Thursday, March 23, 2023

Invisible Primary: Visible -- The Republican Race is Over?

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

The indictment of a former president is something new in American politics. Not in modern American politics, but in American politics, period. And that says nothing about how an indictment (or multiple indictments) would impact a former president seeking his party's presidential nomination for a third time. We do not have a clear understanding yet as to how any of that will impact the race. But that has not stopped folks from racing to conclusions or hypothesizing about the the effects without actually waiting for the hypothesis to be even minimally tested.

Count Tina Ngyuen from Puck News among them.

Look, FHQ noted earlier this week that "it's Trump's until it's not," but that is not anything new. The majority of invisible primary signals have been pointing in that direction for some time if not all along, but with the caveat that the former president's position in 2023 is not like it was in 2019 when Trump could lean on the advantages of incumbency. That is the story of the 2024 invisible primary on the Republican side: assessing where Trump's bid stands between the two poles of his previous two runs. 

Any apparent momentum Trump has enjoyed in 2023, after the midterms were a drag on the former president at the tail end of 2022, buoys the notions that 1) things have improved for Trump in the near term and 2) that nudges him closer to his 2019 position than to where he was in 2015. Part of what buttresses the improved outlook for Trump 2024 (at least with respect to the Republican nomination process) is that his poll position had improved and was improving before "indictment watch" really heated up this week. And the fact that elite Republicans are rallying to the former president as formal criminal charges loom may or may not trickle down and resonate at the rank and file level among potential Republican primary voters (who will not start voting on the nomination for another nine months or so). 

But first let's see and maybe test that again over time. Trump may win the 2024 Republican nomination, but that does not mean that a dynamic process does not lay stretched out before us. As has been said, the fun is in the journey. It may not exactly be fun, but the process very definitely has an impact on, if not the outcome of the nomination race, then how the party transitions to the general election. That is meaningful.

Nevertheless, they persisted. Trump's position may have improved, but the other candidates and prospective candidates are still, well, acting like candidates and not like the race is over. In fact, the broader DeSantis 2024 effort scored a bit of a coup in the staff primary a day ago when an aligned super PAC, Never Back Down, brought former Ted Cruz campaign manager, Jeff Roe, on board. This is no small thing. Yes, the Roe-led effort to help boost Cruz to the 2016 Republican presidential nomination fell short, but it also won some significant victories along the way. And it probably punched above its weight by out-hustling Trump in caucus states and in exploiting the delegate selection process as well. 

What is different now is that, while running a tight ship on the rules end in 2016 may prove a useful feather in the cap of the broader DeSantis presidential effort, Trump's 2024 team is more savvy than it was in 2015-16. State Republican parties are also littered with Trump-supportive if not Trump-aligned operatives. And the Republican rules are different in 2024 than they were in 2016. Exploiting the delegate selection process may be more difficult this time.

If the support from outside of Jefferson City is any indication, then it looks like Missouri might get its presidential primary back for 2024. But the election was eliminated last year by the state legislature for a reason, and despite support from both the Missouri Democratic and Republican parties, getting the presidential primary reinstated through the state legislature may be easier said than done. 

On this date... 1976, Jimmy Carter bested George Wallace in the North Carolina primary, winning a majority of the vote and handing the Alabama governor a second loss in a southern state he had won in 1972. Also in the Tar Heel state that day, Ronald Reagan notched his first primary victory of the cycle, edging out President Ford. 2015, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) entered the Republican presidential nomination race. 2020, both Alaska (Democrats) and Rhode Island delayed delegate selection events due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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