GOP Elites Want to Turn from Trump. Will the Base Let Them?

Forget the scathing editorials from conservative media blaming former President Trump for the GOP’s mediocre midterm. Never mind their underwhelmed reception to his 2024 presidential launch. Disregard the major donors who are bailing this time around.

Keith Korsgaden is firmly on board for a Trump reprise. He’s quite sure he’s not alone.

“There are 74 million people that voted for Donald Trump in 2020, and those 74 million of us still feel the same way — that he’s one of us,” Korsgaden said. The Visalia restaurant owner has been a Trump supporter since that momentous descent down Trump Tower’s escalator in 2015.

There may not be quite the unanimity that Korsgaden predicts, but his loyalty underscores a stark reality: Republican power brokers may be ready to break from Trump, but a significant slice of Republican voters? Not so much.

As the 2022 midterm election wheezes to an end, the start of the 2024 campaign feels both uncharted and uncannily familiar. Trump began his bid for a comeback — the first attempt by a former president since Herbert Hoover — as the front-runner for the Republican nomination who nonetheless appears vulnerable to a serious intra-party challenge.

The fundamental question facing the Republican Party during this long run-up to the next election is who truly is in control: the elected officials and opinion leaders who have shaped their party’s agenda from the top, or the grassroots bloc of Trump faithful who have ruled from below. The latter may have shrunk in numbers since the former president left office, but they still command outsize influence in GOP primaries — and there may be just enough of them to propel Trump forward in a crowded field of competitors.

Republicans face daunting scenarios: an ugly primary battle that could aggravate ideological tensions within the party, or an easy waltz to the nomination by a candidate with proven unpopularity among crucial voters such as women and independents.

“I don’t believe he is completely intractable from the Republican Party,” said Mike Madrid, an anti-Trump GOP consultant. “Here’s what I do believe — I believe the Republicans have so swallowed the hook that when you rip it out, it’ll bring up all its guts and probably kill it.”

Republican elites have been here before, publicly breaking from Trump after the predatory vulgarity of the leaked “Access Hollywood” tape, his equivocation in denouncing white supremacists in Charlottesville, and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that was catalyzed by his false allegations of election fraud. But so long as Trump was able to mobilize infrequent voters to back him or his endorsed candidates, his influence on the party was never in doubt.

It may be different this time. In tones typically reserved for Trump, media personalities are speaking reverently about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 19-point romp to reelection. The party’s strong performance in Florida’s congressional races also enhanced DeSantis’ reputation for carrying down-ballot candidates to victory. By contrast, top party figures have pointedly noted, Republicans have struggled in three consecutive national elections since Trump won the White House in 2016.

“If a political party can’t stay committed to their central premise, which is winning elections, then what’s the point?” said David Kochel, a veteran Republican strategist.

There is some evidence the GOP is ready to move on. A recent NBC poll found that 62% of Republicans said they considered themselves more a supporter of the party than of Trump, the highest number since the question was first polled in January 2019. Club for Growth, a conservative group once allied with Trump, circulated pollsshowing DeSantis with a healthy lead over the former president in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states on the path to the GOP nomination, as well as Florida and Georgia.

Christine Matthews, a pollster who has Republican clients, said the sense that primary voters ready to look beyond Trump is “very real,” driven by their belief that he is hobbled by his antagonistic relationship with the media.

“They’re able to justify moving on from him by saying, ‘The media will never give him a fair shot. They’ll always be against him. So even though we really like him and think his policies were great, it’s probably time for someone new,’” Matthews said.

So far, the consensus pick for that someone new is DeSantis, who offers the former president’s instinct for culture war combat in a less chaotic presentation. 

“DeSantis is the stock to buy, Trump is the stock to sell in politics,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based GOP strategist.

The most pressing challenge for DeSantis will be how to parry Trump’s attacks, Mackowiak said. The Florida governor “has survived a lot of attacks from a lot of people, but Trump is different. He just is.”

By announcing his bid before the Senate runoff race in Georgia next month, Trump risks even more of a rupture with his party if Republicans end up losing that race.

Many GOP operatives still smart over the Georgia Senate runoff in January 2021, when Trump’s fixation on his election loss dampened turnout among his supporters and Democrats went on to win the two races and control of the Senate. 

