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DeSantis Receives, Gives Punch in the Mouth

Over the last several days, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has made front-page headlines twice. Once was good news for him, the other occasion, not so much.

We'll actually start with the bad news, since it came first chronologically. In its fight with the Governor, Disney has been operating with one (mouse) hand tied behind its back. While the corporation has deployed its lawyers to great effect, it hasn't played its other trump card (no pun intended). Disney is, of course, the largest employer in Florida, and has a massive impact on the economy (not only the people the company employs, but all the other businesses and workers who depend on Disney money).

Disney CEO Bob Iger finally got around to pointing this out. He was on a phone call with shareholders, and while he did not mention the Governor by name, he did say this: "Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes or not?" The threat here could not be more clear. There are plenty of Disney jobs, and there is plenty of other Disney investment, in Florida. However, a fair chunk of that does not have to be in Florida. There is plenty of stuff related to intellectual property, film production, management, etc. that could just as well be in any of the other 49 states. There's also the nuclear option; if a North Carolina or a Virginia ponies up a couple of billion dollars to subsidize a move, Disney might just consider it. Or, at very least, they might give Florida voters the impression they are considering it.

Getting outmuscled by Iger, who is 30 years older and probably 50 pounds lighter, was not a good look for DeSantis. So, maybe that's what motivated him this weekend. Or maybe someone has finally gotten through to him and persuaded him he needs to change his approach. Either way, the Governor called an audible and made a previously unplanned trip to Iowa. While he was there, he went to a car museum and pressed the flesh with attendees, and then cooked some hamburgers on a barbecue grill. He also visited a pizza place and a restaurant called Jethro's BBQ. No word on whether Jed, Elly May and Granny were there.

The Iowa trip represents a (potential) recalibration in two ways. The more obvious is that DeSantis is finally doing some retail politics. He may hate it, but if you run for president, and you want to win, you've got to accept that you're going to attend a lot of fish frys and steak lunches and county fairs, and you're going to have to talk to (gasp!) actual voters. We will see if this becomes a regular part of his itinerary, or if he was prompted by the peculiar circumstances of this weekend.

And that brings us to the second way in which this was a (potential) recalibration. DeSantis is now squarely in underdog territory, and if he wants to fix that, he's got to challenge the throne. The Governor is still not willing to spar with Donald Trump verbally, but the visit to Iowa was nonetheless a pretty big poke in The Donald's eye. See, Trump was supposed to hold a rally in the Hawkeye State this weekend, but canceled because of tornado warnings. DeSantis swooped in, and his Iowa appearances just so happened to be near the venue where the Trump rally was supposed to take place. Undoubtedly just a coincidence, we're sure. In any case, for those who care about macho, it would appear that the former president is scared of tornadoes and the current governor is not. Of course, we already knew Trump is afraid of rain, so it should be no surprise he's unwilling to take on a tornado.

Trump is now up 30 points over DeSantis in FiveThirtyEight's polling average, which means the Governor is now much closer to Mike Pence and Nikki Haley (and, for that matter, Vivek Ramaswamy) than he is to Trump. Oh, and the first post-sexual-assault-verdict poll came out over the weekend, and nothing changed; it had Trump up 52% to 19% on DeSantis. So, it's a good time for DeSantis to shift gears and see what happens. (Z)

The Trump Problem Returns, Part I: Pollsters

The American Association for Public Opinion Research held its annual conference over the weekend. And they are very nervous about the return of candidate Trump.

Pollsters had a lousy year in 2016, and an even lousier year in 2020. They did well in 2018 and great in 2022. The pattern here is clear: When Donald Trump is on the ballot, the numbers go haywire. It's even reasonably clear why that happens. The former president tends to attract people to the polls (both pro- and anti-Trump) who don't often vote. Further, and even more damaging, is that the distrust-of-the-media stuff that Trump both harnessed and fed into has caused his supporters to decline to participate in polling, or sometimes even to give deliberately false responses.

Various outlets are trying all sorts of things to try to get a proper sample of the electorate. CNN, for example, abandoned random dialing, and shifted over to random... addressing (?). The pick addresses at random, and send a polling request to those folks via USPS. People who open the envelope can send their responses back, postage-paid, or call a phone number. This worked great in 2022, though how it solves the skeptical-Trump-voter problem, we do not know.

As to the deliberately false responses, some readers may recall a story we've recounted once or twice. The first time (V) and (Z) ever communicated was about 10 years ago, when (V) wrote an item about online polling, and how those pollsters were desperate to find certain kinds of voters who tend not to be online. As an experiment, (Z) attempted to persuade YouGov that he was actually an octogenarian Black woman living in Denver. There were a few obvious screener questions (e.g., "Do you prefer the music of The Beatles or of Aretha Franklin?") but they were pretty easily identified. Anyhow, (Z) wrote to (V) about his successful masquerade, and so it began. The pollster Global Strategy Group is trying something like this, using voters' 2020 vote as a variable, but again, if Trump voters are willing to lie, this screen is an obvious one to lie about.

It's not all hopeless, of course. The pollsters are much more aware of the problem than they were in 2020, and certainly than they were in 2016, and are working hard on it. Further, while Trump wasn't on the ballot in 2022, Trumpism was, and so the polling successes of that election are not entirely irrelevant to 2024. Still, when considering polls over the next 18 months, "we must be cautious," to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi. Political polling is what he was talking about, right? (Z)

The Trump Problem Returns, Part II: Republican Politics

We're not going to know how well pollsters are doing until people cast some actual 2024 votes, and that's roughly 8 months away. So, we actually think this storyline is more interesting, at least at the moment, because it's going to be playing out around us every day for the foreseeable future.

Donald Trump had his nationally televised rally town hall last week, of course, and he said a whole bunch of nutty things. Oh, and he was also found liable for committing sexual assault. The former president never seems to pay much of a political price for these things, but his fellow Republicans certainly do. And over the weekend, there were exemplars of at least three different strategies that Republican politicians and activists tried to deploy to avoid fallout:

  1. The "Let's Not Race to Judgment": Our case study here is Nikki Haley, who believes she is a candidate for vice president. Consistent with that, she was on Face the Nation yesterday, and was asked "Do you think it undermines your party if the Republican frontrunner is someone who was just found legally liable for sexually abusing a woman?" Haley, who clearly has a black belt in the 5 D's of Dodgeball (dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge), danced around the question, first noting that she was not the judge and she was not on the jury, and later pointing out that Trump has appealed the verdict, and we can't really say anything until that is resolved. If you go back and reread the question, you will note it is entirely answerable regardless of the disposition of Trump's legal case.

  2. The "Pass the Buck": Anytime UCLA's basketball team gets in some trouble with the NCAA, there's a joke that makes the rounds: "The NCAA is so angry with UCLA they are thinking about suspending Cal State Long Beach's basketball team for the next 2 years." Christianity Today Editor-in-Chief Russell Moore was on Meet the Press yesterday. To his credit, he was willing to express disapproval of Trump's conduct in the sexual assault case. However, he was not quite willing to say he won't vote for Trump. On the other hand, Moore was absolutely disgusted by Mike Pence's downplaying of the verdict, and was happy to say that he will never, ever vote for the former vice president.

  3. The "I Know You Think You Understand What You Thought He Said but I'm Not Sure You Realize That What You Heard Is Not What He Meant": Let's use Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) for this one. In this case, the question was not about the sexual assault, but about Trump's unwillingness, at the town hall, to say he wants Ukraine to defeat Russia. The former president's exact words were: "I don't think in terms of winning and losing. I think in terms of getting it settled so we stop killing these people." When McCaul was asked about that, he hemmed and hawed and then said: "I think he always thinks in terms of winning and losing. I will say this, I think what he is thinking is that this counteroffensive, which happening soon, will be so successful we can have a ceasefire and get to a negotiating phase." That is not remotely what Trump said, of course, and it's not remotely what he meant. If the former president is looking forward to a quick Ukrainian victory, there were a hundred ways he could have said that. It could not be clearer that he's pro-Russia, but knows it's impolitic to say so on national TV. Exactly why he's pro-Russia is... an excellent question.

These are pretty ham-fisted solutions to the problem posed by Trump, but they are pretty much all that the other Republicans have. He's got the support of the base, so the politicos can't roast him when he issues forth with this slop. But embracing Trumpism whole-hog will be fatal in the general election for many Republicans. And so, verbal gymnastics are all they have if they want to save their bacon. And yes, that is five pig references in a single paragraph. You can't get this kind of poetry anywhere else.

