Last week’s big political news revolved around the ‘Tussle in Tuscaloosa,’ a contentious, two-hour GOP debate that went down in the Heart of Dixie. This debate – held on the campus of the University of Alabama – appears to have temporarily blunted some of the second-tier momentum enjoyed by former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley.
Haley has emerged as the top “Republican” alternative to former U.S. president Donald Trump – but with Trump retaining huge leads nationally and in all the key early-voting states, is Haley’s bid any more or any less sustainable than her other non-Trump rivals?
The next two months will tell the tale …
Folks and political columnist Mark Powell compile the Palmetto Political Stock Index each week to assess the impact of precisely such potentially defining moments. 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).
As often noted, 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. And just because your favorite/ least favorite politician isn’t 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!
Representatives of four of America’s most exclusive private universities went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday. By the time they had finished testifying about antisemitism running wild on their campuses, the myth of academic objectivity and tolerance had been forever shattered. And by week’s end, one of them was out of a job.
It was a calamitous appearance for Harvard president Claudine Gay, (former) University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill, MIT president Sally Kornbluth and American University professor Pamela Nadell. Each of these schools have witnessed eruptions of antisemitism from young progressives during the current Israel-Hamas War — including calls to “globalize the intifada,” which is shorthand for the extermination of the Jewish State and the genocide of Jews around the world.
While pro-Palestinian protesters have every right to free speech, they do not have the right to threaten murder. Republicans were also quick to point out these genocidal threats were emanating from the same far leftists who spent decades carving out “safe spaces” for themselves on college campuses.
How safe do Jewish students feel right now?
The quartet of academics testified before a U.S. House committee on Tuesday. Pressed about what was happening right under their noses, the elites wiggled, waffled and evaded. UPenn’s Magill was the worst of the bunch. New York congresswoman Elise Stefanik pointedly asked her, “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s rules or code of conduct? Yes or no?”
Magill responded with a milquetoast deflection. Stefanik didn’t let up. “So the answer is yes?” What Magill said next shocked even hardened Capitol Hill correspondents.
“It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman.”
A stunned Stefanik shot back, “Calling for the genocide of Jews—depending upon the context—is not bullying or harassment? This is the easiest question to answer. Yes, Ms. Magill.”
It was an extraordinary moment – and the blowback was swift and severe. High-dollar donors instantly began ripping up their checks. Ross Stevens, founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, immediately withdrew his $100 million donation to UPenn. Ouch!
Magill is looking for work today after resigning Saturday, the first domino to fall.
For decades, American taxpayers have spent a fortune footing the bill for generous higher education subsidies, while parents have paid grossly expensive tuition bills and philanthropies have showered largesse on these institutions … and THIS is what we’ve got to show for it?
As one South Carolina elected official privately told us, “I would rather send my kids to the worst community college in Arkansas than to any Ivy League indoctrination center.” After last week’s hearing on Capitol Hill, it’s hard to argue with that.
Will somebody please save this guy from himself? With his reelection prospects floundering, Joe Biden made a bad situation even worse last week.
Cloistered with a circle of high-dollar donors in a ritzy country club enclave outside Boston on Tuesday, Biden remarked “if Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running.”
That exceedingly frank confession sent shockwaves racing through liberal ranks. As an increasingly worried Democratic Party tries to motivate its less-than-excited base, its leader came off sounding like Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
If it were just that, it could be excused as yet another Biden blunder. But it wasn’t. He got a triple-barrel blast of bad news as the week went on. First, a 14-page resolution authorizing an impeachment inquiry into Biden was released Thursday. The formal wording of the resolution directs “certain committees to continue their ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its Constitutional power to impeach Joseph Biden, President of the United States of America.”
Markup is set for Tuesday, and a vote could follow within days.
And in a bit of spectacularly bad timing for Biden, a federal grand jury in California indicted his son Hunter Biden last week on nine counts related to allegedly failing to pay over $1 million worth of taxes over four years. Unlike the slap on the wrist charges he faced before, this round carries serious teeth. The scandal is also poised to bite First Daddy on the bottom—right at reelection time, too.
Finally, Biden saw his updated average approval rating on FiveThirtyEight dip to 37.7 percent – the lowest mark of his presidency. Meanwhile his disapproval rating has soared to 55.8 percent – its highest mark since last July.
How much further must Biden fall before Democrats publicly call on him to stand down?
Her campaign is still clinging to its “surging” mantra – and the impact of a big endorsement continues to pay dividends – but “reeling” would be a better word for Nikki Haley after her candidacy hit a significant speed bump in Tuscaloosa, Alabama last week. Two hours of relentless pummeling from rivals Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy at the fourth GOP debate in the Heart of Dixie took their toll. Even a full-throated 9-1-1 emergency rescue response from former New Jersey governor Chris Christie wasn’t enough to undo the damage.
