Good Friday Morning! Especially to Jalin Hyatt, the Biletnikoff Award winner for the best Wide Receiver in America. I have less kind greetings for the Heisman committee this week, which should have invited Hendon Hooker to New York City for the proceedings. Regardless, it’s nice to see Tennessee Vols getting end-of-the-season awards both nationally and in the conference.
This week, I’m going to dive deeply into why Democrats and Republicans are tinkering with the 2024 presidential primaries. I mentioned last week Biden was tinkering with things. Republicans are in talks to take different actions. We’ll get into what both are doing and why they’re taking action this early—links to follow.
- I got notified that the Conservative Institute was removing ads from my columns to make it easier for readers. If you’ve had to use ad blockers in the past or switched to “reader view” on Apple devices, that should no longer be an issue. Feel free to read below.
- Elon Musk continues to release more information related to internal Twitter emails, Slack discussions, and more. Matt Taibbi had the first thread here. Taibbi wrote a supplemental thread later on here. Bari Weiss published the second thread while I was writing this week’s issue. My column at CI relates to the first thread. I’ll have more to say on what Weiss published, likely Monday morning. Long story short: Twitter censored the Hunter Biden story without a basis. Further, they’ve engaged in the shadowbanning of conservative accounts, which they denied doing before Congress.
- Marc Andreessen raised a good point on Twitter: “The Big Question is, has any arm of the US government been illegally and unconstitutionally outsourcing violations of citizens’ guaranteed rights under the 1st, 4th, and 5th Amendments to private entities? There are a variety of ways this could happen. Coercion, funding, and seconding of staff jump immediately to mind. The private entity may be a victim or a co-conspirator (or both).”
- Warnock’s victory over Walker in Georgia was what I expected. Walker was another weak Trump-aligned candidate. In a state where Republicans won comfortably up and down the ballot, Walker lost. Georgia governor Brian Kemp is building towards a Senate run of his own, so I think the GOP is likely to regain one of these seats. Watch Warnock 2024 buzz moving forward.
Where you can find me this week
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[12/05/2022] Musk’s Twitter Files reveals leftist censorship – Conservative Institute
[12/09/2022] Biden empowers Putin with Brittney Griner trade – Conservative Institute
Biden tries to change the line-up; Republicans have a numbers problem.
In the Quick Hits section last week, I noted that Joe Biden was trying to change the Democratic Primaries. Here’s a quick recap:
Joe Biden is attempting to re-do the Democratic primaries. Instead of starting with Iowa and New Hampshire, the White House wants to start with South Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Georgia, and Michigan. New Hampshire law dictates that they have to be the first primary, so whatever state tries to be first will immediately get undercut by NH. Michigan is attempting to work its way higher up the rankings. The inclusion of Michigan on this early primary list makes Pete Buttigieg’s decision to move there over the summer look more calculating. He claimed he moved there for family, which even Politico doubted at the time. Biden’s attempt to meddle in these primaries is notable, but faces many hurdles. If SC/GA appear earlier in the primaries, many white progressives will face a long, uphill battle (see Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders, etc.).
That effort continued this week. Republicans are also looking at tinkering with their primary setup but not the voting order of states. I got several questions about this last week, and I thought covering the mindset of both parties was worthwhile. 2024 seems like a long time off, but the first primaries are only 13 months away. Republican Presidential debates will likely start in the next 8-10 months.
In short, the clock is ticking.
Both parties are refighting the primary battles from 2016 (GOP) and 2020 (Democrats). Let’s start with Democrats and then shift to Republicans.
First up, Democrats.
On the Democratic side, you might recall that Joe Biden won the overall primaries but didn’t win his first state until South Carolina. Biden lost Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada convincingly. But then came South Carolina, where he won and used that momentum to push everyone else out quickly (except Bernie).
In 2016, Bernie Sanders caused Hilary Clinton heartburn by winning New Hampshire and pushing her in primary states. Clinton held off Bernie by locking up caucus states, the strategy that Obama used to beat Clinton in 2008. In retrospect, Bernie Sanders beating Clinton across the midwest (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota) was a precursor for the general. In both 2016 and 2020, the state that dealt a blow to Bernie Sanders was South Carolina.
Democratic-Socialists fail to win races where minorities, especially Black voters, dominate the race. And in South Carolina and Georgia, Democratic-Socialists and white progressives struggle to succeed. The Democratic establishment sees Bernie as a threat to winning, so they’re trying to make it easier for the Clintons and Bidens of the world to win.
