2024

Palmetto Political Stock Index: Previewing A Pivotal Election Year

What the contenders have done … and must do in the year to come.

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For the past year, our Palmetto Political Stock Index has tracked the rising and falling fortunes of national and state politicos ahead a pivotal “First in the South” presidential primary election. This election is now nearly upon us. In closing the book on 2023, we wanted to look back and see how some of the figures we’ve been tracking fared over the past twelve months – and to gauge what we can expect of them in the year to come.

Accordingly, for this week’s index we dispense with our traditional “rising,” “falling” and “holding” ratings and provide two entries for each subject: A 2023 performance review followed by a 2024 prospectus.

Our founding editor Will Folks and political columnist Mark Powell compile this index each week – tracking the interplay of state and national politics in our early-voting South Carolina 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.

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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. Also, 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.

To view the most recent index, click here. And to get your historical fix, click here.

New Year’s is a time when investors take “stock” of their portfolios. They review how certain shares did in the prior calendar year – and consider what lies in store in the year to come. The same holds true for your political portfolio as well. Where should you invest your political capital heading into 2024?

To the index!

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DONALD TRUMP

2023 PERFORMANCE

Ronald Reagan was nicknamed the Teflon President because few attacks stuck him. He now looks like the Velcro President compared to Donald Trump.

Trump defied all the odds in 2023 as Democrats threw everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at him – and still couldn’t knock him off his block. He became the first former president ever charged with a crime, with his signature scowl captured in the first-ever presidential mugshot. Trump now faces a total of 91 counts in four separate cases in three states and the District of Columbia – but is no worse for the wear in GOP polling. He skipped participating in all four Republican presidential debates – and similarly experienced no adverse affect. Finally, Democratic functionaries banned him from the GOP primary ballot in Colorado and Maine (although he’s been temporarily reinstated in the Centennial State as the Colorado GOP appeals that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court).

The more hits he takes, the higher Trump’s polling numbers rise among Republican primary voters.

There’s nothing new about Trump this go-round. Unlike Richard Nixon, who took an eight-year breather and rebranded himself as a “New Nixon” after narrowly losing the presidency in 1960, Trump 2024 is a carbon copy of Trump in 2016 and 2020. He is still lashing out at his enemies (both real and perceived), still harping on his 2020 loss, and still promising to stand up for the forgotten little guy. And his base is unflinchingly standing with him every step of the way.


2024 PROSPECTUS

Trump remains the favorite in the big three early GOP contests: Iowa’s Republican caucus (on January 15) and both the New Hampshire (January 23) and South Carolina (February 24) GOP primaries. If the former president runs the table and sweeps all three contests, the GOP nomination will be effectively decided.

The general election campaign would be an entirely different matter, however. If a Trump-Biden rematch materializes, it would be the last hurrah for both the then-78-year-old Trump and the soon-to-be 82-year-old Biden. With nothing left to lose for either candidate, the 2024 campaign has the potential to set a new low in nastiness.

Plus, there’s the very real possibility that Trump could be convicted in one of the quartet of cases now besetting him. What would a campaign waged from inside a prison cell look like? That may sound improbable now; but then again many of the challenges Trump faced this year seemed unlikely on New Year’s Eve 2022, too.

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JOE BIDEN

2023 PERFORMANCE

The Democratic incumbent looked like political roadkill all year. With a nonexistent southern border, a wobbly economy that flirted with a recession, a vice president who became an increasingly burdensome albatross, a mouth that doubled as a perpetual gaffe machine, mounting disillusion and discontent among Gen Z and Woke/progressives, and approval numbers that rivaled Typhoid Mary, Joe Biden had all the hallmarks of a one-termer.

And that’s before we even consider questions about his cognitive stamina (or lack thereof).

Incredibly, Biden is still standing. Even more incredibly, he could conceivably win reelection next November.

Despite a spectacularly bungled rearranging of the Democratic primary calendar, Biden drew only one modest opponent (congressman Dean Phillips, more commonly known outside of his home state of Minnesota as “Who?”) The White House did an impressive job keeping all pretenders to the throne at bay. Foremost among them? California governor Gavin Newsom – who divided his 2023 between acting like a candidate in waiting and saying, “No, really, I’m not running, guys. Honest!” Even has-been Hillary Clinton dropped hints last summer that she was available for another run if needed.

The administration worked itself into a tizzy of excitement in December by declaring the worst of inflation was behind us. However, many economists quickly pointed out that while inflation is slowing from its earlier 40-year high, it hasn’t gone away. Meanwhile, the worsening border crisis – and an increasingly toxic strain of far left hatred over his administration’s position vis-à-vis the latest Middle East crisis – has Biden on the defensive.

