At this point, the trend lines are unmistakable: When the flurry of indictments targeting Donald Trump started dropping in the spring, Florida governor Ron DeSantis was nipping at Trump’s heels in the polls – pulling within twelve percentage points of the former president.
Post-indictments? Trump has tripled his lead over DeSantis. Indeed, the early boost for Trump has not only held, it has expanded … and calcified. According to the latest aggregate polling data from RealClearPolitics, Trump is backed by 53.1 percent of GOP primary voters – putting him more than 35 percentage points ahead of DeSantis (who is currently supported by 17.6 percent of Republicans).
In other words, Trump is no longer just the GOP frontrunner … he is his party’s presumptive nominee.
Nationally, the battle lines over Trump are set in stone: His opponents view him as a traitor who tried to overthrow the government, mishandled classified documents – and paid off several of his porn star mistresses (in case anyone has forgotten about those indictments). Meanwhile, Trump adherents see him as an effective president who restored our economy – and could do it again were it not for the weaponization of American “justice.”
Such predictable divining rod factionalism misses the point, though: Installing Trump as the GOP nominee isn’t just the goal of the MAGA movement – it is increasingly clear that keeping Trump atop the Republican mountain is the raison d’être of the Left, too.
We’ll explain what we mean in this week’s edition of the Palmetto Political Stock Index …
Our founding editor Will Folks and political columnist Mark Powell compile this index each week – tracking the rising and falling fortunes of individuals and institutions as well as the interplay of state and national politics in our early-voting home. Got a hot “stock tip” for our consideration? Email Will (here) and/ or Mark (here). Just make sure to include “Palmetto Political Stock Index” in the subject line.
To reiterate: The index is simply an assessment of how those listed fared last week. Positive reports certainly don’t reflect endorsements, and negative ones aren’t indicative of vendettas. We just call ‘em like we see ‘em. To borrow Walter Cronkite’s famous line, “That’s the way it is …” No more, no less.
On this week’s agenda?
Indictments (and endorsements) for Donald Trump …
Current and former veep drama …
A ticking clock for Trump’s challengers …
Oh, and just because your favorite (or least favorite) politician didn’t wind up on this week’s list doesn’t mean we aren’t still tracking them. Look for them to appear in future indices … and, of course, you can always check prior installments to see how we’ve covered them in the past. To view last week’s edition, click here. And to get your historical fix, click here.
Where you should invest your political capital this week? To the index!
It was a warm welcome for the former president at the S.C. State Fairgrounds on Saturday night. Up to 1,400 GOP faithful attending the party’s annual Silver Elephant bash gave him a standing ovation.
The candidate famous for his off-the-cuff remarks has been increasingly sticking to the script of late, though. If this campaign stop were a music album, it would’ve been called “Donald Trump’s Greatest Hits.” Trump replayed his favorites crowd-pleasers, such as the strong economy during his four years in office — including 20,000 manufacturing jobs created in South Carolina — which he garnished by promising to take a sledgehammer to Bidenomics if he’s reelected.
Good political news was awaiting Trump upon his arrival. South Carolina Speaker of the House Murrell Smith – arguably the most powerful member of the S.C. General Assembly – officially endorsed Trump on Saturday, jumping on an establishment bandwagon which includes U.S. senator Lindsey Graham, governor Henry McMaster, former lieutenant governor André Bauer and many others.
“You take a look at that face you say that guy is a sick man,” Trump said. “There’s something wrong with him.”
After the latest indictments, Trump now faces a grand total of 78 criminal charges in three separate cases – two federal and one state – with a fourth case in Georgia inching closer to indictment every day.
So far, none of the indictments have hurt Trump with the GOP base – as was evidenced again on Saturday in South Carolina. But there’s a catch. Which leads us to our next item …
After last week’s latest episode of the Trump felony follies, a sharp spike of chatter within political circles ensued about what’s really at play here. Folks, it has become so blatantly obvious even the sourest cynic can no longer deny it: Democrats are employing the same strategy in the presidential race that worked so well for them in 2022. You will recall that in multiple contests in several states, Democrats and their allies overtly supported Republican primary candidates whom they felt could be easily defeated in the general election. And it worked. After helping them win their GOP nomination, most of these nominees went down in flames in November. Now Democrats are using that same technique in the coming presidential contest.
