It was “Statement Saturday” on the college football gridiron last weekend, with numerous undefeated, highly ranked teams facing stiff challenges from ranked opponents. More than a dozen teams are currently vying for spots in the upcoming College Football Playoff (CFP) – and five of those programs faced Top 25 opponents in pivotal showdowns on Saturday.
If you don’t follow college football, none of that will make much sense to you … nor is it likely to matter that much to you. But there’s a similarly fierce process of elimination unfolding in presidential politics that should matter very much to you … no matter what sport you follow. After all, trillions of our tax dollars are at stake – along with essential liberties, secure borders and our status as the leader of what used to be called the “free world.”
Like championship football teams on a collision course, America’s former president, current president and a gaggle of would-be presidents are careening toward a similar date with destiny in January 2024 – as the first ballots of the next presidential race are scheduled to be cast right around the same time the next college football national champion is crowned.
FITSNews founding editor Will Folks and political columnist Mark Powell compile the Palmetto Political Stock Index each week to assess the status of the presidential race – among other political developments. We follow the rising and falling fortunes of individuals and institutions on the national stage as well as the interplay of state and national politics in our early-voting South Carolina home, which hosts the quadrennial “First in the South” Republican presidential primary (and the “First in the Nation” Democratic primary).
And which features a pair of its home state candidates in the 2024 GOP presidential race …
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 report doesn’t mean we aren’t still tracking them. Look for them in upcoming editions … 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!
The former president is pushing the political stratosphere with many GOP voters. As of press time, his average at both FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics was pushing 60 percent. Not only that but there’s so much space between him and the rest of the pack you could dive a pair of aircraft carriers between them. Seriously. Former South Carolina governor (and Trump’s first United Nations ambassador) Nikki Haley is taking a victory lap these days, bragging to every TV camera she can find about how she is “surging” (her favorite word) into second place. And she is. But what Haley leaves out is that even after her recent uptick, she still trails Trump by a jaw-dropping 44 percentage points.
Trump is sounding more and more like a nominee-in-waiting than a regular candidate. He has retooled his stump speech accordingly, focusing on the race to come – not the current competition in name only. In the new version, he largely ignores leading rivals Haley and Ron DeSantis (wisely) but still insists on making the juvenile putdowns garnished with junior high school level nicknames (unwisely); what’s different is a new section where he goes directly after Joe Biden. And he’s landing blows exactly where it hurts Biden most.
Consider this recent zinger: “When I came into office, Iran had $70 billion in exchange reserves, its piggy bank for terrorists. By the time I left, they had nothing. They were broke. The Iranian regime could barely afford to keep the lights on. Sadly, Crooked Joe (Biden) surrendered my tough sanctions. Iran once again has over $70 billion to finance terror, and Israel is paying the price in blood.”
Translation: Biden is weak, I am strong. And a majority of GOP voters are buying it.
Much can happen between now and next July’s Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. For instance, what if Trump is convicted in one of the myriad criminal cases he’s facing? Could we see a presidential campaign waged from inside a prison cell? (Don’t laugh; it’s happened before. Socialist Eugene V. Debs got 914,191 votes in 1920 while doing time in the Atlanta Federal Pen).
Heading into the holiday season, however, Trump’s lead just keeps growing larger while his taillights grow ever smaller for the opponents in his wake.
Poor Biden; he just can’t keep from falling into potholes he dug himself. Consider the current Israel-Hamas War. The terror group’s barbaric surprise onslaught had barely stopped last month when he felt the need to personally insert himself into the crisis. He hopped on Air Force One and hightailed it to the Mideast, where he made a big show of his full-throated support of Israel.
Biden also pushed a massive aid package linking billions in new military assistance for Israel with more funding for America’s failed proxy war in Ukraine.
But Biden got ahead of the Woke/progressive wing of the Democratic Party, his base of support – which includes broad swaths of voters who support Palestine. Now there’s political hell to pay as a result. The Democrats’ left flank is growing increasingly angry at their standard bearer. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan went so far as to declare Biden supported what she called a “Palestinian genocide.”
“Mr. President, the American people are not with you on this one,” she said. “We will remember in 2024.”
That pressure is causing Biden to fine-tune his position. He’s now calling for a “pause” (his word) in the fighting to allow more Palestinian civilians to flee Gaza. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu rejected that call – saying Israel wound not consider suspending its offensive until hundreds of hostages held by Hamas are first released.
But the progressives’ impatience is boiling. Early last week, pro-Palestinian protestors interrupted U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken’s testimony at a Senate hearing by shouting “murderer!” and tossing fake blood. Will we see similar scenes at Biden campaign events soon? Or at the White House?
As of this writing, the scene unfolding in Washington, D.C. certainly point to such a possibility … with pro-Palestinian protesters shouting “Allahu Akbar” and “F*ck Joe Biden” (or maybe it was “Let’s Go Brandon”) as they smeared red paint on the White House gates.
Oh, Biden also had a terrible employment report and brutal consumer confidence data land on his desk last week – further evidence “Bidenomics” is not only failing, but more importantly failing to fool voters that things are getting better economically.
Say what you will about the former Palmetto State governor, but she doesn’t beat around the bush.
“Are you ready to endorse me yet?” she demanded (semi-jokingly) of New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu last week.
On Thursday, the Granite State governor was escorting Haley on a courtesy swing through his little corner of New England. (He did the same with Ron DeSantis the week before). Haley was peppy and upbeat, and with good reason. After all, The Des Moines Register had just released a poll showing her in second place in early-voting Iowa. Haley is also on the upswing in New Hampshire as well as in her home state of South Carolina – where a new CNN survey released last week showed her drawing 22 percent support.