Biden is trying to shore up his base and that of establishment Democrats. Additionally, NBC News reports that the White House is thinking about Kamala Harris too:
While Biden figures to reap the most reward from his own plan — putting his best political turf first — party strategists say it also creates a natural advantage for Harris in a future run for the White House.
Harris is the first Black woman ever elected on a national ticket, and Black voters often make up a majority of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina — with Black women voting in higher numbers than Black men. Even as her favorability numbers have languished far below the break-even point in national polls, her standing has remained strong with Black voters — at 67.4% in the latest YouGov survey of registered voters.
“It sets her up,” said Pete D’Alessandro, an Iowa-based Democratic strategist who served as a senior adviser on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 bid. “I’m thinking Pete Buttigieg is not really happy with this one.”
Aside from Democratic Socialists, Pete Buttigieg is the other clear loser in this format. Although he’s beloved in polling, many national Democrats did not take kindly to a mayor from Indiana for upstaging the party. Everyone noticed the same thing about Buttigieg’s support: it was overwhelmingly white.
Democrats are trying to make it harder for candidates like Buttigieg and Bernie to storm the party. If they had this setup in 2008, Obama likely would have lost. Obama did not gain the trust of Black voters until he scored a shocking victory in Iowa. Clinton had to storm back in New Hampshire and Nevada before the South Carolina showdown. By that time, people had started believing in Obama.
Biden’s proposal Thursday then “came as a shock” to leading Democrats, the Washington Post’s Michael Scherer and Tyler Pager reported. Iowa would still be dropped. But the president wants South Carolina to go first, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada on the same day, then Georgia, and then Michigan.
I get the impulse to remove Iowa for Democrats. Iowa is developing a similar problem for Democrats that other red states have. Conservatives dominate state politics to such an extent that the remaining Democrats are extreme and unrepresentative of the national party. The only liberals left are in blue urban cores with little connection to the rest of the state.
The problem with Biden’s plan is simple: he likely can’t do it. I credit Vox for popping this bubble:
But one catch — and a big one — is that Democrats don’t actually have the power to move all these states’ official primary dates. Republicans control state governments in New Hampshire and Georgia, and a Republican will soon be inaugurated governor of Nevada, too. (The GOP also controls South Carolina’s government, but state law gives the Democratic Party the power to set its own primary date.) The Republican National Committee has already declared it will make no changes to the Republican nominating calendar, and New Hampshire officials have pledged to ensure no primary goes before theirs. And even Democratic officials in New Hampshire and Nevada have already criticized Biden’s proposal.
Theoretically, state Democratic parties in these GOP-run states can opt out of the state-run primary and hold their own nominating contests on different dates. But that would mean opting out of state funding and election administration and having the party run the contests themselves — an expensive and logistically difficult prospect, particularly given that Biden also said he wants to maximize participation and abandon caucuses.
Additionally, New Hampshire has state law dictating that it must be the first primary in the country. Iowa is a caucus state, which allows New Hampshire to go “second.” New Hampshire will move to whatever date keeps it ahead of other primary states.
Between the states already near the top being unhappy about getting pushed out of the limelight, it’s unlikely Republicans help out Democrats. What could get interesting is if Democrats start accusing each other of racism for not moving states like South Carolina and Georgia earlier in the lineup.
Biden’s plan is unlikely to happen. But it does show you where the internal divisions are in the Democratic Party.
Next up, Republicans.
The GOP has a different issue: the field is too large. In 2016, Republicans could not consolidate around an alternative to Trump quickly enough to prevent him from taking the race. Even with Trump and Ronald DeSantis dominating the 2024 coverage, a large field will still emerge.
How do you deal with fields that are too large?
In the shadow of 2016’s rambunctious and borderline noxious GOP presidential debates, the Republican National Committee is considering not just tinkering with the format, but adopting potentially drastic changes in anticipation of a crowded field.
As The Daily Beast reported in November, RNC members during a closed doors meeting following the midterms tossed around a figure of upwards of 20 candidates expected to run in 2024. Instead of doing the so-called varsity and JV debates from 2016—where top-tier candidates debated on one night, while the no chance also-rans parried on a second night—the RNC is looking at holding separate debates with random draws (a format the Democrats adopted in 2020), according to a GOP source with direct knowledge of the committee discussions on the 2024 debate schedule.
“There would be parameters for people getting into a debate, such as how they’re polling or how much money they’ve raised, how many donors they have. Those are the kind of things we’ll look at,” the Republican operative said.
The bulk of that article centers around tinkering with the debate format and potentially getting rid of moderators. While that’s an interesting point, it’s unimportant. The critical issue raised is this: how does a candidate qualify for the debate stage?
