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Republican Nomination Process Examined

We have pointed out several times that the Republicans generally use a winner-take-all system in their primaries and Democrats don't. While that has been true in the past, there may be some changes afoot. Politico has an interesting article on the Republicans' delegate selection process. While this definitely falls into the category of inside baseball, it is worth watching because it could reveal some clues to 2024.

Republicans and Democrats have different views on federalism and that reflects itself in the parties' rules. Democrats have a central rule that requires some kind of proportional representation, but there is some wiggle room as to whether this is statewide or per congressional district or a mixture of both. In 2008, the outsider, Barack Obama, won the Democratic nomination because he fully understood the rules and the insider, Hillary Clinton, didn't. For example, Clinton fought hard for Ohio, a big state where 1.26 million Democrats voted, and she won it 53% to 45%, giving her a net gain of only seven delegates. Obama fought hard in Idaho, where 21,000 Democrats voted, giving him an 80% to 17% win and a net gain of 12 delegates. Turns out winning small states by huge margins worked better than winning huge states by small margins.

In contrast, Republicans largely leave it to the states to decide how to allocate their delegates. States can decide to use winner-take-all (WTA) per congressional district or statewide or even some form of proportional. Or they can decide that a candidate who gets 50% +1 statewide gets all of the delegates. The difference between proportional allocation and winner-take-all was illustrated clearly in 2016 in New York. Donald Trump won 60% of the vote and got 89 of the 95 bound delegates (94%) because he crossed the 50% threshold in nearly all of the congressional districts. The New York Democrats used proportional allocation per CD. So although Clinton got 58% of the statewide vote in NY, she got only 139 of the 247 delegates (56%). Thus, the rules matter.

Now on to 2024. Trump's campaign has an advantage here because his team understands the rules better as a result of his 2016 campaign. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) probably doesn't have a clue how Kansas allocates its delegates. In fact, Kansas may not even know yet. If there is a large field of candidates, what might matter is getting to 50% in specific districts in order to scoop up all the delegates there. For example, if polling shows Trump at 60% in KS-01, there is no point in him holding a shootout in Dodge City as that district is already in the bag. But if polling puts him at 45% in KS-04, he ought to make a beeline for Wichita to rally the troops to get 5% more. If Hillary Clinton, with years of experience in national politics, didn't understand how this works, there is a pretty good chance that DeSantis, who rarely travels outside Florida, does not have it down pat.

The rules are not cast in stone. State parties can, and do, make changes when that suits them. For example, some state Republican parties canceled the 2020 primaries and just gave all the delegates to Trump. Trump has a strong base with many of the state parties and may get them to make rules that favor him, despite any yelping from national Republicans that it is time for The Donald to exit stage right. Just an example, from Trump's point of view, a "good" rule would be to forget about CDs and just allocate all the delegates to whichever candidate got the most votes statewide. That would mean if he came in first with 30%, he would get 100% of the delegates and the other candidates who got 70% of the votes together would get 0% of the delegates. Allocation by CD might give a very different result, even with winner-take-all in each CD.

Consider Ohio. In 2016, then-governor John Kasich won 47% of the vote and 100% of the delegates. If current-governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) wants to put a big rock in front of the Trump bandwagon, he could ask the state party to chuck the old rule and go for WTA per CD. Or maybe even for proportional representation statewide. Or, heaven forbid, ranked choice voting.

Of course, although allowing someone to snatch all the delegates with a bare plurality of the vote works well for the frontrunner, which candidate that favors depends on who the frontrunner is. It would be ironic if Trump pressed all the state parties to implement a rule giving the statewide leader all the delegates, and by February 2024 DeSantis was the leader and he scooped up all the delegates by beating Trump 40% to 35% everywhere, with half a dozen other POTUS wannabes getting the crumbs.

