help Nikki Haley, too. Give them a choice on the Republican side that might be better than Trump.”
And then, of course, there is the voting campaign in open primary states where unaffiliated voters can cast a ballot for either party. In New Hampshire, the progressive activist group Primary Pivot has been working hard and spending cash on getting folks to vote Nikki to block Trump. Founder Robert Schwartz told Politico: “We only care about damaging Donald Trump. For better or for worse, the only thing you can do if you really want to stop Trump is to vote for Haley.” And he certainly had some success.
Fox News notes: “Unaffiliated voters made up slightly less than half of the electorate (47%) and broke for Haley by 26 points.” That means that of Haley’s total share, 70% were not Republicans.
Nikki Haley will continue her campaign for now, but with no delegates heading her way from Nevada (as she is not registered in the state caucus) and polling suggesting she will be trounced by Trump in her home state of South Carolina, one might see this as a waste of her time and political capital. However, Trump still faces serious felony charges. Although the indictments have not harmed him so far, a conviction (and sentencing) could damage his support. By staying in the race, she may end up being the only viable candidate left standing.
The War Begins
With less than ten months to go before America chooses its next president, the two presumptive candidates are eager to sell their track records, their visions of hope, and even their previews of potential disaster to the public. They will almost certainly be either ably helped or hindered by the Fourth Estate in pushing their particular messages.
Certainly, there will be talk of the economy, immigration, international stability, and leadership, but perhaps these are all mere side issues. Joe Biden insists that the nation’s Democracy is on the ballot, and Donald Trump’s rebuttal is that the existence of America itself is in jeopardy. Maybe the truth is – as ever – somewhere in the middle, and yet that kind of attitude doesn’t animate quite so much. It appears this election will be won or lost based on who pushes the envelope furthest. But as Benjamin Franklin once warned, “A great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges.”