The highly anticipated ‘First in the South’ presidential primaries are finally upon us, with Democrats set to cast their ballots next Saturday (February 3, 2024) and Republicans scheduled to vote three weeks later (February 24, 2024).
Unfortunately, it appears as though all of the anticipation was for nothing … irrespective of your partisan affiliation.
On the Democratic side, incumbent U.S. president Joe Biden is all but assured of a romp over his two rivals – Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips and self-help guru Marianne Williamson. Meanwhile, a potentially competitive GOP race has turned into an expected evisceration as former U.S. president Donald Trump is poised to crush former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley in her own backyard.
How did things fall apart so fast for Haley?
Honestly, the reality behind the lack of upward mobility in Haley’s polling numbers is far more substantive – something Folks also addressed this past week.
For the past ten months, Folks and political columnist Mark Powell have been tracking trajectories in this race via our Palmetto Political Stock Index. As previously noted, each installment is an assessment of how our subjects fared over the previous seven days. Positive reports don’t reflect endorsements, and negative ones aren’t indicative of vendettas. We just call ‘em like we see ‘em.
To view the most recent index, click here. And to get your historical fix, click here. 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.
We know Haley’s comet is fading, but where should you invest your political capital this week? To the index!
The way Joe Biden sees it, everything comes down to South Carolina Democrats. Speaking to a well-heeled, big bucks crowd at a Democratic fundraiser at the S.C. State Fairgrounds in Columbia on Saturday night, the president showered his fellow party members here with praise.
He reminded them how the Palmetto State saved his bacon in 2020.
“You’re the reason I’m president,” he said. “You are the reason Kamala Harris is a storied vice president. You are the reason Donald Trump is a loser, and you’re the reason we’re going to win and beat him again.”
Extending Biden’s logic, South Carolina Democrats are also responsible for Bidenflation, a foreign policy in utter shambles, green energy mandates being crammed down the throat of every economic sector and a U.S. border that resembles a dam bursting. It is that last point in particular – the current crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border – that’s been on Biden’s mind most in recent days.
Ministers are often skeptical of deathbed conversions. The prospect of imminent damnation makes some reprobates change their tune; but have they really changed their heart? Biden seems to have suddenly experienced a political deathbed conversion on illegal immigration. But is it just election-year window dressing?
After intentionally turning a blind eye for the last three years to the growing crisis on the Southern border, he’s suddenly concerned about it. Very concerned, he says. He’s so concerned, in fact, that he promises if Congress passes an immigration bill he won’t waste time putting it into effect.
That proposal would give the president authority to close the U.S.-Mexico border at times when it gets “overwhelmed.” In a statement released late Friday night, Biden vowed “if given that authority, I would use it the day I sign the bill into law.”
What’s behind this Get-Tough Joe we’re suddenly seeing? Could it be Biden was rattled by last week’s New Hampshire primary exit polling, where voters startled pundits, pollsters, and politicians alike by saying immigration — not the moribund economy — was their top concern?
Where was Get-Tough Joe when ICE reported 646,000 “enforcement actions” at the Southern border in FY 2020, then jumped to 1.9 million the year he took office, then shot up to 2.7 million in FY 2022, and then 3.2 million in FY 2023?
And more importantly, how long would Get-Tough Joe stick around after Inauguration Day next year if he’s reelected?
“If you’re serious about the border crisis, pass a bipartisan bill, and I will sign it,” Biden said Friday night.
Which brings us back to deathbed conversions. Some change their ways when they see the light; others only when they feel the heat.
‘FIRST IN THE SOUTH’ VOTERS
Iowa’s Republican caucuses? Check. New Hampshire’s ‘First in the Nation’ primary? Done. Now it’s South Carolina’s turn to step into the nation’s spotlight (we’ll address that Nevada sideshow in just a moment).
Usually, the Palmetto State helps Democrats and Republicans alike cut through the folderol and get serious about picking their nominee. But there’s nothing usual about the 2024 cycle.
For Democrats, their party stacked the deck and re-dealt the cards long ago. Party bosses didn’t want a primary; they wanted an anointing. And that’s what they’re poised to get this Saturday. Between the White House scaring off all serious would-be primary opponents to House leader Jim Clyburn’s well-oiled get-out-the-vote machine revving into action, Joe Biden carrying South Carolina will be as easy as Mickey Mouse carrying Disney World.
Over in the GOP camp, Donald Trump is hoping South Carolina Republicans give him what New Hampshire didn’t deliver last week: A knockout punch that sends his sole remaining opponent sailing out of the ring. Polls show that could very well happen on February 2024.
Conversely, Nikki Haley is hoping for a miracle, a serious Trump stumble or some major event from a faraway corner of the world which would enable her to take center stage. Without such an eleventh hour surprise, her Palmetto prospects are looking dimmer by the day. And getting trounced in the state where you were born, raised, attended college, ran books for a business (allegedly) and served as state representative as well as governor can’t be explained away with a pithy soundbite.
Nevada Republicans didn’t want to let Joe Biden’s DNC hog all the fun of mucking up the 2024 primary calendar. They had to get in on the act, too.