Yet another possibility is for states to replace primaries with caucuses or conventions. They reward candidates with small, but passionate, followings. For example, a state convention could require attendees to pick up a ballot before noon on a Saturday but then cast it in person Sunday between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. In that way, only people willing to spend two days hanging out and listening to candidates for the state Senate give boring speeches could vote for delegates to the Republican National Convention. To prevent monkey business and ballot harvesting, attendees could be required to sign the outer ballot envelope on line 1 while at the ballot-pickup table with officials watching and again on line 2 when casting it (like the old American Express travelers' checks with two signatures). This scheme would enable the candidate with the most dedicated supporters to win, even if they weren't the most numerous statewide.

In short, this under-the-radar stuff could be important. If you detect some of it in your state, let us know. (V)

Democrats Are Arguing over Their Nomination Process as Well

The Democrats are also battling over their nomination process, but not over the mechanics of allocating delegates. No one in the party wants winner-take-all. The battle is over the order the states vote. The Democrats have allowed two small, nearly all white, unrepresentative, rural states go first since Methuselah was in short pants. Many Democrats think it is way past time to change that. The DNC tasked the Rules Committee with coming up with a plan for 2024. It is on the agenda for their meeting on Dec. 1-3. The various options are very controversial, so there could be fireworks.

The biggest question is: "Who goes first?" Traditionally it has been Iowa, but since: (1) Iowa is now a red state and (2) Iowa holds caucuses (which are now out of favor) instead of a primary, and (3) Iowa botched the counting so badly in 2020 that we still don't know who really won, the Hawkeye State is likely to get the boot.

But which state gets to take its place? The current system, in which four small states from four different parts of the country go first, then comes—bam!—Super Tuesday, is actually very popular. So ideally, Democrats would like to replace Iowa with a different small Midwestern state that is blue and diverse. Only there aren't any. Damn. That's where the problem comes in. Michigan and Minnesota both want to be the new Iowa, but both are so much larger than the other early states (New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) that candidates might spend all their time there to reap a big delegate haul and ignore the other three. Also, neither one is really small, so any candidate who wants to contest either one would have to have a lot of funding already lined up in advance of the primaries. A candidate like Jimmy Carter would never make it if Michigan went first.

One solution is to replace Iowa with one of the M's but put it later in the queue. Nevada is a smaller and cheaper state, very diverse, and has much nicer weather for campaigning in January than either M. It wants to go first. Since it is heavily Latino, Latino Democrats feel that having Nevada go first would give an advantage to candidates who can attract Latino votes.

Even if Nevada goes first (far from certain) and Michigan goes fourth (also far from certain), there is the sticky issue of what to do about New Hampshire, which has a state law saying that its primary must be the first in the nation (but it allows caucuses earlier). Democrats don't have to pay any attention to New Hampshire state law, of course, and in both Michigan and Minnesota, Democrats hold the trifecta and could pass a similar law. However, Democrats will lose the trifecta in Nevada in January when Joe Lombardo (R) is sworn in as governor. Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) is hopping up and down yelling that New Hampshire will never yield its first-in-the-nation position, but some Democrats are saying that they don't plan to take their cues from a Republican who is thinking about running for president himself in 2024. Also, New Hampshire has very restrictive voting laws, including no early voting, no voting by mail, and barriers to prevent college students from voting there. On the other hand, New Hampshire is a swing state and taking away its privileged position might not play well with the voters there.

House Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) would like to see the order be: Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Michigan, but getting Sununu to accept that will be impossible. Still, Democrats have other options, such as swapping New Hampshire for Rhode Island. If New Hampshire sets its primary in February, the DNC could make a rule saying that any Democrat whose name was on the ballot there would not be allowed to take part in party debates. Then New Hampshire could hold its primary early on, but none of the serious candidates would be on the ballot, just a bunch of random citizens who filed as a joke. (V)

Trump Dined with Holocaust Denier Nick Fuentes Last Week

Last Tuesday Donald Trump had dinner with Kanye West, Holocaust denier and all-purpose bigot Nick Fuentes, and two other people West brought to Mar-a-Lago with him. Initially, Politico reported that Fuentes was seen at Mar-a-Lago and Trump denied that he was there. Later, it came out that not only was Fuentes present, but that Trump had dinner with him. Trump couldn't deny that because West posted a video to Twitter in which he said that Trump was impressed by Fuentes because "unlike so many of the lawyers and so many people that he was left with on his 2020 campaign, he's actually a loyalist." And, of course, with Trump, bigotry, racism, and an endless stream of vile statements are acceptable from anyone as long as whoever issues them is loyyal to him.