One of those victors, Sen. Raphael Warnock, is hoping Trump will have a similar effect on the electorate this time around. On Thursday, his campaign released an ad that is solely footage from Trump’s 2024 announcement, in which the former president endorses Warnock’s GOP challenger, Herschel Walker. The commercial ends with two taglines: “Stop Donald Trump” and “Stop Herschel Walker.”

Some of Trump’s onetime allies in conservative media have been withering in their criticism about his drag on the party after his preferred candidates flopped in key Senate and House races in last week’s election. The New York Post has been especially lacerating; the day following his 2024 kickoff, it tersely teased “Florida Man Makes Announcement” on the cover and buried the story about the speech on page 26 with the headline, “Been there, Don that.”

Other outlets greeted Trump’s candidacy with similarly unenthused headlines. “Trump 3.0 is a changed man — he’s now a loser,” said the Washington Examiner. “Oh, Trump Believes in Yesterday,” opined Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal. The National Review’s take was simply titled, “No.”

“The way and force [with which] they’ve turned on him has blown my hair back,” said Howard Polskin, whose daily newsletter, TheRighting, rounds up headlines from the conservative media ecosystem.

But recent GOP history is full of cautionary tales about the challenges of reorienting the party, especially if its most committed voters aren’t on board.

In 2012, after two consecutive bruising presidential losses, party stalwarts decided it was necessary to remake Republicans’ image. Fox News’ Sean Hannity said he “evolved” in his thinking on immigration and endorsed a pathway to citizenship. The Republican National Committee commissioned what was widely called an autopsy, which prescribed softening stances on social issues and promoted immigration reform as a way to attract voters of color, young people and women. 

The Republican grassroots felt differently. Conservative shock jock Rush Limbaugh railed against the document. Four years later, the party backed a candidate whose hard-line immigration stance could be summed up with the phrase, “Build the Wall.”

“We were projecting what we thought was going to be best for the party onto the voters, rather than listening to what the voters wanted and trying to fashion a party that appeals to them,” said Tim Miller, a former RNC official who worked on the report.

For years, party leaders tried to steer conservatives to more electable candidates, leading to John McCain and Mitt Romney becoming the GOP nominees. Both lost in the general election.

“Donald Trump broke the mystique” of that strategy, Miller said, by being a candidate who gave the grassroots what they wanted and still won a general election. Now, “it’s hard to see them buying an electability argument again,” said Miller, who has been a fierce Trump critic.

Despite myriad commentators and editorials decrying Trumpism as a cause for the most recent GOP disappointments, some supporters of the former president haven’t been persuaded.

“Blaming President Trump is preposterous,” said Celeste Greig, a longtime GOP activist from Northridge. She said the fault lies more with poor campaign efforts by local and state parties.

Greig said that in her wide network of conservative stalwarts, “I haven’t found any of my friends, any of my acquaintances, that said he shouldn’t run.”

For all the high-profile breaks from Trump, others were quick to show their support. Grassroots favorites such as Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia swiftly endorsed Trump’s 2024 bid. Sen.-elect J.D. Vance of Ohio, who won the primary thanks to the former president’s backing, penned an op-ed titled, “Don’t Blame Trump.” 

“What will be critical to watch will be how Fox News prime time treats him,” said Polskin, who tracks conservative media. “They are by far the biggest megaphone in the biggest right-wing media universe.” 

The crowded right-wing media ecosphere may also pressure some of the bigger outlets to return to Trump’s camp. When Fox News recognized Biden’s 2020 win, Trump publicly bashed the channel and urged his supporters to move to smaller, more hard-line channels — OAN and Newsmax — and Fox’s ratings plunged

Even if this current antagonistic tone persists from major outlets, a vast array of podcasts, streaming shows and conservative websites will continue to generate plenty of Trump-aligned content.

“We’re in a new media terrain,” said Heather Hendershot, professor of film and media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, contrasting the monolithic audience in the network era to the current fractured media landscape. “You can’t point back to as splintered a moment as it is today.”

That’s a reason Korsgaden, the committed Trump fan, has not been swept up in the DeSantis fervor of the major conservative outlets. He is not a fan of Trump’s swipes at the Florida governor, but he thinks DeSantis has plenty of time for a White House bid in the future. And good luck to any media personality or party leader who tries to convince him otherwise.

