Thursday, August 24, 2023

About that debate last night...

Invisible Primary: Visible -- Thoughts on the invisible primary and links to the goings on of the moment as 2024 approaches...

First, over at FHQ Plus...
  • It is kind of obvious why non-Trumps would go after legacy winner-take-all triggers in state-level delegate allocation rules. At least on some level. However, there is a longer term strategic consideration in that push that is not getting a lot of daylight in Trump rolls/crumbles binary that exists around the race for the Republican presidential nomination right now. How about a quick look at that? All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
The first Republican presidential primary debate of the 2024 season was a bit like a multi-vehicle accident in a coastal community at the height of a hurricane. There is the bigger problem surrounding those involved in the crash -- flooding, flying debris, downed power lines, the hurricane basically -- but everyone ends up pointing fingers and assigning blame for the pile-up. In Milwaukee last night, the eight candidates participating may have entered with some sense of a need to attack the frontrunner, but quickly got bogged down in the heat of the moment, in the need to forcefully respond to any perceived slight or mention that would provide some opening to talk. ...or jab. 

Call it a threat proximity hypothesis. The threats were in the room last night. They were not Donald Trump (even if some of the candidates saw some need to try to bring the former president down a notch). And that is part of why the pre-debate narrative about the potential gamble Trump was making in skipping the debate rapidly morphed into how that gamble -- if it even was a gamble -- paid off. 

Trump won the debate last night. 

However, others acquitted themselves well. Vivek Ramaswamy got attention -- both good and bad -- and that will likely buoy his support in polling of the race in the near term. It was a Trumpian performance the Ohio entrepreneur turned in. Attacking and being attacked -- constantly -- kept Ramaswamy front of mind throughout the two hour debate. That gobbled up time that might have gone to another candidate. And Ramaswamy definitely gobbled up time. It is the sort of thing, especially for a largely unknown candidate on the national stage for the first time, that can fuel a surge during the discovery phase of a possible discovery-scrutiny-decline sequence. 

However, there are reasons why any surge in support for Ramaswamy may be limited. First, there is that whole Trump in Georgia thing at the Fulton County jail today. Remember that? More importantly, remember that whole thing about Trump scheduling his surrender in the elections interference case in the Peach state to clip the wings on any momentum candidates may take from the debate? That is still a thing. Few may have thought going into the Milwaukee showdown that Ramaswamy would be that candidate, but here we are. So the whiplash back to the Trump 24/7 news cycle may dampen any big Ramaswamy gain. 

Second, FHQ does not want to go down a lanes lane, but Trump and Ramaswamy occupy a similar space within this field of candidates and among the Republican primary electorate. Ramaswamy may tick up, but it likely will not be at Trump's expense. There may be some "Trump without the baggage" support that has drifted back over to the former president as DeSantis has declined in recent months and may be in play. But it could be just as, if not more, likely that a Ramaswamy push more firmly into the double digits comes from those who may be second guessing the staying power of the Florida governor. 

And speaking of DeSantis, his debate was not bad per se, but it was a lot like playing prevent defense without the requisite big lead. Clearly the strategy was to do no harm (or do no further harm) in the absence of a barrage of attacks. And he did not really do any harm. However, that is a strategy that is limited in its capacity to right the ship. With the two of them center stage, DeSantis and Ramaswamy may have been two ships passing in the Milwaukee night. 

FHQ does not want to go back in time too far, but some late summer family time kept me from commenting on the recent NYT op-ed from New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu on the state of the Republican race for president, pre-debate. My knee-jerk reaction reading it was that the call for also-rans -- those who do not make the first two debates -- to drop out of the race was overkill. In other words, the thought was that those candidates have already been effectively winnowed or will be. But rather than treat Sununu's comments as an excuse to link back to something already written here at FHQ, it may be better to elevate another concept. 

Sununu was basically creating -- or adding to the existing -- winnowing pressure on those also-ran candidates and those who squeezed onto the first debate stage. His is not the only voice or the only source of that pressure, but it is an example of that pressure that in a non-Trump cycle may manifest itself more quietly in the background as low polling numbers or poor fundraising or any number of other back channel communications that collectively serve as the writing on the wall, more or less. In 2024, with Trump seeking a third straight nomination, these signals -- the winnowing pressure -- is a bit more overt. Instead, this race gets op-eds like Sununu's or aggressive debate qualification criteria like the RNC has used thus far. And together they represent (officially or not) a more public pressure campaign on candidates to put up or shut up than one might otherwise witness in a non-Trump cycle. 

It is not that these things do not happen in a "normal" cycle. It is just that they do not tend to happen quite this early. 

Yes, I just talked about that CNN delegate story yesterday, but has anyone figured out this section of that story yet?

"The savvy of Trump’s delegate operation this time around is a stark change from 2016, when the then-first time presidential candidate often complained that the delegate system in the Republican primary was rigged against him. He pointed to the victories and resulting delegate hauls of Ted Cruz, ultimately Trump’s main rival in the 2016 primary. For instance, when Cruz won his home state of Texas in the primary the senator got all 34 delegates with that victory.Trump advisers have studied Cruz’s strategy, so this time around they can ensure the lion’s share of all delegates go to him."

That whole bit about Texas is mind-numbingly off base. Anyway, I break that down some over at FHQ Plus.

See more on our political/electoral consulting venture at FHQ Strategies. 

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