Biden 303
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Trump 235
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GOP 49
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270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2019 2015 2011
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Dem pickups vs. 2016: AZ GA MI PA WI
GOP pickups vs. 2016: (None)

Nikki Haley Would Be a Great Candidate--for the 2016 Republican Nomination

As we noted yesterday, Nikki Haley is running for president (or more likely, vice president). She is conservative, intelligent, experienced, charismatic, telegenic, and has been the governor of an early primary state and ambassador to the United Nations. She is an ideal candidate for the Republican Party—as it existed in 2015. Sarah Longwell, a pollster who has been running focus goups of Republican voters since the start of 2022, knows quite a bit about those voters, and this is her take on Haley.

Longwell sees her as a middle-tier candidate, along with the Mikes and maybe even Chris Christie, for a lane that probably doesn't exist any more: the normal conservative Republican lane. One look at Haley shows you that she doesn't get it. She usually wears a pendant around her neck with the logo of her state, the Palmetto Bug, instead of a cross. Wrong! That is especially bad in her case because many people will assume she is a Hindu (she was never a Hindu but her parents are Sikhs) when actually she is a Methodist. In contrast, Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL) always wears a cross, even though nobody would suspect she was not a Christian. You have to keep giving the base red meat, even when your mouth is closed.

Longwell says the fundamental problem for all of the candidates above is that the forces that Donald Trump unleashed have changed the Republican Party in ways that make candidates like these obsolete. The voters now demand economic populism, isolationism, election denialism, and culture wars. Haley's strength is foreign policy, since she was ambassador to the U.N. But when she tells the voters that she is on first-name terms with most of the world leaders, they're going to tell her: "Screw the rest of the world. We don't care who is leading all those sh**hole countries out there. We're for America First!" That kind of punctures her balloon even faster than a sidewinder missile could.

Longwell also notes that while some Republican voters are kind of tired of Trump, the man, they still eat up Trumpism. Haley is definitely not the new Trump. Maybe Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is. We don't know yet. Given his degrees from Yale (magna cum laude) and Harvard Law School, claiming to be a man of the people could be tricky, but he's trying. Multimillionaire venture capitalist Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) managed to sell it, certainly. Haley fails the test because she won't mock disabled people or experts. Yes, she throws red meat to the base, but her style is wrong. She is not venal, aggressive, and proud of it. She would have made a great veep for Jeb!, though.

Her pitch "It's time for a new generation" is fine. So why not DeSantis, Mike Pompeo, or for that matter, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA)? Being younger than Trump and Biden isn't some special super power only she has.

Longwell's studies have shown that Haley has a 47% favorability with Republican primary voters and only 9% unfavorable. That's excellent. But in primary polls, she comes in around 4% at best. That's not excellent. So the Republican voters think she is a decent, experienced person. Only that's not what they want. They want someone who will burn the house down, and that's not Haley.

If you want to know more about Haley, Politico has an article listing 55 facts about her, for example:

  • She and Susana Martinez were the first women of color to be elected governor in the country's history
  • In kindergarten, she was given the role of Pocahontas in a play and the boys did an "Indian" dance around her
  • In school there was once a white kids vs. Black kids kickball game and she had to pick a side
  • She could read and write at 4
  • Her parents opposed her marriage because her fiance was not an Indian Sikh
  • When she ran for the SC House, her opponent called her a Buddhist and said "Nimrata Randhawa" isn't a real Republican
  • When she ran for governor, state Sen. Jake Knotts called her a "f**king raghead"
  • In 2016,she endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and attacked Donald Trump for refusing to disavow the KKK
  • When Rubio dropped out, she endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  • After George Floyd was killed, she was upset; Tucker Carlson said: "What Nikki Haley does best is moral blackmail"
  • At a rally for Herschel Walker in 2022, she suggested that Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) should be deported

We hope Politico also compiles a list of 50+ facts about all the other candidates.