Although Fuentes clearly admires Trump, he has criticized him in postings in the past. In particular, he has said Trump was wrong to disavow white supremacy. Maybe by cozying up to Fuentes now, Trump is trying to fix that problem. No one has reported (yet) on how West (who is Black) feels about his buddy's views on white supremacy.

It didn't take long after the story came out for reactions to start coming in. Democrats and anti-racism groups went first. Joe Biden's Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates gave the administration's official reaction: "Bigotry, hate, and antisemitism have absolutely no place in America—including at Mar-A-Lago." Ann Telnaes, the cartoonist for The Washington Post, went for a graphical reaction:

Caroon with Nick Fuentes as a Klansman and
Donald Trump saying 'I don't take responsibility at all.'

Then a couple of RINOs spoke up, starting with Chris Christie. He said:: "This is just another example of an awful lack of judgment from Donald Trump, which, combined with his past poor judgments, make him an untenable general election candidate for the Republican Party in 2024." That was sort of expected from Christie since he still dreams of sitting in the big chair in the White House. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), who is also considering a 2024 bid, called the dinner "very troubling." But no word from Rep. Kevin "Spine of steel" McCarthy (R-CA), who wouldn't want to upset Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), whose votes he will need on Jan. 3. Also near total silence from most other Republican politicians, all of whom are still scared to death of Trump, despite the midterms.

Somewhat more painful was the condemnation from Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, whose conference most of the Republican presidential candidates visited just a week ago, trying to curry favor with wealthy donors. Brooks said: "We strongly condemn the virulent antisemitism of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes and call on all political leaders to reject their messages of hate and refuse to meet with them." Trump's own ambassador to Israel said: "Even a social visit from an antisemite like Kanye West and human scum like Nick Fuentes is unacceptable."

The worst (and least expected) condemnation came from Breitbart, which shredded Trump. Their story features a clip of Fuentes speaking about his passions: racism and bigotry. We're not going to link to the clip, but if you want to see why this dinner is going to be a problem for Trump going forward, take a look at the Breitbart story.

Maybe this dinner will disappear into the memory hole, but it appears that the DNC is aware of it, so it might just come up again later on. DNC spokesperson Ammar Moussa said: "If it was any other party, breaking bread with Nick Fuentes would be instantly disqualifying for Trump. The most extreme views have found a home in today's MAGA Republican Party."

Politically, this dinner and West's video aren't going to help Trump presidential run. The people who will be impressed by it are already in his camp. It won't get him any more votes. But some moderate Republicans and independents may be repelled by Trump's hanging out with racists and antisemites. By Saturday, Trump finally figured this out (he's a slow learner). So he naturally blamed West for the incident. There is some truth in that, but he could have called security to have Fuentes removed from the property. He knew very well who Fuentes is because he was very visible at the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville. You remember, the one where Trump said there were fine people on both sides.

And note that Trump changed his story yet again Saturday night, which tells us that he knows he blew it. The current version (v3.0, for those keeping count) is that the former president was trying to "help a seriously troubled man, who just happens to be Black." In other words, if you're carping about Trump's dinner guests, then you're the one who's a racist. That spin should solve his PR problem, right? (V)

Asian Americans Are Getting Lots of Love in Georgia

Asian Americans (and Pacific Islanders) haven't usually gotten a lot of attention in Georgia elections. Until now. They are suddenly being targeted by both Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Herschel Walker. It is a small group, but in close elections, every small group could be an important small group.