As Democrats and Republicans have learned, if the parameters for the first debates are too easy, you end up with hopeless candidates on the stage. For instance, Democrats had nearly 20 candidates on the 2020 primary ballot and many more who announced but didn’t get on a primary ballot.
Republicans had similarly large fields in 2012 and 2016.
In general, I’m okay with larger fields for that first debate. But after that, parties have to start winnowing the field. Polling thresholds of 2-5% in the first debate are acceptable. However, once the second debate arrives, we need to start upping the requirements closer to double-digits. The goal here is to force consolidation of the candidates instead of diffusing the vote.
For instance, I know right now that potential candidates for 2024 are:
- Mike Pompeo
- Mike Pence
- Nikki Haley
- Chris Christie
- Liz Cheney
- Ted Cruz
- Rand Paul
- Larry Hogan
- Marco Rubio
- Chris Sununu
- Tim Scott
- Dan Crenshaw
- Glenn Younkin
- Ron DeSantis
- Donald Trump
Other names will get added to that list; that’s just who I can come with off the top of my head. But I can tell you right now there are only two names that matter: DeSantis and Trump. Everyone else is noise in that showdown. That large field detracts from both DeSantis and Trump.
Having everyone involved who can poll their way on-stage for the first debate is fine. But after that, we need to narrow that field down to the potential top-four finishers in Iowa and New Hampshire. Those are the actual candidates, and no one else matters.
I’d go with a 2-4% polling minimum threshold for the first debate. I’d raise that for the second debate to 8-10%. Finally, for the third debate, you’d better be between 15-20% nationally or in Iowa. Democrats like including rules for the number of donors a candidate has, which I don’t find helpful. I’d use an average of all the public polls (RealClearPolitics, for example) to make a polling determination. I’d also shrink the number of debates from twelve in 2015-16 to something closer to three to five max.
Note: the press hates this format because larger fields lets them talk about more things. The media loves big fields with all the names.
Narrowing the field more quickly will also lead to candidates cutting deals with each other and building coalitions. Allowing everyone to hang around encourages “brand-building.” The goal of a party is to find a winning candidate, not build personal brands.
How does that change things? Well, if you go back to 2016 and look at the RealClearPolitics average for January 1, 2016, the top four were:
- Donald Trump: 34.6%
- Ted Cruz: 18.6%
- Marco Rubio: 11.6%
- Ben Carson: 9.4%
By then, there had been five debates (starting in August) with all the candidates on the stage. Those four candidates ate up 74.2% of all polling support. There were 12 total debates from August 2015 to March 2016. John Kasich hadn’t surged into the top tier, and Jeb Bush wouldn’t drop out until the South Carolina primary. The top four were set (Kasich would replace Carson as the 4th place candidate voting got underway).
If the GOP had rules preventing the bottom-tier candidates from being on stage and forced consolidation, you would end up with four strong candidates. You’re forcing that remaining 25% of the base to make a decision. By the time Iowa arrives, you’re likely down to three candidates: Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. How do all those votes split if you remove those candidates? Who knows. But it forces consolidation of the Republican base much earlier.
By the time the sixth debate occurred on January 14, 2016, only four people should have been on the debate stage: Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Carson. Instead, we got seven: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump. Furthermore, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum were on the undercard debate, which Rand Paul declined to join. Most of the people on that list had no business being on the stage.
Regardless, fixing the thresholds for debates is the most important thing to me. Give more airtime to legitimate candidates and eliminate the bottom tier. Republicans can tinker with the debate format by removing moderates and going to townhall-format only. That’s fine. I don’t think moderators add much with the press being so polarized. But the debate format misses the underlying issue of debate thresholds.
Both parties are refighting battles from 2016-2020. Biden has less wiggle room. Republicans have a shot at making their process better. We’ll see how things resolve themselves going forward. I’d expect any early sparks between DeSantis and Trump to be around the primaries and the debate rules.
Links of the week
Yet Another Terrible Deal from the Biden Team – Jim Geraghty, National Review
Donald Trump Loses Georgia — Again – National Review
This Is What a Losing Party Looks Like – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
The Year Without Germs Changed Kids: Children who spent their formative years in the bleach-everything era will certainly have different microbiomes. The question is whether different means bad. – Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic
Change Is Coming for Everyone in College Football—Even Alabama: For just the second time since the College Football Playoff began, Alabama will be on the outside looking in. This doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide’s reign is over, though—just that they’re the sport’s bellwether in a new way. – The Ringer
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Disinformation Down 92% As NYT Writers Go On Strike – Babylon Bee
Thanks for reading!