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California Governor Urges Overhaul of Democrats’ Strategy

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called for an overhaul of Democrats’ political strategy on Saturday, saying the party is “getting crushed” by Republicans in part because they are too timid, often forced to play defense while Republicans “dominate with illusion.”

Speaking at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas — the territory of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, one of Newsom’s chief political foils — Newsom was careful to praise current party leaders like President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But he said that mantras that may have worked for the party in the past — like Michele Obama’s famous quip “when they go low, we go high,” — simply don’t work today because “that’s not the moment we’re living in right now.”

“These guys are ruthless on the other side,” Newsom said. “Where are we? Where are we organizing, bottom up, a compelling alternative narrative? Where are we going on the offense every single day? They’re winning right now.”

Newsom said that’s why — even though he is running for reelection as governor of California — he has been spending some of the millions of dollars in his campaign account on TV ads in Florida urging people to move to California, newspaper ads in Texas decrying the state’s gun laws, and putting up billboards in seven states urging women to come to California if they need an abortion.

“There’s nothing worse than someone pointing fingers. What are you going to do about it?” Newsom said. “The reason we’re doing those ads is because … the Democratic Party needs to be doing more of it.”

Of course, the main reason Newsom can do those things is because he faces little pressure at home. Newsom is likely to cruise to a second term as governor of California in November, facing a little-known and underfunded Republican challenger one year after defeating a recall attempt.

Newsom’s actions have increased speculation he might be running for president, an idea he has repeatedly denied — doing so again on Saturday in Texas. Asked if he was considering running for president in 2024 or 2028, Newsom said: “No, not happening.”

“I cannot say it enough,” he said. “I never trust politicians, so I get why you keep asking.”

Newsom said that President Joe Biden’s first two years in office have been “a master class … on substance and policy.” But later, he said good governance, by itself, is not enough to win elections — adding that “otherwise Biden would be at 75% approval.” In reality, about 53% of U.S. adults disapprove of Biden, according to the most recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The problem for Democrats, Newsom said, is that they “fall in love so easily” with “the guy or gal on the white horse to come save the day.”

“We missed a more important paradigm that leadership is not defined by that person in formal authority, it’s defined by people with moral authority every single day,” he said.

Newsom’s aggressiveness could end up helping Abbott, who is locked in a more competitive race with former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Kenneth Grasso, a political science professor at Texas State University, said there has been concern among some in the Republican Party that Abbott is “not conservative enough.” Newsom’s attacks against Abbott “only helps him with those people,” Grasso said.

“If you stress that they’re right-wingers, you call them extremists, using that kind of language, all you are going to do is enhance their popularity in their own base,” he said.

Despite that risk, Texas Democrats seem to be welcoming Newsom’s attention.

“I like this guy,” Texas Democratic Party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said of Newsom. “I like the way he’s showing the contrast between what y’all do in California and what the narrow-minded, extremist positions that occur here in the state of Texas.”

Click here to read the full article in AP News

What proposed laws are imperiled by Gov. Newsom’s rumored presidential ambitions?

SB 57 was supposed to help addicts, but critics decried legal drug dens

He’s trolling red-state Republican governors with attack ads, picking fights over the country’s most hot-button issues and calling out political “bullies” in a baseball cap to cover up his usually-coiffed hair.

Despite all the signs, Gov. Gavin Newsom insists he’s not running for president.

But a very high-profile veto message this past week quickly had both critics and some supporters asking if the proud progressive governor has suddenly started weighing how his decisions in Sacramento will go over with more moderate voters in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, the first stops on any presidential hopeful’s road to the White House.

Newsom vetoed SB 57, which would have allowed Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles to open supervised injection sites for drug addicts. It seemed like the kind of out-of-the-box approach to a vexing social problem that Newsom would embrace.

As San Francisco’s mayor in 2004, he made national headlines marrying gay couples when most fellow Democrats clung to the tradition that only a man and woman could tie the knot. So this past week when he rejected SB 57, critics blamed his rumored presidential ambitions – and his fear of attack ads decrying his state’s legal drug dens.

“We are incredibly disappointed and heartbroken that Governor Newsom has put his own political ambitions ahead of saving thousands of lives and vetoed this critical legislation,” Jeannette Zanipatin, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement after the veto.

