As the 2024 electoral calendar advances, time is running out for those on the outside looking in – those eager to upset the conventional wisdom of the upcoming presidential election cycle. As seasons change, so does the calculus of contenders hoping to avoid becoming pretenders – hoping to avoid being swept into the proverbial ash heap of forgotten names and failed candidacies.
Ever since a flurry of criminal indictments galvanized Trump’s GOP support, he has moved from frontrunner to presumptive GOP nominee – and it seems unlikely anything other than his untimely death is going to change that. Meanwhile, a weakened Biden has withstood pressure to oust him from the top of his party’s ticket – although that pressure could start rising if his poll numbers continue to tank.
FITSNews founding editor Will Folks and political columnist Mark Powell compile the Palmetto Political Stock Index each week to keep our audience abreast of the very latest in electoral/ political 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).
Remember, our index is simply an assessment of how our subjects fared over the past seven days. Positive reports don’t reflect endorsements, and negative ones aren’t indicative of vendettas. We just call ‘em like we see ‘em. Also, 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 …
South Carolina’s third congressional district representative, Jeff Duncan, is making his first appearance on our index since news broke that this wife was suing him for divorce over multiple affair allegations.
Who cares about affairs? The staunchly social conservative third district, that’s who. Especially in light of Duncan’s “faith and freedom” self-adhesive.
Duncan has been on this index several times before – almost always receiving green (rising) ratings for his elevating profile in Washington, D.C. The 57-year-old Greenville, S.C. native has emerged as a key powerbroker in the energy industry – and he enters his personal drama in a much stronger position than neighboring fourth district congressman William Timmons.
Timmons, incidentally, has been a case study in how not to handle allegations of infidelity. Can Duncan learn what not to do from his colleague? So far he has leveraged the looming government shutdown in Washington, D.C. to his advantage – using it as an opportunity to burnish his fiscally conservative bona fides.
But the shutdown soap opera is over (for the moment) … and scrutiny of Duncan is just beginning.
Hence, the congressman’s stock is standing pat for now as the fallout from his sex scandal begins to take shape. We will continue keeping a close eye on his handling of the matter moving forward, though.
FUNCTIONAL D.C. DYSFUNCTION
We hear a lot about dysfunction on Capitol Hill. But there’s one thing Congress excels at above all others: Kicking the can down the road. And we got a fresh reminder of its expertise in putting off the unpleasant over the weekend.
On Saturday afternoon, just hours before the federal government’s funding was set to expire at midnight, the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed a stopgap spending measure to keep the cash flowing for another forty-five days. Speaker Kevin McCarthy dropped demands for spending cuts to entice Democratic support. With their votes, it breezed through with 335-91 approval and was quickly rubber-stamped by the Senate.
So, there will be no “shutdown” of second-tier government services this week after all. But what about November, when Congress will find itself in the exact same situation once again? Look for more of the same. What was true in Winston Churchill’s time remains equally true today: “Americans will always do the right thing – after they have tried everything else.”
South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson is the runaway frontrunner to become the next governor of South Carolina – and nothing happened this past week to change that. Sure, his office is dealing with some high-profile pushback on the guilty verdict it secured earlier this year in the Palmetto State’s ‘Trial of the Century,’ but the latest intel on that front seems to be trending in his (or the state’s) favor.
So why is Wilson treading water in our index? A belated, conventional endorsement in the presidential race.
Wilson’s endorsement of Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination is the classic safe play. Limited risk, limited reward. It also feels like a finger-in-the-wind moment – coming as it does more than eight months after Trump rolled out his list of initial 2024 supporters in South Carolina. Oh, and if you think the former president doesn’t keep tabs on when certain elected officials endorsed him versus others, you don’t know the man.
Current South Carolina governor Henry McMaster has parlayed his opportunistic 2016 endorsement of Trump into all sorts of advantages – including his lengthy status quo governorship. McMaster was late to the 2016 “Trump Train,” but his eleventh hour imprimatur gave the former president a boost of establishment credibility at a key moment in the race. Since then, Trump has repaid McMaster repeatedly and disproportionately for his loyalty.
Will Wilson’s endorsement yield him similar dividends? Doubtful … however, if the attorney general somehow winds up as the only Trump backer in the 2026 governor’s race it could wind up paying off handsomely. For now, though, Wilson’s support for Trump just feels like a calculation, not a commitment.
Like most complex personalities, there are many sides to Donald Trump. There’s Trump the political candidate, Trump the businessman, and Trump the celebrity/ showman. All three seem to be converging on the 2024 landscape simultaneously.
Trump the candidate paid his fourth visit of the year to South Carolina last Monday. At a rally in Summerville, he trotted out new endorsements from attorney general Alan Wilson (above) and secretary of state Mark Hammond. With those additions, almost all of the GOP’s big brass in Columbia is now riding the Trump train. The rally was followed by a swing through the Midlands, including a high-profile tour of Palmetto State Armory.
Trump the businessman suffered a big blow in his New York state criminal case last week, though. A judge ruled he committed fraud by exaggerating his net worth on financial records. That cleared the way for his civil fraud trial – the first of four cases he’s facing – to begin tomorrow (Monday, October 2, 2023).
Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for Trump the celebrity/ showman, who keeps people watching as he remains the presumptive GOP nominee in waiting. The barrage of federal and state criminal charges has barely dented his campaign. An ABC News/ Washington Post poll released last Sunday showed Trump beating Biden by ten points nationally. Two subsequent national polls had Biden ahead by one and five points, respectively; with a third showing Trump narrowly leading.