That’s more than twice her nearest (non-Trump) rival …
The problem for Haley? Trump received 53 percent in the same South Carolina poll, meaning if every other Republican dropped out and endorsed Haley, she still couldn’t overtake him … in her own backyard.
It’s increasingly coming down to a numbers game. And the math is looking increasingly fuzzy for Haley as Trump’s aforementioned lead extends,
Something else to consider as ‘Haley’s comet’ continues its ascent? NBC News filed a report late Friday noting Haley bailed on a critical Florida presidential event. Her excuse? Undisclosed “family reasons.” While this media outlet has seen nothing to suggest cause for concern for her campaign, several sources indicated there was “chatter” about Haley’s absence amongst the GOP establishment donor class – which seems poised to throw its support behind her candidacy.
It’s been a slow, steady decline for the Florida governor. After watching his strong starting position last winter give way in the spring – and then completely melt under the blazing summer sun – the autumn of DeSantis’ discontent has seen him starting to lose steam on his home turf.
Last week, U.S. senator/ former Florida governor Rick Scott announced he was throwing his support behind Trump. Adding insult to injury, Trump stole the show last weekend at the big “Florida Freedom Summit” in Kissimmee. This event was packed with some 1,000 GOP activists, elected officials and hardcore party faithful – the very core of Republican insiders who are the lifeblood of a winning primary campaign. Trump put on such a tour de force some Republican state legislators even flipped their DeSantis endorsements to the former president — right under DeSantis’ nose.
All of this comes, of course, amid the aforementioned Nikki Haley surge … which has put DeSantis further on the defensive.
Against this grim backdrop, though, came sudden burst of good news. As our index was going to press on Sunday afternoon came news that Iowa governor Kim Reynolds would be endorsing her Florida counterpart over Trump. Reynolds is set to make the announcement official at a rally in Des Moines on Monday evening. (You’ve got to admire Reynolds’ tenacity, knowing she’s now in for nine weeks of snide, snarky insults from the candidate she spurned.)
Reynolds’ endorsement is literally a lifeline tossed out amid a sea of trouble for DeSantis. Will it be enough to see him across the finish line in Iowa’s January 15 GOP caucus? It better be. Because minus that, she’ll have to remind the last person to leave DeSantis’ HQ to turn out the lights.
Some big elections are scheduled for this week – and I’m not just talking about a high-profile tilt in South Carolina’s Holy City. Folks in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana will be choosing their governor. No surprises are expected, but in an environment as turbulently volatile as the one in which we find ourselves, who knows for sure?
Victorious parties like to crow about their wins afterward, but these off-year contents rarely are harbingers of things to come. They are the very embodiment of Tip O’Neill’s famous observation that “all politics is local.” Seriously, is a swing voter in Baton Rouge’s decision to vote for a certain gubernatorial candidate an indicator of how they will vote for president next year? Hardly.
Yet this is worth noting: FiveThirtyEight’s analysis of 38 special elections held around the country this year (as of September) showed solid Democratic turnout, with the party outperforming partisan lean by an average of 10 percent.
Make of that what you will …
Long the masters of “Rules for thee, but not for me,” rich liberals are increasingly voting with their feet. Creating pseudo-socialist utopias has left many blue states groaning under massive — and mounting — tax burdens to pay for that brave new world. And that has über wealthy increasingly fleeing to places where the bite to their personal bottom line isn’t so big.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the latest to pack up and flee the Left Coast for Florida, where the tax rate and sunny skies are more welcoming. He made a slobbering sentimental post on Instagram announcing it last week. “Seattle, you will always have a piece of my heart,” he gushed.
But Florida will now have Bezos’ investment portfolios and bank accounts. And the loss will hit the Emerald City’s coffers hard.
Former Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt likewise said so long to Silicon Valley and put down roots in Miami earlier this year. Leaving taxpayers in California to make up for the financial difference.
This is a sticky wicket. Gen Zers and Millennials are crazy about coffee. These caffeine junkies were the driving forces behind Starbucks’ $26.6 billion in sales last year.
So when a flier that boldly announced “Starbucks Workers United Stands With Palestine” started racing through social media at the speed of light recently, people at every point along the political spectrum took notice.
“We condemn the occupation, displacement, state violence, apartheid, and threats of genocide Palestinians face,” the flier noted. “Furthermore, we condemn Starbucks for shamefully using this devastating humanitarian crisis to make false statements against our union and to vilify us.”
Wait … huh?
(Click to view)
Starbucks responded to the union’s outrage by lawyering up and dragging the matter into federal court. The coffee behemoth “received hundreds of complaints from customers and other members of the public … for supporting Hamas,” court documents tut-tutted. (Which, incidentally, Starbucks does not.)
Starbucks Workers United doubled down on Oct. 20, blasting out via X (formerly known as Twitter) that its members “stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.” For good measure, it threw in that it opposes violence, adding its membership includes Jews, Muslims, and Palestinians.
As of this writing, the post had received more than 3.5 million views and was pushing 150,000 “likes.” That represents a lot of cups of coffee.
For its part, the company issued a statement early on in this Donnybrook saying its leaders “unequivocally condemn these acts of violence and disagree with the statements and views expressed by Workers United and its members.”
“Workers United’s words belong to them, and them alone,” the coffee giant added.
To recap: A handful of union members think the Palestinian people are good, and the retail giant that pays their wages is not only bad but somehow connected to a crisis half a world away. Said big business is angry that its name is being sullied. And the aforementioned Gen Zers and Millennials making up the lion’s share of the Democratic Party’s Woke/progressive faction are being called to the barricades to oppose all those perceived to be opposed to the Palestinian cause, even if that means giving up their beloved cup of joe.
Anyway, if you spot a 20-something at work with the shaky hands of someone going through caffeine withdrawal, you’ll know why.
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