With the Legislature wrapping up its latest session this week, there are dozens of bills from California’s left-leaning Democrats headed to the governor’s desk that could signal whether Newsom is concerned about his appeal to more moderate voters. Those include bills that would make it easier for felons to pass background checks and require judges to consider alternatives to jail when sentencing offenders.

None pose as big of a threat to his national aspirations as the safe injection site bill, political experts agree.

“This was definitely the biggest obstacle on the road to New Hampshire,” said veteran political analyst Dan Schnur.

Claremont McKenna College political science Professor Jack Pitney said it would be “easy to write the script for the attack ad” on SB 57. Opposition researchers would have a trove of visuals at their disposal of addicts passed out on the streets of San Francisco, where the city’s liberal voters in June overwhelmingly recalled their district attorney who’d campaigned on alternatives to jail for offenders.

With even progressives pushing back when it comes to crime and quality of life, Pitney said, Newsom has to be wary of bills that could feed a narrative that he’s soft on crime.

“Particularly when it comes to crime policy, he has to reflect on what happened to Michael Dukakis,” Pitney said.

Dukakis was the Massachusetts governor and Democratic presidential nominee whom Republican George H.W. Bush clobbered in a 1988 campaign that hammered on Dukakis’ veto of a bill that would have ended prison furloughs for murderers. Bush supporters ran ads calling out a Maryland rape by furloughed Massachusetts murder convict Willie Horton.

Pitney in a column earlier this month noted similarities between Newsom and Dukakis, who had won reelection in a landslide and was lauded for pushing progressive policies while balancing budgets. Both Democrats, Pitney wrote, suffer “Blue Bubble Syndrome” from spending their political lives in comfortably blue states. Progressive crime policies applauded by social justice activists might land with a thud among voters who have shown heightened concern about declining public safety and quality of life.

To that end, SB 731, which has passed the Legislature and would expand expungement of felony arrest and conviction records so people can more easily pass background checks, “could become a political liability,” Pitney said.

“Newsom may well sign it, but with the awareness that it is politically risky,” he said.

With Newsom so comfortably ahead in the polls, there’s not much focus on his re-election campaign this November. Instead, even though Newsom has said his longtime political ally, Vice President Kamala Harris, should be next in line after President Biden, his name is front and center about running for the White House in 2024. Polls show Biden and Harris are unpopular, even among Democrats, and that Newsom would be a viable alternative should Biden and Harris bow out.

Newsom’s Republican reelection opponent, state Sen. Brian Dahle, said he was “thankful SB 57 was vetoed” and “appalled” it even made it to Newsom’s desk. But he said others are on their way, like SB 2167, which would require judges to seek alternatives to incarceration.

“I voted NO! Enough is enough,” Dahle said on Twitter.

Another crime and drug-related bill Newsom may be wary of is SB 519, which in its early language would have decriminalized possession of hallucinogenic drugs by adults 21 and older including LSD, Ecstasy, mescaline and psilocybin mushrooms. The current version of the bill would merely require a study on doing that.

“If you were worried about being Governor Psychedelic,” said Thad Kousser, a UC San Diego political science professor, “I can see the campaign poster with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.”

Bill Whalen, a Hoover Institution fellow who worked in the administration of former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and has consulted for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan, said a number of pandemic policy bills also may give Newsom pause.

Newsom ordered the first statewide stay-home order in March 2020, oversaw the most extensive school closures and some of the longest-lasting face mask mandates, and called for California to be the first state to require COVID-19 vaccines for children to attend school.

He has touted his pandemic policies as life-savers over Republican-led states that took a more hands-off approach. But at a time when most of the nation has moved on from pandemic concerns, more mandates from Sacramento may leave a bad taste among voters across the country.

“If you want to cobble together 270 electoral votes, I don’t think you want to get bogged down in a mask issue,” Whalen said.

A couple of the most controversial bills, SB 1464, to require local law enforcement to enforce mask mandates, and SB 871, to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for schoolkids, haven’t made it out of committee. But another bill, SB 866, that would let teens age 15-17 get the vaccine without their parents’ consent continues to move through the Legislature.

Click here to read the full article at The Mercury News