We’re in totally uncharted waters, folks. Thursday’s indictment of former president Donald Trump – the first time a sitting or former president/ leading presidential candidate has ever faced criminal charges – was a truly historic moment for our country.
Now a colossal, unanswered question lingers: How will this unprecedented development impact voters across the country? And in early voting primary states? Will they see it as justice served – or as justice perverted for partisan gain?
Naturally, an event of this magnitude casts a long shadow over our Palmetto Political Stock Index. In most cases, it is too soon to say how its ramifications and reverberations will ripple outward for the country, the GOP electorate or “First in the South” presidential primary voters.
This much is certain, though: Those reverberations will be felt – and felt acutely.
Our job is to track how Trump’s indictment (and other events of varying magnitude) impact South Carolina’s quadrennial presidential primary process … which means you might want to keep an eye on our stock reports in the weeks to come.
The Palmetto Political Stock Index is compiled weekly by our founding editor Will Folks and our intrepid columnist Mark Powell. Got a hot “stock tip” for their consideration? Email Will ([email protected]) and Mark ([email protected]) and make sure to include “Palmetto Political Stock Index” in the subject line.
Where should you invest your political capital this week? To the index!
There’s no doubt about it: Trump once again dominated the political landscape this week. His full-throated response to his indictment teemed with genuine outrage. From elected officials to GOP leaders to media pundits, a significant chunk of the conservative establishment strongly supports him in this his latest — and perhaps greatest — crisis.
As we noted last week, Trump is positioned to rake in millions of dollars in sympathy contributions from small donors, swelling his enormous bankroll even more. And his position at the top of the GOP presidential pack has certainly solidified for the moment.
Several vitally important questions remain to be answered, though. Will the Manhattan DA’s move embolden a different indictment from the DA in Atlanta? How will Trump’s Republican rivals handle this new wrinkle moving forward? Same with Biden and the Dems, who risk a boomerang effect by overplaying their hand. With so many variables at stake, Trump gets a solid “hold” rating this week … pending the proverbial falling of the chips.
To quote Bette Davis in All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
The president is keeping his cards close to his vest on Trump’s indictment. As of press time, he refused to comment publicly on it. Frankly, Biden can’t afford another misstep like the one he made at the start of this week.
The gunfire was barely over at a Nashville Christian school on Monday when Biden rolled into action. But before starting his autopilot call for a ban on assault weapons (which he can now recite by rote) – and launching into a fresh round of finger-wagging – he began with a lame joke about chocolate chip ice cream. Even the jaded White House press corps cringed.
With six bodies lying cold in the morgue, was that really the time to be yakking it up with the gaggle?
Arguably the GOP candidate with the most to lose if he miscalculates Trump’s indictment, the Florida governor is likewise playing it safe – for now. He quickly let it be known Thursday night the Sunshine State would not cooperate with any request to extradite the former president from Mar-a-Lago to Manhattan.
That bought him time with the GOP base – but time is not on DeSantis’ side. Because it’s tune-up time in Tallahassee. From his Russia-Ukraine War stumble (a “territorial dispute” that “distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges”) to a cooling off in the polls, March saw plenty of madness for him. His yet-to-be-announced campaign – which seemed to have the momentum of a juggernaut in January – has stalled somewhat with April’s arrival. But there’s no need for life support. It’s still very much alive and kicking.
Want proof? There’s the recent hire of Trump’s 2020 campaign press flak Erin Perrine by DeSantis’ Never Back Down PAC. Which, incidentally, is headed by fellow Trump alum Ken Cuccinelli. (Trump World is reportedly furious at Perrine’s defection).
DeSantis has a history of trimming his sails and adjusting to the prevailing winds when necessary. But the clock is ticking on putting his political house in order before he formally throws his hat into the ring as expected this summer. Stay tuned.
SCGOP PRIMARY VOTERS
Many fingers are being raised into the wind in South Carolina this weekend. While we’re hearing much about the impact of Trump indictment’s nationally, the PPSI is more concerned with its role in South Carolina’s “First in the South” presidential primary.
Assessing potential fallout by congressional district offers us some perspective. In the most conservative parts of the state (the second, third, fourth, and seventh districts), Trump has little to worry about. As one political insider told us, “Trump could shoot a carful of nuns, and the base would still be with him in those places.”
In the Palmetto Lowcountry, though, things are different. Though solidly Republican, the state’s first congressional district has a fiercely contrary streak and will march to its own drummer on occasion (does the name Joe Cunningham ring a bell?). There are just enough Northern transplants mingled with coastal liberals to keep things interesting – which makes this the district to watch. If its GOP base sticks with Trump, he has nothing to worry about in South Carolina. If it doesn’t, there could be trouble brewing. Time will tell.
What remains unchanged, though? South Carolina voters have outsized influence over the indictment fallout … whichever way political winds blow.
There’s one clear, immediate winner in the aftermath of Trump’s history-making indictment: Political pollsters. Cell phones from Beaufort to Bangor, Maine, are pinging nonstop at this very moment with calls and texts from those attempting to gauge the fallout. Everybody has a poll in the field right now: Both political parties, the White House, presidential candidates, would-be candidates, political action committees, special interests, the news media, and more. All are eager to know how Americans are reacting to this unprecedented development.
Quality polling doesn’t come cheap. And in a year with very few elections, gauging reaction to the indictment is a major financial windfall for those conducting all that sampling. If you’re related to a pollster, expect a nice Christmas present this year.
Proving once is not enough, the New Age self-help guru and political gadabout is again plunging headfirst into presidential waters. After being thoroughly trounced in 2020, the Democratic author is eagerly going after the guy who beat her last time, Joe Biden. Williamson spent several days stumping in the Palmetto State this week, most notably as the featured speaker at the SC Democratic Party’s Black Caucus’ big dinner in West Columbia.
An old saying in politics reminds us, “If you have to explain, you’re losing.” Given that Williamson spent much of her visit here imploring Democrats, “No, really guys, you should take me seriously,” there’s little need to keep the moving vans on standby for her trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Still, she planted her flag … and in light of Biden’s bad week we’ll call it a push.
For a guy still waiting to make his move, Scott’s stock should be holding, right?
Here’s the thing: Scott has a cool $22 million he can move into a bid from his U.S. Senate campaign – and a super PAC launched by former U.S. senator Cory Gardner has raised another $13 million on his behalf. Oh, and both of those amounts were as of December 31, 2022 – meaning there’s likely a lot more money at Scott’s disposal now.
Obviously he will have to navigate the same Trump-related minefields as the other 2024 aspirants … but Scott’s ability to raise money will ensure whatever message he settles upon will reach its intended recipients.
Don’t get me wrong: Wilson’s stock is still trading at a very high level. And he remains the runaway favorite for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2026. But he had a big opportunity this week to jump to an even higher energy level with a much-ballyhooed press conference on judicial reform … and forgot to bring the “oomph.”
Wilson did nothing to harm his standing this week … he just missed out on an opportunity to elevate it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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