Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

The Presidential Field Looks to Be (Almost) Set

There was a time, many generations ago, that presidential elections did not get underway until spring (or, sometimes, early summer) of the year in which the election would be held. Those days are long gone, of course. With the RNC candidates' debates commencing in August, not to mention the need to raise vast piles of money, and to personally speak to every voter in Iowa and New Hampshire at least three times, an aspiring 2024 candidate simply must be in by the time summer 2023 dawns. And actually, it looks like the dust is going to settle this week, with a couple of weeks to spare before the season turns.

To start, Mike Pence made it official yesterday, filing the paperwork that makes him a presidential candidate. As is the custom these days, he's been teasing a run for months, someone "leaked" last week that Pence would be announcing this week, Pence filed paperwork yesterday, and he's going to make an official announcement tomorrow in Des Moines, followed by a CNN town hall. Feel free to choose any of those days as the day he became a bona fide presidential candidate.

That said, "bona fide" is really a little bit strong. Of all the people who are running for president as a Republican, and who do not live in Florida, Pence may well be the most delusional. His chances are probably better than, say, Larry Elder's, but Elder does not actually think he's going to get elected. Pence, by contrast, thinks he's got a chance at this thing. Trust us, he doesn't.

The former VP's lane, such as it is, is the "evangelical" lane. But, with apologies to The Godfather, the evangelicals don't even have that kind of muscle anymore (more below). Maybe they never did; the only legitimately evangelical Republican elected in the last century is George W. Bush, and he: (1) claimed the presidency in a dubious election he probably didn't actually win, and (2) managed to build a coalition that included evangelicals and several other right-wing interest groups, most obviously the business types. Pence has no appeal beyond the ever-shrinking evangelical base, and it's not clear he can even lock up large numbers of those votes. There are other candidates in the evangelical lane, most obviously Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and beyond that, that segment of the voting populace has made clear that they prioritize policy wins over ideological purity.

Beyond the liabilities that any "evangelicals are my base" candidate has these days, Pence also has additional problems special to him that will weigh down his candidacy. A lot of Trumpers hate him, of course, because he didn't try to throw the 2020 election. The former VP also has zero charisma; next to him, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) looks like Bill Clinton. Finally, as governor of Indiana, Pence built a substantive anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ record. That might play well with a Republican primary electorate, if not for all the other liabilities, but it won't play with the general electorate.

Finally, there's no "what's he really doing?" angle to Pence's campaign. He's not angling for the VP slot, since he's already been there, done that. He's not trying to land a gig on Fox or to sell books; again, as a former VP, he's got those things covered. There's also no point running in 2024 in order to set up a 2028 campaign. If Pence's eye is really on the next cycle, he's far better off sitting this cycle out, and letting some of the anger from 2020 subside. No, for the former VP, it's the White House or bust. And again, it's going to be "bust."

Moving along, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie is going to file his paperwork and announce today. We are very skeptical that someone who is upwardly ambitious as Christie is simply "taking one for the team." Still, whether he's just here to take down Donald Trump (as he claims) or he actually has presidential aspirations, he's going to come out punching at the debates and on the campaign trail. He may not get a shot at Trump on the debate stage, though Christie's presence surely increases the odds that the former president will take a pass. But even if there's no Christie-Trump showdown at the debates, there's still the Sunday morning news shows, and the various cable outlets, and so forth. It should be interesting.

Yet another candidate, Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND), is going to file and announce tomorrow. His candidacy brings to mind two Democrats from the 2020 cycle. The first of those is Mike Bloomberg, who, like Burgum, could spend nearly unlimited amounts of money by getting out his checkbook. The second of those is Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), who ran a single-issue campaign built around climate change.

Climate change is actually Burgum's issue, too, albeit approached from a Republican (but sane) vantage point. That is to say, Burgum agrees that climate change is real and is caused by humans. However, the Governor also comes from a state whose economy is built around fossil fuels. So, Burgum's angle is that, instead of cutting production of greenhouse gases, we need to focus on tools for capturing carbon emissions. This isn't conspiracy-theory-level lunacy, and there was actually a paper published in Current Biology yesterday that is already getting a lot of attention; it (tentatively) suggests that fungi might be a powerful tool for capturing carbon.

The upshot is that Burgum's pitch is intriguing. However, Bloomberg got nowhere and Inslee got nowhere, and there's no chance that Bloomslee (or Insberg) gets anywhere, either. That's especially true in today's Republican Party, where the dominant position isn't "What can we do about global warming without wrecking the fossil fuel industry?", it's "global warming is a sham." So, the Governor isn't going anywhere, not as a Republican in the year 2024. Oh, and he'll be 72 on Election Day 2028, so this is probably his only rodeo.

That's three Republicans who are in, then, or who will be within the next 24 hours or so. There's also one Republican who confirmed yesterday that he is out. That would be Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH). He's looked at the race, and sees the same thing we see: A large primary field works to the advantage of Donald Trump. The Governor doesn't want to facilitate that, so he's out. He's only 48, so if he aspires to be president, he can afford to bide his time and wait until the stars are better aligned. In fact, he could wait until the presidential election of 2048, and he'd still be several years younger than Joe Biden was on election to the presidency.

And finally, he's definitely not a Republican, but scholar and activist Cornel West announced yesterday, as a candidate for the People's Party nomination for president. This is not the original People's Party (a.k.a. the Populist Party), it's the new version, which was formed by Bernie Sanders supporters in 2017. Like another minor-party presidential candidate named West, namely Kanye, Cornel is outspoken, unpredictable, anti-authority and Black (although he's not an antisemite the way Kanye is). For these reasons, it is likely that the 2024 West will get a similar amount of coverage to the 2020 West—not a lot, but not zero, either. Still, this West has as much chance of becoming president as that West (who, by the way, is mounting another bid in 2024, but who should get zero coverage because of the whole antisemite thing).

Depending on how you slice it, there are between 10 and 14 "serious" Republican candidates for president this cycle. That said, to get to 14, you have to really bend over backwards, and include people like Cranston, RI, mayor Steve Laffey and Michigan businessman Perry Johnson. For our part, we're going to define "serious" as "has a reasonable chance to make the RNC debate stage." And by that definition, there are 10 candidates. See the asterisks in the tracking poll (below) for the 10. (Z)

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates