Good Friday Morning! I hope everyone is safe and sound from the storms that have worked across the midwest and south this week. Make sure to stay weather aware, keep those weather radios set, and keep an eye on local news. I know we’re hunkered down here in Tennessee.
This week, I’m returning to the 2024 GOP primaries and discussing the issues that will animate the race. If the race is shaped by 2016, the issues in 2024 will be shaped by 2020. Whether that’s a good thing or not is a different story – links to follow.
- I wanted to share an observation from one of my favorite Twitter follows. Democratic Mayor Patrick Wojahn resigned after being arrested and held for “16 counts of distribution of child exploitative material and 40 counts of child porn possession.” In his statement, he said he was resigning to “deal with his mental health.” @Ageofshoddy observed: “It’s striking that “address my mental health” has replaced “spend more time with my family” as the default b******t euphemism for someone caught doing wrong. Culture is in some sense the default scripts we have ready to hand, the things we expect others to put value to.” Once you see what he points out, you can’t unsee it.
Where you can find me this week
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[02/27/2023] ChatGPT brings us into the Age of AI – Conservative Institute
[03/03/2023] Economists warn more rate hikes and recession on the way – Conservative Institute
The way Republicans could miss the important issues for 2024.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the 2024 GOP primaries and the tendency of politicians to fight the previous war. The point was broadly about how people are looking at the last election for how to fight the current one. And for better or worse, the 2024 Republican primaries are seen through a 2016 lens.
This week, I want to cover a slightly different angle. Ron DeSantis released a great video while preparing for a trip to Iowa (as is Trump). In it, he praises the “Florida Blueprint” and how Florida stayed open and thrived during the pandemic compared to blue states and the federal government. The video uses Biden as its backdrop, but I can understand why Trump would feel pricked by it since it focuses on the pandemic response.
I think it’s unquestionable that the GOP primaries will be animated by COVID-19, China’s part in it, and the overall response of federal and state governments. In a vacuum, this is a good debate that needs to happen, and it’s not great that we will only get in the Republican primaries. Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya wrote a column in the NYPost calling for a COVID-19 truth commission, which is a great idea.
Setting a baseline of what transpired, what we know, and didn’t know, and clearing the fog of war and spin of politics is vital. Post-mortems are a critical part of any solid evaluation. When I wrote my essay, Autopsy of an Impeachment, it came after the votes had cleared and people were moving on to COVID-19 instead of at the moment. Events need some space to breathe before we get to the bottom of them, and a truth commission could help get us to that point.
Back on to the point, while Republicans want to focus on these things, I’m not sure voters do. My evidence of this is the 2022 midterms. COVID-19, the pandemic response, and most things related to the virus were unimportant to the average voter. The economy, sane candidates, crime, abortion, and other issues scored higher. That’s in 2022 – only two years removed. 2024 will be even further away from 2020-2021, and the issues animating this cycle will unquestionably be different.
So if the 2024 GOP primaries have a lens of 2016, the issue focus will be 2020. There are some valid strings to pull here for 2024: school choice and school failure are significant flashpoints in politics. Republicans overwhelmingly hold the cards on this issue over Democrats. DeSantis and Youngkin’s victories in their states attest to the power of these issues.
But the debate over COVID might be past its use-by date. Here’s a similar example from the 2020 Democratic Primaries. Democrats spent an endless amount of time debating healthcare. It was socialized medicine vs. whatever anyone else had to suggest.
Healthcare hasn’t mattered a bit to the Biden White House or Democrats. The proof was in the rail union negotiations, in which the White House hosed union workers trying to get paid sick leave. Take that policy decision and put it up against the endless debates over which Democratic socialized medicine plan to pick, and it’s all laughable, right? The party of socialized medicine shot down union workers’ demands for paid sick leave.
The most critical aspect of Biden was his stance on energy. Because he’s bought into the green movement’s push to make the United States energy dependent on countries like China, Russia, and other authoritarian places, we’re far weaker. Biden is against drilling, pipelines, nuclear, and more. The very things that would bring Vladimir Putin to his knees is the exact thing we won’t do.
The healthcare fight between Democrats did cause division. But it didn’t matter the moment after Biden South Carolina. And it hasn’t mattered since that date. That’s about what I think the COVID-19 fight will do in the Republican primary.
What I find most ironic about this upcoming debate is that Donald Trump still doesn’t know how to talk about or defend his record. He desperately wants to run on Ron DeSantis’s platform of freedom and attack the government. But Trump was in the White House. He called the shots. He put Fauci in charge, gave press conferences, and responded.
One of my 2020 gripes was that Donald Trump never laid out his case for how he responded to the pandemic. Given the circumstances, he did about as well as anyone could ask. His most outstanding achievement was Operation Warp Speed, which single-handedly ended the pandemic in the United States and the globe (except in China). It’s in vogue to attack the vaccines now on the right, but they ended the threat of the virus.
Donald Trump can’t sell that and doesn’t know how. Ron DeSantis focuses more on the lockdowns and mandates, which he should. How this plays out, I don’t know. But I am concerned it’ll be a sideshow for the real issues. Namely, the economy will be the top issue heading into 2024.
The economy will remain a front burner until the inflation/recession issue gets resolved. A recent Forbes headline summarizes the current market: “There’s A White-Collar ‘Richcession,’ While Blue-Collar And Frontline Workers See Wage Growth And More Job Opportunities.”
In past recessions, layoffs and cuts impacted the poor, working-class, and blue-collar folks first. In this market, layoffs are disproportionately affecting those in tech, finance, consulting, and the white-collar class first. It starts at the top of the food chain and works its way down.
That also means that those most disgruntled with the world will be the middle and upper class, aka those living in the suburbs or closer to cities. Trump’s appeal is with those outside that area. In the suburbs, Trump is toxic. If these people continue to feel the heat from the “Richcession,” it could make more up for grabs come election time. Talking about the issues important to them will be vital to winning in 2020.
Trump can’t sell his pandemic response. Regarding economics, he’s a one-trick pony talking to the rural and non-college voters. DeSantis talks about Florida, where many suburban-type voters have moved in the last two years.
My concern with 2024 is that Republicans learned the wrong lessons from 2022. Because they lost a lot of races in an environment where the economy mattered, they might believe they can’t capitalize on the economy in 2024. That’s untrue. Republicans lost winnable races in 2022 because they picked bad candidates, most of which were aligned heavily with Trump. If you make those generic Republicans, these are probably victories.
Or, as Ron DeSantis will argue, a landslide election is possible in a bad economic environment. Trump candidates lost in 2022, but not Ron DeSantis. The same is true of more normal Republicans in the country, who found audiences in challenging races.
The economy isn’t going away. In 2008, the economy was an increasingly pressing issue. In McCain, Republicans nominated a guy who couldn’t discuss the issues. The only thing McCain offered was a gimmick where he halted his campaign. He claimed he was going to Washington DC to fix the problem, but it soon became apparent he had no idea what he was talking about and flamed out hard (and this is from Republican memoirs of that moment).
If the economy continues to struggle, voters will want someone who can talk about real issues and solutions. Gimmicks won’t cut it. Donald Trump can talk about the economics of the working class but only a little else.
As the 2024 primaries get closer, I caution: Republicans need to keep their antennas up for a shifting environment. Many issues will come and go as we hit the first debates. But it seems unlikely the 2020 COVID-19 response will be the deciding issue. It’s unclear whether anyone cares at this point.
Links of the week
Car Debt Is Piling Up as More Americans Owe Thousands More Than Vehicles Are Worth: Dealers worry record prices leading to negative-equity surge: More consumers could be left without vehicle-financing options – Michael Sasso, Bloomberg
My Liberal Campus Is Pushing Freethinkers to the Right – Adam S. Hoffman, NYT
As Trump Attacks, DeSantis Touts ‘Courage’ To Buck ‘Lockdowners’ in New Book – RealClearPolitics
J.M. Keynes’s Dreams of a Eugenic Future – Phillip W. Magness
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!