There was big buzz in Republican vice presidential circles earlier this month as South Dakota governor Kristi Noem endorsed the candidacy of former U.S. president Donald Trump. Of course, a much bigger buzz followed late last week when a story about Noem allegedly engaging in an extramarital affair with one of Trump’s closest confidants got ginned back up in a big way.
Several media outlets – most notably The (U.K.) Daily Mail – slapped exclusive tags on their coverage of this scandal, which proceeded to blow up in the pages of the New York Post, Vanity Fair and other major publications. Longtime members of our audience know these reports have been in the political bloodstream for some time, though. Hell, we covered this drama way back in October 2021 … and were covering Noem’s ascendency extensively prior to that.
Noem, 51, is viewed by many as one of Trump’s top vice presidential prospects. And clearly, someone wanted to knock her down a peg in the aftermath of her big endorsement of his 2024 bid. How will the latest iteration of her alleged affair with Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski wind up playing out? It’s far too soon to say, but look for Noem’s name to appear more often on this index in the weeks to come as her profile grows – for better or worse.
FITSNews founding editor Will Folks and political columnist Mark Powell compile the Palmetto Political Stock Index each week to follow the fallout from such developments. We track the rising and falling fortunes of individuals and institutions as well as the interplay of state and national politics in our early-voting South Carolina home, host of the quadrennial “First in the South” Republican presidential primary (and the “First in the Nation” Democratic primary).
In this week’s edition?
A really rotten week for the incumbent president …
South Carolina’s former governor climbs even higher …
A sex scandal you should be following …
Remember, our index is simply an assessment of how subjects fared over the past seven days. Positive reports don’t reflect endorsements, and negative ones aren’t vendettas. We just call ‘em like we see ‘em. Oh, and just because your favorite/ least favorite politician didn’t wind up on this week’s index – that doesn’t mean we aren’t still tracking them. Look for them in future reports … and, of course, you can check prior installments to see how we’ve covered them in the past.
Where should you invest your political capital this week? To the index!
Stop us if this is starting to sound familiar, but for the fourth time in a generation impeachment war drums are beating along the Potomac River. This time, hardline conservatives in the U.S. House are pushing to put president Joe Biden on trial.
Zealous partisans in both parties aside, average Americans don’t approve of kicking a president out of office. The three times it was tried in the last 25 years has resulted in a 0-3 record. If you go back and score every attempt since Andrew Johnson’s impeachment got the ball rolling in 1868, the full record is 0-4 – although Richard Nixon would have certainly been impeached and removed from office had he not resigned in August of 1974.
Several members of Congress told us last week there is pent-up frustration within the conservative wing of the GOP related to the two impeachments of former president Trump – with some eager to give the minority party a taste of its own medicine. To put it in another way, payback is hell.
This is precisely why other Republicans are opposing impeachment, however. Democrats put the nation through two circus carnivals when they knew from the outset there was virtually no chance of conviction in the Senate. Therefore, isn’t it hypocritical of the GOP to do the very same thing?
A third faction believes political perceptions and outcomes should not be considered at all. With so much about the Biden family’s careless intermingling of private business and public office already known, these lawmakers believe prudence demands an investigation.
House speaker Kevin McCarthy (more on his political Garden of Gethsemane in a moment) said last week he won’t block articles of impeachment. It now seems more a question of when, rather than if, they will be filed. Assuming that happens, our already unprecedented 2024 presidential campaign will become even more inconceivable.
McCarthy makes Paul Ryan’s impotent speakership look like a study in competency. Remember the Barnum & Bailey circus show the country endured in January when McCarthy belatedly got the gavel? It ain’t over yet. The GOP caucus has so many competing interests at play that riding herd on them is like managing a fine china and crystal shop in the middle of a pet grooming business; one misstep from a stray cat and you’ll be able to hear the shattering from several blocks away.
McCarthy spent the first half of his first year as speaker begging everyone to play nice and get along. You saw how well that worked out for him. The pot finally boiled over last week when the House Freedom Caucus – which has been a driving force in the push for a Biden impeachment – finally forced McCarthy to say he would greenlight those proceedings. But that still wasn’t enough for the speaker’s chief thorn in the flesh.
Congressman Matt Gaetz, Florida’s mouth in the House and a man whose social media boasts of being “built for battle,” was still dogging McCarthy for dragging his feet on the matter – urging his colleagues to file a motion which would take the speaker’s gavel away from the California moderate.
That reportedly led to the frustrated speaker bellowing at Gaetz during last Thursday’s caucus meeting, “If you want to file the motion, file the fucking motion!”
Now, a large number of House Republicans are publicly saying they’re growing weary of Gaetz’s perpetual dog-and-pony show, making him likely to dig in his heels and double down on it. Which makes the entire Republican caucus increasingly look like, to borrow from McCarthy, one big clusterfuck.
South Carolina’s former governor Nikki Haley has the prevailing political winds in her sails — in her home state and beyond. And she’s got the numbers to prove it.