The New York Times went a different route. The editor asked all the columnists if we should take her seriously. Here is a very brief selection of some of their comments.

  • David Brooks: In a normal party, she would have to be taken seriously
  • Jane Coaston: Nikki Haley will not be the next president of the United States of America
  • Ross Douthat: Much less seriously than the likely front running candidacies of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis
  • David French: We need to see evidence of independent traction
  • Michelle Goldberg: Not very
  • Rosie Gray: She can't plausibly reinvent herself as a 2023 outrage merchant
  • Liz Mair: She could be the next vice president
  • Mike Madrid: I don't see Haley as a serious candidate for the presidency or the vice presidency
  • Bret Stevens: It's said of Ron DeSantis that the closer you get to him, the less you like him. Haley is the opposite

Our take: chance of getting the presidential nomination: 0.001%. Chance of getting the vice presidential nomination with Trump: 5%. Chance of getting the vice presidential nomination with DeSantis: 25%. (V)

Why the Republican Hardliners Don't Care about a Default

A substantial number of House Republicans are perfectly willing to push the country into default if Joe Biden won't gut Social Security and Medicare. Surely they know they will get blamed for the resulting worldwide depression. Why don't they care?

At least part of the answer lies in how campaigns are funded. It used to be that Republicans were largely funded by rich CEOs and other big business interests. Democrats got a lot of money from unions. That's not true anymore. Both parties now get much of their money from small donors through ActBlue and WinRed. This is especially true of the House Freedom Caucus, which leaders of big companies won't touch with a barge pole. They get all of their funding online from small donors. Also, nearly all of the them are in deep-red districts where whichever candidate has that little (R) after their name wins, no matter how crazy the candidate is. In other words, it used to be that the big donors kept the craziness in the closet by forcing the candidates to talk about their love of lower taxes, abolishing government regulations, and free trade. Now they don't have that power since the crazies are not expecting their money and certainly don't want it if it comes with strings attached.

This change in financing is why it took Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) 4 days and 15 ballots to get his job. In the past, the big donors would offer carrots or threaten sticks to keep the rank-and-file members in line. That doesn't work anymore. The only thing they are worried about now is a primary challenge from the right (except maybe Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-CO). And how do you get to the right of Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), or Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA)? There isn't a lot of room there.

Here is a bar chart that shows the effect quite clearly. There is a bar for each Republican House member, with the Freedom Caucus members in red and the others in gray. For each member, it shows what percentage of the member's financing came from small donors (people who gave less than $200). They are sorted on the x-axis from least dependent on small donors (on the left) to most dependent on small donors (on the right).

House Republicans by percentage of their donations from small donors

The "winner", that is, the member furthest to the right, is Marjorie Taylor Greene, who got 68% of her funding from donations under $200. Where the other 32% came from is not shown, but is likely to be mostly from donations under $500, not at $2,800. So she doesn't care if the leaders of big business don't want a depression. She doesn't care at all what they want and they have no leverage over her, as they did over Republicans 10 years ago. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) came in second, with almost 60% of his funding from donations under $200. When Larry Roberts got the idea to build the ARPANET in 1967, he had no idea he was going to unleash a bunch of crazy people 50 years later. But without the Internet (which is the successor to the ARPANET), there would be no ActBlue or WinRed and none of this would have happened.

This analysis is not to say that big business is not in the picture anymore. There are many super PACs funded by rich CEOs and other millionaires and billionaires. It's just that the Freedom Caucus members don't need them and don't fear them. (V)

A Very Early Look at the Electoral College for 2024

For better or worse (actually, definitely worse), only five states really matter for the 2024 presidential election. They are Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia. All of them went for Donald Trump in 2016 but all turned blue in 2020. The other states pretty much always vote the same way and are very predictable, although under the right circumstances, Nevada, New Hampshire, and North Carolina could be in play. Here is an Excel Spreadsheet listing the results of all presidential elections from 1900 through 2000 by state for you to play with. It is also listed on the Data Galore page (also in .csv format).