In 2020, a big get-out-the-vote campaign got turnout among Asian Americans to double compared to 2016. The number of ballots from this group increased by 60,000 compared to 2016. That is 5x Joe Biden's margin of victory in the Peach State. Asian Americans skew heavily to the Democrats. The Nov. 8 exit polls showed that they voted for Warnock over Walker 59% to 39%. Now the Democrats are trying mightily to get all the Asian Americans to the polls for the Dec. 6 runoff.

Asian Americans represent the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country. However, they come from a multitude of countries, speak a multitude of languages, and have a multitude of issues, so a one-size-fits-all campaign to get them to vote doesn't usually do the job.

The Democrats' efforts for Warnock will feature Meena Harris, Kamala Harris' niece, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the House Progressive Caucus. They will focus on South Asians. The Asian American Advocacy Fund is planning to make 250,000 phone calls to Asian American voters and knock on 70,000 doors during the runoff. Warnock has been running ads in Vietnamese, Korean, Mandarin, and other Asian languages.

Walker's campaign has made use of Nikki Haley, whose parents immigrated from India. The RNC has opened an Asian Pacific American community center and has held pastor round tables and other events there directed at Asian Americans. (V)

Early Voting in Georgia Has Already Started

We are in the home stretch now. After a decision last week by the Georgia Supreme Court, early voting in the Senate runoff began on Saturday. Georgia law states that early voting for an election may begin as early as practical but not within two days of a holiday, so as to give people time to recover from the holiday. Republicans went to court to block voting on Saturday, when people have time off from work to vote. However, the Court ruled that the wording of the law made it apply to primaries and general elections, but not to runoffs. So voting has already started in 27 of the 159 Georgia counties. These include Fulton, Cobb, and DeKalb Counties (Atlanta) and Chatham County (Savannah). It is up to each county to determine when early voting starts except that all counties must begin by today. About half the state's population had the opportunity to vote on Saturday. So what the Republicans were faced with was early voting in blue counties this past weekend but not in red counties.

The total time available for early voting was slashed 66% by a 2021 Georgia law designed to suppress turnout. Democrats know this and are furiously working on their ground game now to get more voters to the polls in a compressed time frame. Raphael Warnock had $30 million left in his campaign account after the general election to Herschel Walker's $10 million. No doubt both candidates will be spending as fast as they can on their GOTV operations, but Warnock has a lot more to spend.

On Saturday, turnout was heavy. Over 70,000 people voted, slightly fewer than the 79,700 who voted on the first Saturday of the general election. Among the people voting on Saturday were students who attend college out of state but were back in their home state of Georgia for Thanksgiving. Also people trying to escape holiday guests. Early voting will end on Friday because Republicans want to avoid Black churches ferrying "souls to the polls" on the Sunday before Election Day,

Warnock has arranged a special guest to campaign with him on Thursday—Barack Obama. Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) will campaign for Walker. So far, neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump has scheduled a visit.

Abortion is going to be a big issue because last week the Georgia Supreme Court also reinstated the state's ban on abortion after 6 weeks. Republicans cheered the decision, but it may come back to bite them in the form of higher turnout among Democrats between now and Dec. 6.

Considering how important this race is, there has been very little polling. In the only neutral poll of the runoff so far, Warnock leads 51% to 47%. We hope there will be more polling this week. Maybe the pollsters felt that polling during Thanksgiving wasn't a good idea. (V)

Manchin's Friends Stab Him in the Back

Maybe we whould have saved this for schadenfreude on Friday, but it is news now, so we'll go with it. One of the things that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) cares about a lot is permitting reform. He believes that holding up a major energy project for 10 years because somebody spotted a spotted owl near the path of a proposed pipeline is a bad deal for the country, especially when the U.S. is trying to wean itself from foreign oil. Last summer, he made a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that he would vote for the Inflation Reduction Act in return for allowing his bill to speed up the permitting process to come to the floor for a vote.