DeSantis and Ramaswamy barely took a break in blistering Haley. As we noted last week, she seemed to wither under the fire in the second half of the encounter, offering only tepid, half-hearted responses. The “Big Mo”-type momentum she gleefully proclaimed for weeks has been blunted, at least for the time being. Her train hasn’t derailed, but it’s not zipping along at full speed the way it was this time last week.
FiveThirtyEight‘s polling shows she is momentarily holding even. That’s a huge relief to DeSantis, who still clings to his second-place ranking by the narrowest margins, leading Haley by a single percentage point nationally.
The timing is especially bad for the former governor. With the holiday season in full swing, veteran politicians know voters mentally check out until January 2. That provides a critical window of opportunity for DeSantis to get his ducks in a row before the Iowa caucus on January 15.
Will the jockeying matter, though?
With Donald Trump still leading the pack at 59.3 percent (according to FiveThirtyEight), isn’t all of this just academic?
Some good news for Haley? A new poll from The Wall Street Journal showed her beating Biden by seventeen percentage points in a hypothetical general election matchup. No other GOP candidate came anywhere close to achieving that sort of spread against the incumbent …
While NewsNation earned rave reviews after hosting its first-ever presidential debate last week, rival network CNN has a major mess on its hands – one entirely of its own making. The year’s fourth and final Republican National Committee-sanctioned debate had barely wrapped up in Tuscaloosa when the self-described “World’s Most Important Network” proudly proclaimed it would host two GOP debates in January. The first is tentatively set for January 10 at Drake University in Des Moines, just five days before the all-important Iowa GOP caucuses. The other, set for January 21, will be at St. Anselm College near Manchester, New Hampshire – just ahead of that state’s first-in-the-nation primary.
There’s just one problem, and it’s a biggie. Folks in New Hampshire are saying, “Huh?” Seems nobody there knows anything about a CNN debate.
State GOP Chairman Steve Ager says he’s in the dark. And over at St. A’s (as locals call the college,) all they know about is a debate planned by ABC News that they’ve been working on for many weeks. “I have no idea about anything with any other network,” the top official of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics told the AP.
What gives? Nobody seems to know. But as of press time, CNN was still promoting the January 21 event …
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy (who never met a debate he didn’t like) is already saying an enthusiastic “Yes!” to all the aforementioned encounters. Other campaigns are taking a wait-and-see approach.
As the political and news worlds sort out that mess, there was bad news from last week’s “Tussle in Tuscaloosa.”
The event took a serious hit in the ratings. Viewership was down a jaw-dropping 47 percent from November’s encounter in Miami. Part of the problem was the broadcaster. While the three previous debates were hosted by Fox News and NBC News, last week’s was carried on the vastly smaller NewsNation and simulcast on the CW Networks.
The debate audience trajectory has been steadily declining all year. Some 12.8 million people watched the first one in August. For the second installment in September, it was 9.5 million; then 7.5 million for the third in November. Last week a combined total of 4.1 million watched, although It’s worth noting that the 1.6 million who saw it on NewsNation represented the largest audience of its 24-month existence.
With the outcome seeming to be a foregone conclusion, will anyone bother watching even if CNN winds up holding a New Hampshire debate next month?
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The tree, in this case, was North Dakota governor Doug Burgum; the forest was the GOP presidential field; and apparently, the answer to that age-old question is, “Who cares?”
At least, that was the reaction of Republicans when Burgum suspended his campaign on Monday.
The longest of longshots (his state’s three electoral votes are rarely coveted by any candidate in either party), Burgum found out the hard way that despite his billion-dollar personal fortune, there simply isn’t room in the GOP of 2023-24 for any candidate whose last name isn’t Trump.
Its a revelation slowly dawning on the rest of the field …
Burgum’s most memorable moment came when he fell playing basketball with staffers on the day of the first Republican debate in August and hurt his Achilles tendon. But “the show must go on,” and the governor gamely appeared on stage later that night – making him the first candidate in history to appear in a debate wearing an orthopedic boot and holding crutches.
Unfortunately, that injury report its all Burgum has to show for his six-month quixotic quest for the nomination …
They’re hanging the “Help Wanted” sign on Capitol Hill as the exodus of long-serving members of Congress turns into a stampede.
The highest profile name to say ‘adios’ is ex-speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is resigning his California House seat at year’s end. That, coupled with the expulsion of GOP scoundrel George Santos, is making mathematical headaches for McCarthy’s successor. Speaker Mike Johnson will have two fewer votes as he herds his contentious GOP Caucus into 2024.
Currently, Republicans enjoy a narrow 221-213 edge in the chamber – but that math may move further in their favor next November. At last count, 31 House members have announced they’re retiring. The breakdown is 20 Democrats and 11 Republicans. A closer look shows most of the GOP seats are in districts considered “safe” for their party. Yet at least four current Democratic seats are likely to flip red next year; and many of the others are rated as competitive.
Should Joe Biden remain at the top of the ticket, we may finally see that promised “red wave …”
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