Thursday, March 30, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Lessons Learned in 2016 and the 2024 Republican Nomination

Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

Tom Lobianco at Yahoo News had a piece up earlier this week that connected the dots on some of the recent hiring activity at Never Back Down, the super PAC aligned with the nascent Ron DeSantis bid for the Republican nomination. And as FHQ had pointed out a day earlier in Invisible Primary: Visible, many of the signals in those hires pointed toward past associations with, if not the 2016 Cruz campaign, then the Texas senator himself outside of that context. 

Now, Lobianco noted that the new assemblage of past Cruz-aligned staff would draw on their experiences in 2016 and apply that and lessons learned to the 2024 effort to take down Trump. And that elicited a series of quips that FHQ had seen made across social media in the context of the recent super PAC hiring spree. Basically, losers from 2016 are lining up a similar bid to lose to Trump again. And there is some truth to that. If a similar crew is mounting another similar campaign attempting to better build a similar coalition, then have any lessons really been learned? 

And while there may even be some truth to that notion, it is also, perhaps, a bit unfair. Former Cruz-aligned operatives like Jeff Roe or David Polyansky might well argue that they have (or will have) adapted to Trump for 2024, that neither the nascent campaign nor the potential coalition sought are completely similar to the conditions faced by the 2016 effort led by Ted Cruz. 

Yes, but here is the thing: Trump and his team are not the same either. Many things about Trump 2024 are similar to Trump 2016. The former president retains his uncanny ability to command attention, for example. And that similarity (and its importance) cannot be understated. But there are differences for Trump, for better and worse. Team Trump has also learned lessons from the 2016 experience. The reelection campaign in 2020, in fact, test drove rules changes (mainly on the state level that are still subject to change for 2024) that could very benefit the former president again as he seeks the 2024 nomination. That is something of a departure from the 2016 experience when novice candidate Trump was out-hustled on the rules in a number of states by some members of the very team now gathered behind DeSantis. But the issues involved in 2024 may cut the broader Republican primary electorate in new ways in this cycle than it did in 2015-16 as well. Trump's insistence on continually dipping into the well of grievance with respect to the 2020 election does not necessarily play well with everyone. It may with his core supporters. But it may not to the same degree with others who prioritize other issues in the current context. 

Look, while winning and losing in 2016 may tell us something about this Republican nomination race in 2023-24, it is obviously just one piece in a developing puzzle. The invisible primary marches on with evolving factors to keep an eye on.

John Harris makes the case for a Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) run for 2024. And it was perfectly timed for a perceived low point for DeSantis relative to Trump (and not necessarily the rest of the field). This is another staple in the rise and fall horserace coverage of presidential nominations: the profile of a potential white knight candidate. The 2012 Republican invisible primary saw a lot of this. There was a well-positioned frontrunner who had support from some factions of the party, but for whom there was also uncertainty about whether he could carry a run over the finish line to the nomination. That frontrunner saw a number of atypical challengers rise and fall around him as 2011 wore on. And there were traditionally qualified candidates who were mentioned in the same way then as Youngkin is now by Harris. Rick Perry was a savior candidate until he was not. Jeb Bush was mentioned a lot late in 2011, but nothing ever came of it. And it persisted into 2012 as well. There is still time for Youngkin to make the plunge, but there really is no substitute for slowly and methodically building up for what is a mammoth and lengthy undertaking. And there are signs that Youngkin is doing some of the things that prospective presidential candidates do, but also some signs that he is not totally sold on the idea of a run

Begun the ad wars have. Vivek Ramaswamy is up on Boston area TV -- that includes New Hampshire! -- with an initial ad buy. Ramaswamy does not have the name recognition that others have and is attempting to change that in the Granite state. New Hampshire may not (technically) be first in the Democratic presidential nomination process in 2024, but Republican candidates are still behaving as if it is an early state. And it is

On this date... 1980, US Special Envoy Benjamin Fernandez (R-CA) pulled out of the race for the Republican nomination. [Yeah, I had to look that one up too.] 2012, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) endorsed Mitt Romney's bid for the Republican nomination. 2020, Kansas Democrats eliminated in-person voting in their party-run primary due to the coronavirus restrictions.

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