The 2016 results in two of the states, Michigan and Pennsylvania, are really anomalies. Since 1992, both have been reliably blue states. The 2016 election is the only time since 1988 a Republican has won either one, and then only by a hair. Trump won Michigan in 2016 by 10,704 votes out of 4.80 million (0.23%). He won Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes out of 6.2 million (0.72%). In contrast, in 2020 Joe Biden won Michigan by 154,188 votes out of 5.54 million (2.78%) and Pennsylvania by 80,555 votes out of 6.94 million (1.16%). Barack Obama won Michigan by 8 points in 2012 and 16 points in 2008. He won Pennsylvania by 5 points and 11 points, respectively. That's more normal.

So for the moment, let's assume Michigan and Pennsylvania stay blue, especially since both elected a Democratic governor in 2022 by double digits. That gives us this tentative Electoral College map for 2024, baring something very unusual:

Possible 2024 EV map

The first thing to notice is that the Democrats are at 265 (261 if they really manage to kick New Hampshire out of first place in the primaries and the voters take revenge on them). That leaves the blue team 5 (or 9) EVs short of 270, with three swing states in play. All three have at least 9 EVs. That means that the Democrats have to win only one of them to win. The Republicans must win all three (or flip some state not really in play). All three will be truly massive battlegrounds.

Arizona and Wisconsin will be especially in play due to hotly contested Senate elections. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) are up in 2024. In Arizona, especially, Democrats hate Sinema and are likely to turn out in huge numbers to vote for the actual Democrat in the race, probably Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), although he could yet pull a primary challenger.

These observations are largely independent of whether Biden runs again and of who the Republican nominee is. If Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is the nominee, that might give him an edge in neighboring Georgia, but is more likely to hurt rather than help in Wisconsin, where working-class voters may not love him as much as they love Trump.

In short, while there is a huge amount of attention to who will be the nominees, keep in mind that it is the Electoral College that matters and the patterns there tend to transcend who the candidates are. (V)

Poll: Jim Justice Is the Strongest Republican against Manchin

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is in for the fight of his life next year, no matter who the Republican candidate is. West Virginia voted for Donald Trump by 40 points in 2020 and no Democrats other than Manchin hold state or federal office. Manchin is hanging on simply because he has been around forever and everyone knows him.

A new poll from the Tarrance Group, a Republican outfit, shows that Gov. Jim Justice (R-WV), a coal billionaire and the richest person in the state, is by far the favorite of Republican primary voters. In a three-way contest with AG Patrick Morrisey (R), who ran against Manchin in 2018, and Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV), who is already in the race, Justice gets 53%, Morrisey gets 21%, and Mooney get 16%.

The poll also has Justice beating Manchin by 10 points, while Manchin crushes both Morrisey and Mooney. However, this poll needs to be taken with an ample helping of salt. It was commissioned by the Senate Leadership Fund, controlled by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is keenly aware of the role of "candidate quality" in Senate races. The whole thing could possibly be intended to urge Justice to get into the race. In that case, some of the numbers might be "George Santos" quality. Would McConnell tolerate releasing a fudged poll in order to convince his favored candidate to enter the race? Hmmmm... On the other hand, "Big Jim" Justice has been elected governor twice, so he is genuinely popular in the state.

Justice hasn't said yet whether he will run. He is now term-limited. On the other hand, he would be 73 on swearing-in day and as the junior senator from one of the poorest states in the country would be a step down from being a governor. Of course, by throwing his money around, he might be able to get more done than the typical junior senator.