Schumer kept his word and is willing to bring it up, but now Manchin is holding it up because he has a problem The Republicans who privately agreed to vote for it back then have turned and are against it now, even though they really support the underlying idea. So what's the problem? They want to defeat Manchin in 2024 and don't want to give him a win, despite all the grief he has caused Joe Biden over the past 2 years. The technical term for this is "double crossing" someone. Manchin, who believes in bipartisanship, may now be learning the sad reality is that bipartisanship doesn't exist when the other side thinks it can score points.

Basically, Manchin made a bad bet. He counted on getting 10 Republicans to vote to invoke cloture because they actually support what's in his bill and it is probably a net win for the country, especially with Saudi Arabia once again cutting oil production. What he forgot about is politics. Republicans will not vote for a bill they actually strongly support if they think Democrats will get credit for it. Perhaps Manchin will learn something from this episode and come to realize that no amount of blocking Biden and reaching out to Republicans will get him anywhere. Their goal is to defeat him in 2024 and they will do whatever it takes to achieve it. Nothing is going to change that. (V)

Musk Would Support DeSantis

As we pointed out last week, several of the big Republican donors, including Ken Griffin, Steve Schwarzman and Robert Mercer, are already on record backing Ron DeSantis in 2024. Now another one, Elon Musk, has joined the group. On Friday, Musk said that if DeSantis runs, he would support the Florida governor. He didn't say what "support" means, but if it means something like "will donate millions of dollars to a super PAC supporting him," that could be significant.

From the way Musk is managing his new toy, Twitter, many people are assuming that Musk is an ultra wingnut. That might not be entirely true. Musk said that he supported the Obama administration and he "reluctantly" voted for Joe Biden in 2020. This could mean he is a right-winger, just an anti-Trump right-winger. On the other hand, he reinstated Donald Trump on Twitter. Could it be that he is more of a libertarian than a Republican, and just opposes all rules on principle?

In any event, with so many billionaires already lined up for DeSantis—and probably some more waiting in the wings—the governor will not be hurting for funding if he decides to run. Trump still has his mailing list of small donors, but if DeSantis has many (or most) of the billionaire Republican donors on his side, he could well have more money in the primary than Trump. That could lead to a very expensive and exceedingly nasty primary. (V)

Newsom Will Wait His Turn

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) has won three elections in 5 years and is already going after Ron DeSantis as if he were Newsom's opponent in 2024. But privately, Newsom has told Joe Biden, Jill Biden, Chief-of-Staff Ron Klain, and everyone else in the White House down to the deputy assistant janitor that he won't challenge Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2024. He said he will wait his turn.

On Election Night, the freshly reelected young governor of one megastate was calling out the freshly reelected young governor of another megastate at the other end of the country. He talked about how California was the freedom state, not a state of book and abortion bans where they fly migrants to an island somewhere. He also called Biden that very night to make clear that he would not challenge him in 2024.

Announcing that he would not take on Biden actually means something. Previous governors of California had other ideas. In 1976, then-governor of California Ronald Reagan challenged then-president Jerry Ford. This probably contributed to Ford's loss to Jimmy Carter. In 1980, then-governor Jerry Brown learned nothing from Reagan's challenge. He challenged Carter and Carter went on to lose. So Biden can sleep soundly knowing that the telegenic young governor is not going to challenge him.

Partisanship is much stronger now than it was in 1976 or 1980. So when an up-and-coming politician challenges the party leader, the rank-and-file may become pretty upset. The only possibly exception is when the leader is perceived as so weak that the challenger is seen as the better bet. This situation could arise if DeSantis challenges Trump.

Newsom has said that if Biden declines to run, he probably will wait until 2028. But if Newsom declines to run in 2024 and some other Democrat is elected president in 2024, 2028 won't be available for Newsom. Then he will have to wait for 2032, when he will have long been out of office. We don't put much stock in his statement that 2024 is off the table in the event Biden decides to retire.

