Monday, August 14, 2023

Effectively Winnowed

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 still is not clear where on the primary calendar the Pennsylvania presidential primary will land for 2024. However, there could be a pot of technically unbound delegates coming out of the contest regardless of where it is scheduled. For a deeper dive on that possibility in the Keystone state and a look at the overall picture of unbound delegates in the Republican presidential nomination race: All the details at FHQ Plus.
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In Invisible Primary: Visible today...
Last week, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made some attempt to lay down a marker in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination race. As he told Fox News:
"If you don’t make the debate stage, you should leave the field. I think it’s that simple. That’s the first winnowing process."
None of that is right or wrong. And it aligns with an argument Christie has been making all along about narrowing the field and taking on former President Trump head on. But it is worth pointing out that the invisible primary has been going on for some time now and the winnowing process has too. Several candidates who were looked on as potential candidates passed on running. These are the Ted Cruzes and Larry Hogans and Brian Kemps and Kristi Noems and Glenn Youngkins. [Although some are trying to keep the hopes of a 2024 Youngkin bid alive.] All surveyed the landscape in various unofficial ways since 2020 and opted out. All have already been winnowed from the field. 

So there is an argument that winnowing has already begun. And obviously it will continue regardless of whether that is before or after the upcoming first Republican primary debate, some time before the end of 2023 or during the primaries next year. But whether candidates who do not make the debate stage on August 23 and drop out is kind of immaterial. Not making the debate stage is a line of demarcation in this race whether Asa Hutchinson or Perry Johnson or Larry Elder call it a day or not. Arguably, not making the stage effectively winnows those candidates. 

That is to say that they would be effectively out of the race whether each continues on as a zombie candidate, unlikely to take any significant support or vote share away from the candidates still in the running.

And the last two competitive, big-field presidential nomination races speak to that. Neither the 2016 Republican race nor the 2020 Democratic race was overly populated with candidates who did not make the debate stage at one point and subsequently made an appearance later on. Chris Christie dipped to the secondary debate at one point only to return to the main stage after a one debate absence. Jim Gilmore managed to squeeze into one and only one secondary debate. And Rand Paul decided to skip a secondary debate in his one relegation before briefly coming back to the main debate stage and then dropping out. The same was largely true on the Democratic side in 2020. Once candidates were off the debate stage, they were mostly out for good. A few came back, but only for one debate. 

In other words, whether the 2024 Republicans do or do not suspend their campaigns after not making the first debate really does not matter. Those candidates are on borrowed time anyway. They will have been effectively winnowed.

...if they have not been already. 

The DeSantis campaign seems to be all in on the Iowa caucuses. FHQ briefly noted the shake up at the top last week, but under the campaign manager, the campaign brought in David Polyansky from Never Back Down to be a strategist more closely in the Florida governor's orbit. Polyansky brings with him some Iowa knowhow that may serve the campaign well. In addition, DeSantis nabbed the endorsement of influential Iowa radio host, Steve Deace and continues to court Bob Vander Plaats. And that does not count the presence Never Back Down, the super PAC affiliated with DeSantis, has on the county level across all 99 counties in the Hawkeye state. Yes, there are the optics of the various candidates' appearances at the Iowa State Fair, but underneath all of that, Team DeSantis is signaling just how important the lead-off caucuses will be to any long haul operation. 

This letter that the Trump campaign legal team distributed to all of the state Republican parties is an interesting maneuver. It may or may not have any legal basis -- this notion of a state party working with super PACs associated with any of the Republican candidates -- but the letter may have the effect of freezing the state parties, forcing decision makers within those entities to think twice about their actions. 

The whole episode speaks to the often precarious position state parties are in. And that is mainly in a financial sense. Allow FHQ a quick diversion. At the July meeting of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, the use of ranked choice voting in primaries (and especially state party-run primaries) was on the agenda. Some of those state parties have taken money from Fair Vote, an advocate of ranked choice voting, to help implement the practice in a number of states. Again, those with state party-run contests. Some RBC members frowned on the exchange. Others called for clearer disclosure. But it was clear from those members on the committee closely involved in state parties that money like that can be vital to the those state organizations. 

And that is kind of the crux of all of this back on the Republican side. State Republican parties are probably all too happy to take any money from any super PAC willing to give it if it means helping to build out the party, not just the party coffers but the party itself. But Team Trump has interjected in that, basically saying, "We see you." And it is not as if Trump is not a moneymaker for the state parties on his own

That is the interaction here. Toss the legal questions to the side. This is about a not-so-quiet but indirect threat to the state parties: Trump can help your state party raise funds, but only if you knock it off with those other super PACs. That is a tough spot for state parties to be in, and likely has some impact on how just how streamlined decision making is within them. 

From around the invisible primary...


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