By indicting Trump on everything they can dream up (and some of the charges put forth last week were laughably lame), they’re making the MAGA base rally in numbers sufficient to assure him the Republican presidential nomination. They’re doing this not because they want to see Trump in prison (although many of them probably do), they’re doing it because Democrats want to run against Trump again.
Since Biden dispatched him in 2020, Democrats reason he can do it again in 2024. Which means this whole legal jihad isn’t about crime and punishment; it’s all politics.
Democrats would do well to remember that in the spring of 2016, Hillary Clinton and the DNC were also licking their chops at the prospect of running against Trump. And their wish came true, bringing to mind Oscar Wilde’s observation, “There are two tragedies in life — not getting what you want, and getting it.” Or, to put it another way, “Be careful what you wish for – it might come true.”
Also, as you will read later on in this index … stocks for the Democrats’ top politicians aren’t exactly on the rise these days.
Smith and his House “Republicans” received some surprisingly strong ratings from a conservative group recently, and this week he and his wife disembarked from Trump Force One with the MAGA-in-Chief himself.
“There’s only one choice for president,” Smith said in announcing his endorsement of Trump, which was noteworthy considering he served in the state legislature alongside two of Trump’s rivals, former S.C. governor Nikki Haley and U.S. senator Tim Scott.
While the “Republican in Name Only” label most assuredly still fits Smith, affixing it to him just got a lot harder.
What’s a relationship with Trump worth to a status quo Palmetto politician? Just ask governor McMaster, who continues reaping the rewards of his eleventh hour 2016 endorsement of the former president.
Smith is hardly a conservative … but he’s clearly no dummy.
Many a truth is said in jest. Leave it to the satirical website The Babylon Bee to hit the nail on the head with this mock headline: “Mike Pence Tries Bold New Strategy of Alienating the 80 Million People Who Voted for Trump.”
Seriously, does the former Veep really think trashing his old boss will somehow siphon off Trump supporters? That’s fuzzy math at best. Yet Pence is plodding ahead with that strategy in the wake of Trump’s latest indictment. The new line he’s delivering at campaign appearances these days is as follows: “President Trump demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the Constitution, and I always will.”
Pence also indulged in some self-justification, prompting Trump to respond with a typically high-volume retribution we need not delve into now. The point is the bad blood between the two got a lot badder in the last few days – which isn’t hurting Trump, but has the potential to destroy Pence.
Here’s the thing: In a party that, for better or worse, has Trump sitting in the catbird seat, attacks lobbed at him by his former running mate who is polling at less than five percent (and who hasn’t qualified so far to participate in Fox News’ big GOP debate later this month) don’t make strategic sense.
But what else is Pence going to do?
Candidates like to talk about having a “path to victory.” Pence has no such path – which must be why he seems intent on pursuing guaranteed defeat.
When the Democrats returned to the White House in 2021, vice president Kamala Harris was tasked with being a sort of “illegal immigration czar,” in which capacity she announced last September that “the border is secure.”
Never mind those millions who have continued crossing into the U.S. illegally since 2021.
Fresh on the heels of this smashing success, the Veep has a new job. She’s now the Democrats’ top campaign attack dog. But instead of sounding like a roaring pit bull, Harris is coming off more like a mewing house cat.
This is hardly new. Dwight D. Eisenhower began this practice in the 1950s by having then-vice president Richard Nixon do his political dirty work while remaining above the partisan fray as the “I Like Ike” war hero. Nixon later perfected the model by keeping his vice president, Spiro Agnew, in perpetual attack mode.
What’s different this time is Harris’ remarkable ineptitude in the role. Sent to Florida to attack state officials for rebuking liberal academics who hijacked public school history lessons and warped them to suit their ideology, Harris shamelessly played the race card. While the Left loved it and a handful of presidential candidates on the Right fell victim and tutted about it, the rest of America gave a collective yawn.
Harris hurls pejoratives like javelins (her favorite schtick is calling Republicans “extremists,” which she repeats with the robotic frequency of a brainwashed character out of “The Manchurian Candidate”). She also relentlessly accuses conservatives of being responsible for everything that’s wrong in life from acne to xenophobia.
But her attacks in Florida fall with the force of wet spaghetti hitting the kitchen floor.
Sure, the Lefties love her. She is, after all, the living, breathing definition of their cherished identity politics. They love her so much, in fact, that a New York Times/ Siena College poll released last Tuesday found 26 percent of them said they’d be excited to see her at the top of next year’s ticket, as opposed to only 20 percent who felt that way about Joe Biden.
Wow! The love!