DeSantis isn't the only Republican Newsom is going after. Another is would-be speaker Kevin McCarthy, also a resident of California. Newsom calls McCarthy's district the murder capital of California and sends out taunts like: "What are you doing about it, Kevin?" (V)

E. Jean Carroll Sues Donald Trump

A new law in New York State, the "Adult Survivors Act," gives victims of sexual assault a 1-year window in which to sue the perpetrator, no matter how long ago the alleged incident took place. A few minutes after midnight last Friday morning, when the law kicked in, the lawyers for E. Jean Carroll, who claims Donald Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s, started the process of suing him. This just puts one more legal issue on his plate. Keeping track of all the civil and criminal cases and micromanaging all his lawyers (and replacing the ones who quit when he doesn't pay them on time) is certainly going to take some time away from his campaigning.

Carroll is suing him both for battery (related to the original crime) and defamation (because he called her a liar when she went public about the incident). She is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for pain and suffering, psychological harm, and invasion of her privacy. The lawsuit was expected. As soon as Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY signed the law, Carroll announced that she would be one of the first people to use it.

Carroll's lawyer is Roberta Kaplan, who is best known for successfully arguing United States v. Windsor before the Supreme Court. The defendant, Edith Windsor, was married to Thea Spyer in Canada, where same-sex marriage was legal. New York State, where the couple lived, recognized the marriage as valid. When Spyer died and named Windsor as the sole heir in her will, Windsor claimed the surviving spouse exemption from the federal estate tax. IRS claimed they weren't married. The Supreme Court disagreed and said they were, effectively striking down a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Kaplan's victory there was a landmark decision that forced the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages. So Carroll has some pretty high-powered legal talent on her side.

Now what about Trump? Trump's lawyer is Alina Habba, a young woman who runs a small (five-person) law firm located near Trump's Bedminster golf club in New Jersey. She might have to take herself off the case eventually, because she herself is being investigated for a potential crime (perjury). Earlier this year she signed a document stating that she had personally searched Mar-a-Lago completely and that none of the secret documents Trump took from the White House were present. In August, the FBI executed a search warrant and found boxes of secret documents all over the building. Habba has also been sued by one of her employees for creating a hostile work environment.

The new case may be merged with an earlier suit Carroll brought against Trump for the same incident. Kaplan said that since the two cases cover the same incident, there is no need for a lengthy discovery process so the trial can begin soon. The judge will get to decide when to hold the trial. (V)

What Might Legitimate Investigations of the Executive Branch Look Like?

Everyone is standing by, waiting for the House of Representatives to devote all of its time from Jan. 3, 2023, to Nov. 5, 2024, to investigating Hunter Biden's laptop. If that's all the Republicans in the House do, it will give Democrats ammo to explain why they should be given control back in 2024.

The National Review regards itself as the last vestige of sanity on the right, and certainly its intellectual leader, even if nobody else notices it anymore. Nevertheless, it has presented a plan for what Republicans could investigate and not infuriate the most of the country in the process and generate a huge backlash. It is very unlikely to happen, but shows some areas where the Democrats are potentially vulnerable. Here are the main points they make:

One thing the House Republicans ought not forget is that they probably won't have the investigative field to themselves. If Raphael Warnock wins the Georgia runoff, the Democrats will have a clear majority of the Senate seats and thus a clear majority on every committee. Just as Republican chairs in the House can investigate anyone and everyone they want to, so can Democratic Senate chairs. If the Republicans go overboard on investigating Hunter Biden's laptop, some Democratic senators might be interested in why the Saudis gave Jared Kushner $2 billion to invest, when he knows nothing about investments. Is it possible that copies of some of the secret documents that Trump stole found their way to Saudi Arabia and out of sheer gratitude MBS gave young Jared $2 billion? Inquiring minds want to know. Donald Trump Jr. once said that the investments in Trump's projects were disproportionately from Russia. Some senators might want a bit more detail on this and perhaps the names of some of the Russians and whether the Trumps did due diligence here to catch money laundering. With the chambers split, two can play this game. (V)

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