A new Monmouth University-Washington Post poll of South Carolina Republicans released last week set tongues wagging around the Palmetto State. It had Haley at 18 percent. Perhaps more surprising was former president Trump coming in at 46 percent – below expectations. Senator Tim Scott was third with 10 percent, followed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis at 9 percent. The rest of the field was scattered below five percentage points.
Haley’s backing in this poll was more than three times her national support … while Trump’s backing was more than ten percentage points below his current national polling, according to aggregate data from RealClearPolitics.
Isn’t South Carolina supposed to be “Trump Country?”
“I’m surprised to see Trump below fifty,” a veteran SCGOP strategist told us over the weekend. “If his downward trend continues as Haley trends upward, he could have a real situation on his hands here soon. And Trump just can’t afford that. He must have a strong firewall in South Carolina.”
As this index has noted recently, an assortment of establishment Republicans, #NeverTrumpers, GOP crony capitalists and neoconservative foreign policy interventionists has coalesced around Haley. It was long believed there weren’t enough of them to overcome MAGA’s diehard devotion to the 45th president – but is that calculus changing. Is the new poll an anomaly, or is Trump’s base slowly starting to give way? Stay tuned …
Also good news for Haley this week? With Noem’s affair allegations dominating headlines – and a Virginia sex scandal turning heads online – no one is talking about her extramarital extracurriculars.
No matter in which direction the beleaguered president turned last week, bad news was staring him in the face. Foreign Policy: He again put American weakness on display for the world to see by unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian assets to free five American prisoners. The cherry atop that sundae was announcing it on Monday, the 22nd anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, which was either tone-deafness at best or callousness at worst.
The economy: Inflation surged in August, with the consumer price index (CPI) revealing that everyday items shot up another 3.7 percent. That was not only worse than expected (given recent interest rate hikes) but further evidence that the White House’s “things are getting better” line is falling on deaf ears.
Mental cognizance: Biden repeated his bizarre “lying dog-faced pony soldier” movie quote, the same one that left heads scratching the first time he uttered it in 2020. He also said Monday that he visited Ground Zero the day after the 9/11 attacks (adding that it was like “looking into the Gates of Hell”). The only problem with this story? Biden was in Washington on Sept. 12, 2001, and CSpan2 has the video to provide it.
Family Woes: First son Hunter Biden made history last week by becoming the only child of a sitting president ever charged with a crime. He was indicted in Delaware on three counts of possessing a gun while using narcotics.
We could go on and on, but why kick a man when he is so obviously down?
The “Republican” many Republicans love to hate is leaving the U.S. Senate. Voting to convict Trump in 2021’s second impeachment farce was a bridge too far for many Utah GOP faithful. Facing a strong Republican primary challenger, Mitt Romney opted against being forced to walk the plank. He’s jumping ship instead, announcing last week he won’t seek reelection in 2024.
So this is how the political world ends for the son of a Michigan governor (and 1968 presidential hopeful), governor of Massachusetts, 2012 Republican presidential nominee, and one-term senator from the Beehive State: Not with a bang, but with a rousing crescendo of “good riddance!” ringing in his ears.
While Romney is hearing a lot of “don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya” from the GOP, it’s assured Democrats in Washington, D.C. will miss him.
This news outlet has made it abundantly clear over the years that we believe a person’s personal life is just that: Personal, meaning no one else’s business. As long as children and animals aren’t involved, what two consenting adults do in private is between them and their conscience.
Yet there is such a heavy volume of talk about a political scandal raging just up Interstate 95 we can no longer ignore it.
Susanna Gibson is a nurse practitioner, a wife and mom, and a Democrat seeking a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates. She’s also involved in a sex scandal quite unlike any we’ve ever seen before.
Gibbons streamed live sexual encounters with her husband on a website where viewers could provide “tips” for them to perform specific acts (talk about giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “pay to play”). And we’re not talking about a youthful indiscretion from Gibbons’ long-ago past; the most recent video to the X-rated site was posted on September 30, 2022.
Gibbons is now saying she is the victim of a “sex crime” and “gutter politics.”
“This is an illegal invasion of my privacy designed to humiliate me and my family,” she said. “It won’t intimidate me and it won’t silence me.”
Really? Gibbons and her husband posted the videos online. They made no effort to conceal their identities. They solicited cash for them. She even said on one of her videos that she was “raising money for a good cause.”
Dubious outrage (and terrible judgment) aside, the matter does raise a host of fascinating questions: With no other parties apparently involved, should the married couple have to account for their private lives? And given their efforts to profit from the videos, can they really claim privacy? Does engaging in such behavior still disqualify someone from holding public office, or should it not matter? And just how much of a role do traditional moral views play in the politics of 2024?
We will leave it to the voters of District 57 to give us the answers come November. And if Gibbons doesn’t make it to Richmond, there’s always Las Vegas where, as we all know, what happens there remains there …
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