Despite the incredible odds, though, Joe Biden lives to fight another day.


2024 PROSPECTUS

If he makes it to next August’s Democratic National Convention unscathed, if the economy somehow manages to roar back to life in the coming eight months, if the Gen-Zers and woke/progressive crowd can be appeased, if the world stage stabilizes and China holds itself in check and if (the biggest hope al all) Kamala Harris could somehow be coaxed into retirement and replaced with a more dynamic — and competent — running mate … if all those things fall into place, then Joe and Jill might not have to worry about returning to Delaware until 2029.

But that’s an awful lot of “ifs”

And keep in mind Barack Obama’s famous observation: “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f*ck things up.”

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NIKKI HALEY

2023 PERFORMANCE

Nikki Haley finally found a promise she can keep. “Nobody is going to outwork me,” the former South Carolina governor said when she jumped into the Republican presidential contest last February. True to her word, Haley has done yeoman’s work in the GOP vineyards in both the hinterlands of Iowa and New Hampshire. Unlike Trump – who jets from one rally to the next like a rock star heading to his next concert – Haley has tended assiduously to the nitty gritty mundane chores of modern retail politicking. She has talked to voters in school gymnasiums and in the living rooms of her local supporters. She had posed for thousands of photos with blue-haired ladies, college kids and anyone in between. In New Hampshire alone, she has held dozens upon dozens of town halls.

Haley did it the old-fashioned way – and now it’s paying off.

She did it with hard work, disciplined campaign messaging and three solid debate performances (we’ll forget the fourth debate where she drooped like a wilted flower for some reason). Throw in a sycophantic MSM that fawns over her as its new identitypolitik standard-bearer (now that Kamala Harris has crapped out) and a wealthy uni-party donor class eager for a malleable GOP nominee and it’s easy to see why Haley is on the upswing.

Consequently, Trump’s former UN ambassador has realized her tactical goal of coalescing most — though not all — of the #NeverTrump GOP electorate around her candidacy.

True, the same problems that have hounded Haley ever since her entry into politics (her lack of authenticity and, at times, her awkward attempts to have it both ways) continue to rear their ugly heads. She also stepped in it last week at a town hall in Berlin, N.H. when a blatantly obvious Democratic plant asked her what caused the Civil War. Failing to give the left’s preferred answer, the MSM turned the story into her first real national scandal.

Still, Haley enters 2024 poised precisely where she wants to be just two weeks away from the first votes being cast …


2024 PROSPECTUS

As we have noted in our coverage of her candidacy, Haley has very little to lose and a lot to gain moving forward. If she comes within striking distance of Trump in Iowa or pulls off an improbable (but not impossible) upset in New Hampshire, watch out. That would put her on a collision course with Trump on her home turf here in South Carolina.

Speaking of, we continue hearing reports that backdoor communications are taking place between Haley’s camp and Trump World. As Chris Christie pointed out late last week, “She’s afraid to say that Donald Trump is unfit because she’s afraid of offending people who support Donald Trump — and because maybe she harbors in the back of her mind being vice president or being secretary of state and since she won’t deny it, we have to believe that she’s willing to do it.”

Even if Haley doesn’t win the GOP nomination – or join a Trump ticket – she’s still exceedingly well-positioned politically moving forward. Regardless of what happens next November, Donald Trump won’t be in the race in 2028. As a leading contender this cycle – one who has exceeded expectations – Haley would find herself in prime position heading into the next presidential cycle. In other words, whatever happens in the coming year, she and her supporters will be hanging on to all those leftover ‘Haley for President’ buttons.

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RON DeSANTIS

2023 PERFORMANCE

The Fat Lady may not be singing for Florida governor Ron DeSantis just yet, but she’s warming up in the wings. 

Seldom in modern political history has a candidate burst onto the political scene with such bright prospects, only to flame out so spectacularly – and so quickly. Coming off his resounding reelection victory as governor in November 2022, DeSantis looked like a modern St. George poised to slay the Trump Dragon. 

But looks were deceiving …

For starters, DeSantis committed a major strategic blunder at the outset. He delayed formally entering the race far too long. True, his reasoning was based on responsibility; no governor can afford to leave his state for long when its legislature is in session. Still, that commitment kept DeSantis tethered to Tallahassee for weeks on end.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does politics. Trump World brilliantly seized on DeSantis’ delay to plant seeds of doubt in the MSM’s mind. (For all of Trump’s “fake news” bashing, his organization knows how to play the national media like a violin.) Add to that the general anxiety among Republicans still stinging from the GOP’s less-than-dazzling performance in the 2022 Midterms. The longer DeSantis dillydallied, the more antsy they grew.

When he finally made a much-ballyhooed announcement with billionaire Elon Musk live on Twitter, a technical glitch marred the moment. DeSantis’ opponents had a field day mocking the debacle – which was a stupid decision in the first place as Twitter is beloved by Gen-Zers, Millennials, and the notoriously left-of-center MSM).

How many fifty-plus GOP primary voters avail themselves of the platform?

Then, there’s been a revolving door of turmoil at the top of the DeSantis campaign team that makes Trump’s White House look like a bulwark of stability. 

But the biggest problem of all was painfully simple. DeSantis billed himself as “Trumpism without the baggage of Trump.” Trump supporters responded by asking, “Why would I want Trump Lite when I can have the real thing?” DeSantis never came up with an effective answer.

The result: DeSantis’ poll numbers have steadily slid downward since summer. It was like watching a family pet die in slow motion. As of this writing, the polling average at FiveThirtyEight showed him clinging to the second-place spot in the Republican race nationally by less than a percentage point over Haley – who now leads him in New Hampshire and South Carolina and is on the verge of catching him in Iowa.


2024 PROSPECTUS

It’s not quite time to write DeSantis’ political obituary in this campaign, but having the undertaker’s number on speed dial might not be a terrible idea.

What does the post-2024 future hold for Ron DeSantis? For starters, he must finish his second term as governor of Florida. After that, it’s hard to say. But this much is certain: American politics is filled with candidates who overcame failed presidential runs and eventually make it to the White House. Ronald Reagan waged a disastrous campaign in 1968, followed by a near-miss in 1976 – and eventually went on to landslide wins in 1980 and 1984. DeSantis bears watching – especially if he can learn from his mistakes.

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CHRIS CHRISTIE

2023 PERFORMANCE

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s 2024 campaign can be summed up in one word: Redemption. He ran against Trump in 2016, then made nice with him as president, said sweet things about him, and even served a stint as opioid addiction czar in 2017. But like so many others, his stay in Trump World was brief.

Now Christie is seeking atonement in the GOP Establishment’s eyes for his heresy. He’s using the 2024 primary campaign as a political baptism to wash away the taint of Trump. Christie made it clear the minute he barged into the race that his sole focus was taking down his erstwhile friend. And true to form, he’s been a one-trick pony ever since.

Yet here’s the thing: If Christie really and truly wanted to stick it to Trump, he could do so by dropping out now and encouraging his supporters to migrate over to Nikki Haley’s camp. That could conceivably make it possible for her to narrowly beat Trump in New Hampshire on January 23. But as Christie himself said in a new commercial released late last week, “I’m not going anywhere.” 

Could more than mere animus for Trump be at work here?


2024 PROSPECTUS

As a former U.S. attorney and two-term governor of New Jersey, plenty of corporations will be willing to put Christie on their board of directors. So he needn’t worry about missing a house payment. But as far as politics goes, it’s “bye-bye, big guy.”

Or as the next politician on our list said in a recent debate, it’s time for Christie to “get the hell out of this race” and “enjoy a nice meal.”

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VIVEK RAMASWAMY

2023 PERFORMANCE

A 38-year-old investor with a net worth approaching $1 billion, Vivek Ramaswamy caught the attention of conservative GOP voters with his willingness to say things traditional politicians were (are) unwilling to say. In an era when Americans yearn for authenticity, his quick wit and lack of a filter earned him a soft spot in many hearts on the right —along with the undying enmity of the GOP establishment.

Ramaswamy romped through the summer like a kid on Christmas morning, gleefully bashing woke insanity and the Biden administration’s complicit lurch to the left. He ranted and grinned and reeked of enthusiasm – and his debut on the national stage darn near stole the show at the first Republican presidential debate in August.

For now, that has been his high-water mark. The race’s big guns were swiftly trained on him. The second debate revealed that while many Republicans liked what the brash upstart had to say, he had skipped the grades where you learn practical political lessons and shot straight to the head of the class.

By fall, he had settled into the role of reliable bomb thrower (with his ability to get under Nikki Haley’s skin especially amusing to watch).


2024 PROSPECTUS

Now that he’s an officially established “name” in the political world (with a sizable portion of Republicans able to correctly pronounce “Vivek”), look for Ramaswamy to become an increasingly familiar face on Fox News or other media outlets. There’s no shortage of outrageous woke antics, so the soundbite machine of the self-styled anti-woke CEO should keep operating at full capacity for the foreseeable future.

And who knows; should Trump win a second term perhaps he’ll tap Ramaswamy for education secretary. Seeing him do battle with entrenched educrat elites would certainly be a show worth watching!

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