What does the rest of America see? A not-ready-for-primetime player, a rather silly figure with a disturbingly shrill cackle laugh who is clearly in over her head. It would be funny — if she weren’t a single heartbeat away from the presidency. And a soon-to-be-81-year-old heartbeat at that.
Things have been so busy on the political front this summer that it’s hard keeping up with it all. But we can’t let something that happened recently pass without mention. An overflow crowd packed a New Hampshire meeting facility on a Monday night a couple of weeks back. They came to observe the launch of the No Labels party.
The gathering was a true hodgepodge of politicians of all stripes – a veritable Noah’s Ark, if you will. Former North Carolina Republican governor Pat McCrory, 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, ex-NAACP executive director Benjamin Chavis, plus a parade of others were on hand. The star attractions were West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin – who is famous for his political version of a striptease act that keeps folks guessing whether he will run for president – and former Utah Republican governor John Huntsman, who is clearly desperate to stay in the political game.
No Labels’ premise is simple: With the Woke/Progressives increasingly calling the shots in the Democratic Party and the Solid Right in charge of the GOP, a growing number of moderate Americans want an alternative. So this group dutifully says that come next spring – should it be obvious America is headed for a Biden-Trump rematch – then (and only then) would it field a presidential ticket.
‘No Labels’ proceeded to release its 67-page, 30-point “Ideas of the Common Sense Majority” treatise that was long on platitudes but short on specifics. And that was when the wheels started coming off.
Common sense is one thing; finding common ground is something else entirely. And even if ‘No Labels’ does discover areas where moderates can agree, motivating the so-called “mushy middle” on anything is always challenging. On top of all that, political pros say waiting till next spring to get a national campaign up and running would be daunting at best – perhaps impossible given the head start of the two major parties.
“No Chance” would be a better name for No Labels. Certainly that will be the case for this group in early-voting South Carolina if its top spokesman in the Palmetto State remains former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Joe Cunningham.
NON-TRUMP GOP CANDIDATES
We’re getting very close to “fish or cut bait” time for the Republican field. That’s because we’re reaching the point in the 2024 primary when the clock is running out for GOP candidates whose last name isn’t Trump.
The scheduled Fox News debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin later this month marks the first of several such tipping points. In fact, a case can made the August 23, 2023 gathering begins the winnowing-out process for those who don’t make it on stage (to date, seven GOP candidates have qualified).
Clearing this bar is just the start, too. The Republican National Committee announced last Friday that qualifications for participation in a second debate in September will be even tougher.
Still, cash is being plowed into several of the single digit aspirants … hoping to give them the push they need to break through to some semblance of relevance.
The Stand For America Super PAC, for example, plunked down $13 million to run a 30-second ad promoting former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. That’s serious money, people. This buy will blanket Iowa and New Hampshire for nine weeks starting Tuesday.
Bottom line? Campaign staffers across the country are frantically licking their fingers and sticking them in the air – hoping to determine the direction of the prevailing winds surrounding Trump’s legal battles and how those will, in turn, impact their candidate’s chances.
How many of these staffers will still have jobs when the leaves start changing colors a few weeks from now? Stay tuned to future indices to find out …
KENTUCKY GOVERNOR’S RACE
Mark Twain is frequently quoted as saying when the world ended, he wanted to be in Kentucky – because it’s twenty years behind on everything. There’s no evidence he ever said that, but it’s a great line – and folks love repeating it. Yet, in 2023, it’s not true. In fact, if you want an early indicator of how 2024 may play out, it’s worth paying attention to what’s happening in the Commonwealth. That’s because Kentucky’s gubernatorial election could send important signals to South Carolina – and elsewhere.
Both parties have already shelled out a combined $11 million, bombarding TV and the internet with wave after endless wave of commercials. They’re paying extremely close attention to which issues are motivating voters so they can fine-tune their messaging.
Beshear is a popular governor in a state Trump easily carried last time. But he’s burdened by the albatross of Bidenomics.
Cameron pulled a political rabbit out of his hat by scoring endorsements from arch rivals Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Now he’s trying to make history by becoming Kentucky’s first black governor.
An anemic economy, woke insanity run amok, abortion, race, Biden’s unpopularity, Trump’s legal woes … this one has it all. It’s a political Petri dish, a gigantic test lab that could reveal important tips for winning — and losing — presidential campaign strategies.
Keep a close eye on Kentucky in the next ninety days. It took 150 years to get here, but it’s finally on the cutting edge.
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