It’s a long, complicated tale that’s best summed up in the title of the classic rock hit, “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” (Minus the guns part; but then this is the West after all, so who knows?)
Long story short: The Silver State passed a law in 2021 requiring a primary election whenever at least two candidates were seeking their party’s presidential nomination. But with byzantine reasoning that would have fit in perfectly in the court of Caligula, Nevada GOP chieftains decided to host a competing caucus. They even went to court and — unsuccessfully — tried to kill the primary. So now they’re stuck with both. And a candidate must pick one or the other to enter.
The upshot: Haley is staking out the primary on February 6; Trump is claiming the caucuses two days later; thousands upon thousands of everyday Nevada Republicans don’t know what the hell is going on (you wouldn’t want to work in the secretary of state’s office there this week); the national media are dismissing the whole thing for the farce that it is; and with only 26 delegates at stake, does this brouhaha even matter anyway?
Following his solid (albeit not spectacular) victory in last Tuesday’s New Hampshire GOP primary, Donald Trump’s attention turned to his side hustle: Courtroom defendant. And the news there wasn’t so good.
A Manhattan jury found Friday that the former president defamed a former magazine columnist. It awarded her $18.3 million in compensatory damages and another $65 million in punitive damages — for a jaw-dropping $83.3 million in total money owed to her.
Trump is predictably howling in outrage, calling it “absolutely ridiculous.” Meanwhile, Haley tried to tiptoe through the political minefield – hoping to bash Trump without offending his MAGA supporters.
“America can do better than Donald Trump and Joe Biden” was the best her campaign could come up with in a statement on X (formerly known as Twitter) that carried minimal wallop.
Still, the ruling highlights potential pitfalls ahead for Trump. Exit polling found a significant number of Trump’s New Hampshire voters last week said a criminal conviction would make them reconsider voting for him in November. If a Biden-Trump rematch materializes as expected, and if it’s close, those voters could be the ones separating victory and defeat.
Paybacks are hell, they say. Just ask Fani Willis, the beleaguered Fulton County district attorney in Georgia who made going after Trump her top priority. Now, Willis is finding out the hard way having one’s life put under the magnifying glass is no barrel of laughs.
This index has avoided following the soap opera of every twist and turn in Donald Trump’s myriad legal woes. (That’s why God made Court TV, after all.) Until there are significant developments to report, such as the $83.3 million verdict mentioned above.
But in a classic case of the hunter becoming the hunted, DA Willis is in the hot seat herself. Since many observers say the Georgia case is the most overtly partisan of Trump’s four criminal cases around the country, it merits our attention here.
At the root of it all is the messy alleged personal relationship (read “boinking”) with special prosecutor Nathan Wade. How messy, you ask? Wade’s unsealed divorce proceedings showed he paid for trips that he and Willis took to California and Florida. That creates a potentially serious conflict of interest, and one of Trump’s co-defendants is already asking that the case be dismissed because of it.
Georgia’s state Senate created a special committee late last week to look into the whole sordid mess. But it gets even worse for Willis. The hosts of the daytime TV gabfest “The View” blasted Willis on Friday. “I just personally am pissed off about this,” co-host Alyssa Farah Griffin said.
When a liberal Democrat loses “The View’s” support, you know it’s serious.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN POLITICS
A disturbing incident in last week’s New Hampshire primary could spell serious trouble for elections everywhere.
The day before the voting, a robocall was made to Granite State Democrats. The recording had President Joe Biden saying, “Republicans have been trying to push non-partisan and Democratic voters to participate in their primary. What a bunch of malarky. We know the value of voting Democratic when our votes count. It’s important that you save your vote for the November election.”
The only problem? The message didn’t come from Biden. (The White House emphatically denied it.) Artificial intelligence created those comments.
Both parties are now pointing the usual accusatory finger at the other, and the state’s attorney general is looking into the matter. But this much is certain: As if the folks responsible for safeguarding our elections didn’t already have enough to worry about, they can add this to their list, too.
STATE FREEDOM CAUCUSES
This media outlet has reported extensively on the activities of the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, a group of hardline conservative state legislators who are so serious about making state government’s size and spending smaller that they have the audacity to actually vote for it. (For which the House Republican Caucus expelled them en masse in a Stalinist-inspired purge of dissent.)
Far from giving up, Freedom Caucus members are not only fired up and ready for battle in the just-convened legislative session, but they’re also seeing an influx of legislative candidates around the state pledging to join their ranks if elected.
South Carolina was a pioneer in the Freedom Caucus approach; it’s now spread to more than 15 states around the country. And each one is meeting similar resistance from the entrenched special interest powers that be. But what happened in Missouri last week takes the cake.
In actions befitting “The Empire Strikes Back,” draconian Senate leader (and nominal Republican) Caleb Rowden lashed out with a savagery that made South Carolina’s GOP establishment look like pussycats in comparison.
Calling them “swamp creatures,” Rowden stripped four Freedom Caucus members of their committee chairmanships, cut their office budgets by $10,000 each, and, in a level of pettiness usually seen on grade school playgrounds, even moved their parking spots as far away from the capitol building as possible.
Sounds like someone is hitting a little too close to home for the Show-Me State establishment’s comfort …
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