Donald Trump showed up at CPAC over the weekend. So did many of his supporters. Steve Bannon and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) were his biggest cheerleaders there. But some of Trump's current and likely future primary opponents also showed up and were not so friendly. Nikki Haley, who is a declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, was one of the featured speakers. Her pitch was simple: "Vote for me if you're tired of losing." She railed against Joe Biden, weak-on-China Democrats, out-of-control federal spending, and the whole nine yards. She repeated her call that politicians over 75 should be subjected to a mental competency test as a condition for running for president. Take that, Trump (and Joe Biden)! She didn't explain who would administer the test and what a passing grade would be. Pity. We'd like to know. Of course, this would create a new requirement for the presidency, other than the ones in the Constitution. The Supreme Court tends to frown on new requirements.
Haley helpfully pointed out that Republicans have lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. She didn't explain why, though, and certainly didn't bring up the possibility that Americans don't like what they are offering. She also didn't explain how someone polling around 1% was going to turn that around.
The reaction to Haley's speech was mixed, at best. There was hardly any applause. When she finished speaking and exited the stage, she faced a crowd chanting: "Trump, Trump, Trump." It doesn't seem that she won many hearts or changed many minds. Since she is a former governor and cabinet member, and a declared candidate, custom calls for us to pretend she is serious candidate. Consequently, we will pretend that she is a serious candidate. But only for vice president on a ticket headed by Ron DeSantis, or maybe Mike Pompeo or Mike Pence.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a potential presidential candidate, also spoke at CPAC and also took pot shots at Trump, but aimed them differently from Haley. He noted that the federal debt grew by $8 trillion during Trump's administration. Here is the debt from 2005 to 2021 as a graph:
Thus although the Republicans rant about the debt all the time and say it will destroy America, when they had the trifecta from Jan. 2017 to Jan 2019, they did nothing to reduce the debt. In fact, they passed a large unfunded tax cut, which made the debt much bigger. If they had brought revenue and spending both down in a way that produced a budget surplus (as Bill Clinton did), then they would have made a start at reducing the debt. But, as usual, it was all hat and no cowboy.
Pompeo showed how much he worried about the debt by telling the audience he warned his son to work hard and save money because Social Security wouldn't be there for him. Pompeo was secretary of state, so he is perhaps not aware of what goes on at the Treasury Dept., but Social Security has its own dedicated revenue stream from the FICA tax. There are problems there, too, but they can be solved easily by raising the threshold above which there is no FICA tax from $160,200 to some higher value. A minor issue there is that Joe Biden promised not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000. However, Congress could pass a law levying the tax on income up to $160,200 and also from $400,000 to, say, $1 million. That would create a "donut hole," but computer software that calculates payroll taxes can manage donut holes just fine. There's nothing to it.
If Pompeo's main platform is going to be about the federal debt, we suspect he will have trouble catching on. We haven't seen any polling suggesting that the federal debt is even in the top 10 of voters' concerns.
DeSantis didn't show up at CPAC because he was busy attacking potted plants in Florida (see above). He really should be careful with that kind of talk. Hasn't he seen Little Shop of Horrors?
As usual, CPAC took a straw poll. Trump won with 62%. DeSantis was second at 20%. In third place was Perry Johnson (who?) at 5% and then Nikki Haley at 3%. Apparently Haley's speech was a big hit. Last year she scored 2% at CPAC, so she is up 50% from last time. Next year she will aim for 4½%. (V)