Another wacky week in politics, especially on the debate stage, and in the courtroom. If it’s already getting this nasty in November 2023, then what will it look like in November 2024? Let’s “brunch” on that this week.
“Family Feud” – In Wednesday’s third Republican presidential debate from Miami, the party whittled the stage down to five candidates, minus frontrunner Donald Trump who was, as promised, a no-show. So, you had Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) Florida; former Gov. Nikki Haley (R) South Carolina; Sen. Tim Scott (R) South Carolina; former Gov. Chris Christie (R) New Jersey; and tech-entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy of Ohio. For those who say the GOP has not diversified, you have two Asian-Americans, one male and one female; one African-American; and two white males. It’s a different look. I think each was positioning to be Trump’s likely running mate, or the party standard bearer, if Trump’s legal troubles halt him.
“But It’s Hardly ‘Kumbaya’” – Look diversity, brings differences, and differences bring conflicts and clashes. And, at times this really got ugly. During a discussion about the Israel-Hamas war, Ramaswamy took a swipe at Haley, and her years as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President Trump. Ramaswamy asked, “Do you want Dick Cheney in three-inch heels? Haley shot back, “I’d first like to say they’re five-inch heels, and I don’t wear them unless I can run in them.” Then Ramaswamy chastised Haley for letting her daughter have a Tik-Tok account. “Leave my daughter out of your voice,” said a clearly angry Haley, adding, “You’re just scum.” I don’t normally take sides, but candidate’s kids, unless they are under legal investigation for wrongdoing, should be off-limits. The response speaks for itself.
“Manchin Out of the Middle” – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin announced Thursday he would not be a candidate for reelection to the Senate in 2024, which was not a big surprise. But in his video news release, you got the sense he was hedging his bets, and maybe a third-party presidential bid was in the offing. Manchin said,” …what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together.” Democrat Manchin and former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) Utah are often paired together as a potential “No Labels Party” ticket. After covering him for over 15 years, my gut says Manchin will do it.
“Everybody Weighs In” – Manchin’s seat has already been the subject of the nation’s nastiest Senate primary between two-term Gov. Jim Justice (R) West Virginia, and five-term Rep. Alex Mooney (R) West Virginia. “With Joe Manchin out of the race, there’s only one candidate left in West Virginia who supports the liberal Biden agenda and that is Jim Justice. Congressman Alex Mooney is the only true conservative for U.S. Senate who will fight back against the Biden agenda,” said a Mooney campaign statement. Justice, who is hardly a liberal, said “Senator Joe Manchin and I have not always agreed on policy and politics, but we’re both lifelong West Virginians who love this state beyond belief, and I respect and thank him for his many years of public service.” The barb was fired back at Mooney, who’s spent most of his life and career in politics, in neighboring Maryland. Meanwhile, former President Trump is claiming credit for Manchin’s decision, “Because I endorsed ‘Big Jim’ Justice of West Virginia for the U.S. Senate, and he has taken a commanding lead, Democrat Joe Manchin has decided not to seek re-election. Looking good for ‘Big Jim!” said Trump.
“Trump Thumped” – Former President Donald Trump took the stand in the civil fraud trial against him and his companies, brought by the state of New York. In a nutshell, the state says Trump and company inflated the true value of their real estate holdings to get more bank loans at better interest rates. It didn’t take long to deteriorate. From the witness stand, Trump said, “I think this is a political witch hunt and she should be ashamed of herself,” referring to New York state Attorney General Letitia James. “This is the opposite of fraud. The fraud is her,” Trump added. State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron who is hearing the case, was not amused. “This is not a political rally,” said Justice Engoron, telling Trump to directly answer factual questions.
“The Need to Tread Carefully” – The ex-president, who loves to always paint himself as a victim, needs to walk carefully through this legal minefield. There is no jury here, as this is a bench trial. Trump has already angered Judge Engoron, who has fined “the Donald” for being in contempt for some of his more outlandish statements outside the courtroom. At one point the judge gave up on talking to Trump and directed his remarks to Trump’s attorney Christopher Kise. “We don’t have time to waste. We have one day to do this,” an exasperated Judge Arthur Engeron said. At another point, turning to Trump’s attorney, the judge said, “I beseech you to control him if you can. If you can’t, I will.”
“Why the Trump Strategy Here is Risky” – First of all, New York is a solidly “blue state” so no matter who the Democrats field in 2024, they are sure to capture the state. But if Trump and his kids and company are found guilty of civil fraud, it could hurt his brand elsewhere in key, toss-up, battleground states such as Nevada, Wisconsin, and Georgia. Trump questioned 10-year-old financials saying, “First of all it’s so long ago, it’s well beyond the statute of limitations.” Trump then turned to the judge, claiming bias, “Because he always rules against me.” Judge Engoron shot back saying, “You can attack me in whichever way you want but please answer the questions.” I’m stunned Trump’s lawyers allow their client this latitude. There is no political upside. It’s like committing political suicide on the witness stand in open court.
“On the Other Hand” – Despite all the bad news in the courtrooms for Trump, the polls were saying otherwise. A New York Times-Sienna College Poll says Trump is beating Biden in five of the key battleground states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, and Biden only leads by one point in Wisconsin. And Trump’s win in each state was between four and ten percentage points. If he wins most of these states, he’s back in the White House.
“Kentucky Reign” – Keep an eye on Gov. Andy Beshear (D) Kentucky, who won his second term Tuesday night. I think this young man is one to watch as a potential presidential candidate in 2028, but even in 2024. Look, he’s a moderate Democrat who has now won twice in the deep red state of Kentucky, where his dad also served as governor. As the consultants like to say, he’s 45 years old, with a good-looking family, the kind of poster boy photo op you want, for a shot at the White House. That may be true, but he also has political chops. If a Democrat like him can carry Kentucky, he could potentially carry other swing Southern states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Democrats need those states, in addition to the traditional California-New York-Illinois base. Like Bill Clinton before him, Beshear may have the same pedigree.
Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the seven Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and the entire Washington, DC media market. He is also a MINDSETTER™ contributing political writer and analyst for www.GoLocalProv.com and its affiliates.