If Justice jumps in, Manchin could avoid a fight by simply deciding to run for governor instead of for reelection. He has already served as governor and would probably win that race. That would be the ultimate thumb-in-the-eye to all the Democrats who have been screaming at him for 2 years. He could even paraphrase Richard Nixon after Nixon's 1962 defeat for governor of California, when Nixon told the media: "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." (V)

All Nine New Governors Have Huge Budget Surpluses

States are not allowed to run deficits. They have to balance their budgets. But they are allowed to run surpluses. All nine new governors were greeted with massive budget surpluses due to an influx of federal funds and higher tax revenues due to sales tax revenue from inflated prices. What they do with the money will define their legacies right off the bat. Here are the newbies.

Josh Green (D-HI)
Maura Healey (D-MA)
Katie Hobbs (D-AZ)
Tina Kotek (D-OR)
Joe Lombardo (R-NV)
Wes Moore (D-MD)
Jim Pillen (R-NE)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-AR)
Josh Shapiro (D-PA)

In Massachusetts, which has a $5 billion surplus, Maura Healey wants to establish free community college for people over 25. Josh Green and Tina Kotek want to spend at least $1 billion to deal with homelessness. Wes Moore wants to create a service-year program for high-school graduates.

Republican governors are naturally lured by the siren song of tax cuts. Jim Pillen can't wait to reduce the top rate for the state income tax and eliminate taxes on Social Security payments. However, at least one Republican governor, Joe Lombardo, wants to do something for his state. He wants to increase per-student spending, which ranks behind 40 other states. Former North Carolina governor, Pat "Bathroom bill" McCrory, said that when you inherit a surplus, it is best to use it for one-time improvements to infrastructure, rather than applying it to operating expenses. For example, houses built for homeless people will still be around in 10 or 20 years, no matter what the economy does, but raising teachers' salaries is a commitment for the future, when times may be tougher and the money isn't there.

In some cases, such as Massachusetts and Maryland, a legislature controlled by the Democrats has been frustrated time and time again by the former Republican governor. Now that each state has elected a Democratic governor, they can finally get their plans enacted.

Of course, unless the governor's party has the trifecta, the state legislature ultimately gets to make the call, no matter what the new governor wants. In Arizona, for example, Katie Hobbs is facing a legislature controlled by hostile Republicans. Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma pronounced Hobbs' proposed budget dead on arrival. Of course, she has veto power, so the Republicans are also going to have to deal with her, like it or not. (V)

The Four Democratic Parties in the House

With House Republicans at each other's throats all the time, it is easy for the Democrats to project an image of unity. That is actually not true and more visible when the party is in the minority and they don't need almost ever member to vote "correctly" on every bill. FiveThirtyEight has a piece explaining that there are actually four mini-parties within the House Democratic Caucus, with varying goals, sizes, and amounts of power. Note that the amount of publicity each group gets is in no way related to its size or actual power. Here they are:

  • Progressive insurgents: This is the Democratic counterpart to the House Freedom Caucus. They are way out on the edge, but better behaved. It consists of the six progressive members of The Squad. They support a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, abolishing ICE, and similar policy items. They constantly attack the party leadership for being too timid. The best known member is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Because there are only six of them, they don't get a lot of traction. For example, there has never even been a vote on any of their proposals. However, they do get a disproportionate amount of publicity. The members are largely women of color.

  • Progressive establishment: This group of progressives actually has some leadership responsibilities and are less willing to go for radical change of any kind. They are not rabble rousers and are willing to compromise to get bits and pieces of what they want on the theory that getting 10% of what you want is better than getting 0%. This group would include Reps. Katie Porter (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). The first group fundamentally does not trust "The System" and wants it radically overhauled. This group wants considerable changes, but is willing to work within the system to achieve small victories from time to time. They are not trying to blow up the status quo. Most are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

  • Liberal establishment: This is the core of the House Democratic caucus and most of the leadership, including Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), and Steny Hoyer (D-MD). On policy issues, they are really not that far from the previous group, but they present themselves differently. They go out of their way to differentiate themselves from The Squad and vigorously assert their independence from the party's left wing. This is the old guard. They may actually have similar policy preferences to the two progressive factions but they have been ground down by years of trying to get things through Congress that they have become much more conscious of what is possible given the forces allied against them. They are thus less ambitious. They prefer to leave pie-in-the-sky proposals on the cutting-room floor and try for things that have some chance of getting through the Senate. When evaluating candidates for the House, electability is #1, #2, and #3, and ideology is maybe #10.

  • Centrist firebrands: These members are more moderate than any of the above. They are certainly not conservative in any sense and the most moderate member is still far to the left of the most progressive House Republican. They sometimes support GOP measures, for example, on tighter border security. Most are members of the Blue Dog Coalition. Prominent members include Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Jared Golden (D-ME), and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ). The group was once far larger than it is now due to a general shift of the Democratic Party to the left. They are from red or purple districts where AOC's name is mud. They may truly believe the positions they take or may be just reflecting what their constituents want. They often use the progressives as foils to show what they are not and what they don't want. But if Democrats want to win districts that are R+1 to R+8, they can't eject these members from the caucus or pretend they don't exist. At the moment, 11 House Democrats are in districts that range from R+1 to R+8. If they were to lose all of these in 2024, the chances of the Democrats recapturing the House then would fall to almost zero.

The groups are relatively stable over time although individual members sometimes move between groups. (V)

The Other UFOs That Were Shot Down Were Probably Harmless and Not from China

After the Chinese balloon was shot down last week, everyone kind of assumed that the next three objects shot down were also spy balloons from China. Now the National Security Council believes that all three were benign commercial objects and none were from China. It also believes that none were spying on people or facilities. But details are still few and far between.

After the Chinese balloon was shot down, the Pentagon changed some of the parameters in its tracking systems to be more sensitive and pick up objects that might otherwise have been missed. However, that increases the chances of false positives, resulting in harmless commercial objects being shot down. Maybe it is better to err on the side of caution, but it is worth noting that scrambling one or more F-16s and/or F-22s also costs money, and a sidewinder missile clocks in at $400,000. On the Sunday shootdown over Lake Huron, the first missile missed the target and the pilot had to shoot again. The whereabouts of the first missile are unknown and the cost of this caper was north of $800K. Also a potential cost is a lawsuit from the UFO's owner if the object was perfectly legal (e.g., a weather- or environment-monitoring balloon). (V)

Fox Fails to Kill Smartmatic Lawsuit against It

Fox anchors blamed Donald Trump's 2020 loss on rigged voting machines from Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic. Both Companies sued Fox for billions of dollars. Fox has been doing its best to get rid of the pesky lawsuits, but not doing very well. It took another hit on Tuesday when a mid-level appeals court in New York, the Supreme Court Appellate Division, ruled against Fox and said that the $2.7-billion defamation suit can continue.

Just after the 2020 election, three different Fox hosts repeatedly allowed Trump's lawyers to state that Smartmatic was a foreign company that ran a multistate operation to flip votes across the country from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. They called it part of a criminal conspiracy. In reality, the company is located in Florida and its voting machines were used only in Los Angeles County, which always votes heavily Democratic, no matter who the candidates are or what race it is. None of the hosts ever challenged Trump's lawyers or asked for any evidence. They just let the lawyers lie to their hearts' content.

Fox argued that freedom of journalism allowed its on-air employees to express their opinions and run their shows as they wished. In the past, Fox has argued that it is in the entertainment business, not in the news business, so it has no obligation to check whether what its anchors and guests are saying on air is true. The five-judge court disagreed and said there is evidence that Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell defamed Smartmatic when they said the vote was tainted by Smartmatic's machines despite not having a shred of evidence indicating that. The opinion was unanimous. The Court also reinstated Smartmatic's claims against Jeanine Pirro, which a lower court had thrown out. Fox can still appeal to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, and will almost certainly do so.

The Smartmatic case isn't the only one Fox has to worry about. Denver-based Dominion sued the company for $1.6 billion. A trial date has been set for April. (V)

Gaetz Walks

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was under investigation for transporting a minor across state lines (from Florida to Alabama) for the purpose of prostitution. That is a federal crime. After months of investigations, the Dept. of Justice has informed Gaetz that no charges will be brought and that the case is closed.

At the core of the case was testimony from Joel Greenberg, who pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of a minor, wire fraud. conspiracy to bribe a public official, and other charges and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. He pleaded guilty and cooperated with DoJ officials. Gaetz has long denied everything. The problem with the case is that there is no material evidence, just Greenberg's word for it. In a trial, Gaetz' attorneys would claim that Greenberg is lying in order to get a lighter sentence. It would be the word of someone who has pleaded guilty to multiple crimes vs. someone who claims he is completely innocent. Could the DoJ convince 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Gaetz is the liar and not Greenberg? Apparently they didn't think so, so they dropped the case. The result is that Gaetz gets to be in the House while his buddy is in the Big House for the next decade, even though they probably did the same thing. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb15 DiFi Says "Bye-Bye"
Feb15 A "C" for Biden
Feb15 Haley Will Take on Trump
Feb15 Trump Is Desperate for Ideas
Feb15 Oh, And Just One More Thing...
Feb15 Pence Is Desperate for an Excuse
Feb15 Adam Frisch Will Square Off Against Boebert Again
Feb14 Biden Fires Architect of the Capitol
Feb14 White House: These UFOs Are Not Aliens
Feb14 Wheels of Justice Turn A Little Bit More for Trump
Feb14 M&M's Saga Reaches Its Conclusion
Feb14 Book 'em, Ronno
Feb14 Who Needs Child Labor Laws?
Feb13 U.S. Shoots Down Three UFOs
Feb13 Two Major GOP Donor Groups Will Spend Big to Oppose Trump
Feb13 Florida Approves New Laws to Help DeSantis' Campaign
Feb13 Pompeo Hones His Campaign Message in a Book Tour
Feb13 Scott Announces New Social Security Plan, McConnell Promptly Attacks Him for It
Feb13 Dozens of States Enter Court Fight over Abortion Pill
Feb13 Biden Will Visit Poland on the Anniversary of the Ukraine Invasion
Feb13 The Issues That Will Matter in 2024
Feb13 Biden Uses the "Trump Defense"
Feb13 Nobody Knows about Biden's Climate Win
Feb13 Fetterman Leaves the Hospital
Feb12 Sunday Mailbag
Feb11 Saturday Q&A
Feb10 Smith Subpoenas Pence
Feb10 Democratic Governors Pledge to Protect Abortion
Feb10 DeSantis May Have an Achilles Heel: Social Security
Feb10 Republicans Get Specific about the Budget Cuts They Want
Feb09 The Bidens Hit the Trail
Feb09 Can Candidates Now Polling in Single Digits Get the GOP Nomination?
Feb09 Hunter Biden's Laptop Could Explode
Feb09 Twitter Executives Testify
Feb09 Reading the Tea Leaves
Feb09 Democrats Take Control of the Pennsylvania House--Again
Feb09 Ohio Restricts Voting Even More
Feb09 A Key State Supreme Court Race Is Coming Up in Wisconsin
Feb08 The State of the Union Is Strong
Feb08 State of the Union Takeaways
Feb08 Biden to Lose His First Cabinet Member
Feb08 Judiciary Might Clamp Down on Abortions...
Feb08 ...Or, They Might Restore the 1973-2022 Status Quo
Feb08 A Mexican Standoff in Florida?
Feb07 Biden to Make His Case Tonight
Feb07 Balloongate Stretches on for Another Day
Feb07 NYT: Blue Slips Must Go
Feb07 New Poll Affirms State of the GOP Field
Feb07 Raffensperger Endorses Early Primary... in 2028
Feb07 Setec Astronomy, Part II