Trump’s status as the presumptive nominee hasn’t been seriously questioned for months … but his general election viability has been the topic of much conversation/ consternation amongst the GOP establishment. The latest trend lines show he is far from roadkill – as long as Biden is the Democratic nominee, that is.
They came, they talked … and little (if anything) changed. The seven leading GOP contenders (minus Trump) spent two hours debating at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California Wednesday night. They occasionally took a break from bashing Trump and Biden to go at each other. The whole thing was much like that old line about relieving oneself in a navy blue suit.
“You get a warm feeling, but no one else notices,” the joke goes.
As a result, not much has changed for any of Trump’s rivals – at least not in the context of their viability as prospective nominees. As was the case following the August debate in Milwaukee, all seven participating campaigns declared their candidate the “winner” last week. Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley’s team in particular took great pains to frame her as the victor, doing everything short of pouring a bucket of Gatorade on her head.
However, polling conducted in the 72 hours following the event painted a different story. It suggested many Republicans who watched the debate had a “meh” reaction. In its aftermath, Trump’s lead over the field remained as commanding as ever – leaving the others to scramble for distant second, third, and fourth-place slots. And as everyone knows, there are no silver and bronze medals in politics.
Ordinarily, the preservation of the status quo would portend a “holding” rating for these GOP wannabes. But with the calendar now very much working against them, it’s hard to see how treading water is anything but a bad thing.
The name of Virginia’s governor is floating around Republican circles with increasing frequency these days. True, Youngkin is only 21 months into his single, four-year term (Virginia is the only state in America where a governor cannot immediately serve a second term on the job). But he has managed to straddle the line and avoid ticking off the conservative and moderate wings of the Old Dominion’s Grand Old Party. And being just down the road from D.C. automatically puts him on Washington’s radar.
That has some in the #NeverTrump crowd pushing him to plunge into the presidential race. With it becoming increasingly likely that none of the dozen current Republican candidates whose last name isn’t Trump can win the nomination, some see Youngkin as a viable option. If he does enter the contest, it would be a serious blow to Nikki Haley, the current chief beneficiary of Anybody-But-Trump support.
Youngkin is keeping his cards close to his vest for the time being, saying he’s focused on helping Republicans win back the House and Senate in next month’s legislative elections in Virginia. But it’s worth noting his prominent backers and big-dollar donors will huddle with him at his “Red Vest Retreat” in Virginia Beach beginning on October 17. Will he hear, “Run, Glenn, run” then?
ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.
The names “Kennedy” and “Democratic Party” are so closely intertwined it’s almost impossible to imagine one without the other. Well, brace yourself: The impossible could happen next week.
Multiple news reports say the 69-year-old environmental lawyer and scion of one of the country’s most famous political families will reveal he’s switching his presidential campaign from Democratic to independent. An announcement is said to be in the works for October 9, 2023 in Pennsylvania. The candidate himself teased over the weekend that a “major announcement” would be coming soon.
“I’ll be speaking about a sea change in American politics,” Kennedy said.
If you think the switch would bring a sigh of relief to the Biden reelection team, think again. Third-party candidates have a well-established track record of becoming presidential election spoilers. Ross Perot running as an independent cost George H.W. Bush a second term in 1992. The Green Party’s Ralph Nader helped Bush’s son, George W., squeak by Al Gore in 2000. And a hodgepodge of minor candidates siphoned off votes Hillary Clinton desperately needed in key swing states when she lost to Trump in 2016.
Clinton herself is said to have recently told Biden in a private meeting to take the threat of third-party candidates seriously, leading an unnamed White House official to say in a widely circulated quote, “It’s pretty fucking concerning.”
It should be – especially when the last name of the third party challenger is Kennedy. His name and connections to wealth alone mean he could make life miserable for Biden every step of the way until Election Day. Given that Biden’s approval ratings continue to mirror the “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” Kennedy and other independents might start appealing to centrists and some Democrats fed up with Bidenomics and the administration’s other shortcomings – yet can’t stomach voting for Trump.
CALIFORNIA (SENATE) DREAMING
The death of U.S. senator Diane Feinstein on Friday dumped the hottest of hot potatoes squarely into the lap of California governor Gavin Newsom.
Everything about this sudden development is über complicated. Governors appoint a replacement when a Senate seat becomes vacant between elections – meaning Newsom finds himself with two dozen new BFFs he didn’t know he had last week.
The governor said in 2021 he would appoint a black woman should a Senate vacancy occur, and the NAACP wasted no time shooting him a letter on Friday saying it expects him to fulfill that pledge. Newsom also said he won’t appoint any of the three House Democrats already running for the seat next year.
Timing matters, too. Decorum requires a suitable period of mourning must pass before a successor is named out of respect for the deceased and their family. But time is a luxury Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer doesn’t have at the moment. With the count now standing at 50 Democrats (including three independents who frequently vote with them) and 49 Republicans, vice president Kamala Harris will remain on urgent standby to cast her tie-breaking vote.
On top of all that, Newsom likes to leisurely ponder his options when making big appointments that carry long-term consequences. For instance, he took six weeks before tapping Alex Padilla as senator when Harris resigned to become vice president. Schumer and his allies can’t wait that long.
Further complicating the calculus, Newsom’s presidential ambitions are the worst-kept secret in politics. Whoever he selects (including himself, by the way) will immediately assume a higher-than-usual profile … and could quickly turn into a rival. Look for lots of soul-searching in Sacramento this week.
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.