Incidentally, this isn't just theoretical. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants his gavel back very badly, and is taking a very hands-on approach to next year's Senate contests (he was much more passive in 2022, hoping that NRSC leader Rick Scott would do a much better job that he did). However, McConnell is also a realist, and doesn't want to waste money and resources on unwinnable races. So, he's already making contingency plans for what will happen if Trump is on the ballot. It is well within the realm of possibility that McConnell & Co. will conclude that there are only three or four winnable seats (West Virginia, Montana, Ohio and possibly Pennsylvania), and will put all their chips on those contests. The map would be much wider if someone other than Trump was the candidate. (Z)

Today's Longshot Presidential Candidate News

Speaking of the Trump town hall, this weekend saw potential challengers to the former president coming out of the woodwork. Is that just a coincidence? Seems unlikely, but we don't know for sure.

To start, former Texas governor Rick Perry was determined to run for president three times, in 2012, 2016, and in, uh, er...., well, he can't remember the third year. But maybe it was 2024. Perry appeared on CNN this weekend, and said that he wasn't sure he could support Donald Trump again, and also that he was considering mounting a bid himself. Perry's decision is not imminent, apparently; he pointed out that he did not launch his first presidential campaign until August of 2011. And since that worked out so well...

Meanwhile, there are some people who think that Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (R) is a rising star. And by "some," we really mean "one." And that one is... Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. He agreed to a lengthy interview with Politico that was published over the weekend, and he explained why he was giving so generously of his time: "I'm here, because I'm a Hispanic mayor, a Republican, who is considering running for president."

And finally, there is former representative Will Hurd, who is Black and moderate. Well, moderate by current GOP standards; he'd be pretty righty if you put him in the DeLorean and sent him back to 1990. Anyhow, when he gave up his House seat, knowing full well he wouldn't be reelected by the Trumpublican Party, Hurd said he wasn't retiring from public life and would run for office again. This weekend, he chatted with NBC's Chuck Todd and said he might just run for president this year, and that he will make a decision before Memorial Day.

Two of these three men are delusional. Nobody is interested in Rick Perry, which is why he barely registered in polls the two times he already ran, while winning a grand total of zero delegates. It's true that Joe Biden had two useless runs for president before striking gold the third time, but there was the small matter of serving as Barack Obama's VP in between run two and three. As to Suarez, only three former mayors have become president (Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, and Calvin Coolidge), and all three served as governors between their mayoralty and their presidency. Meanwhile, the notion that "Hispanic" voters are just aching to vote for a fellow "Hispanic"? Well, ask Cuban presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz how well they did with non-Cuban Latinos.

As to Hurd, he's a little more interesting. We continue to believe there's a scenario where Donald Trump gets taken down a few pegs (say, by several criminal convictions), the Trumpy vote gets split in the primaries, and a non-Trumpy Republican ekes out some wins. Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson is the person currently in that lane, but Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) would be a stronger option, and we think Hurd would be, too. It's still a longshot, and would require things to break just right, but it's still vastly more plausible than President Perry or President Suarez. (Z)

U.S. Senator Denounced as "Profoundly Ignorant Man" over Remarks on Mexico

That is not our headline; we copied it lock, stock and barrel from this item in The Guardian (U.K.). And when you see a headline like that, it could really only be describing one of, what, five or six senators at most?

We'll tell you who it was at the end of this item, while you decide who your guess is (we had two guesses when we saw the headline, and one of them was correct). The remarks in question came during a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing at which the budget of the DEA was being discussed. The "profoundly ignorant" senator (and, really, "profoundly racist" is more precise) said that if it wasn't for the presence of the United States, "[Mexicans] would be eating cat food out of a can and living in a tent behind an Outback [Steakhouse]." We don't even know what that means; are there countries too poor to feed their citizens, but wealthy enough to have fast-casual restaurant chains? This slur, incidentally, was pretext for the senator to opine that Mexico really ought to be invaded by the DEA.

And that is really why we share this news item, because apparently this whole "invade Mexico" thing is becoming a real, honest-to-goodness plank in the Republican platform. They're not even being subtle about it, or about their view that it's entirely apropos because Mexico is a nation full of backwards, brown people who cannot govern themselves. The White Man's Burden, 21st century edition? Whatever it is, it's scary, scary stuff. And note that it was actually Mexico's foreign affairs secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, who made the "profoundly ignorant man" remark.

And who was the senator who issued forth with this stuff? John Kennedy (R-LA). Like many readers, we would imagine, we thought it was almost certainly either him or Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). The other possibilities, the dark horses (white horses?), are Mike Lee (R-UT), Rick Scott (R-FL), Eric Schmitt (R-MO) and Ron Johnson (R-WI). There are very few members of the upper chamber, regardless of their politics, who would openly say something that would lead them to be described as "profoundly ignorant." But for Kennedy and Tuberville, it's just another day at the office. (Z)

There Are Some Elections in the U.S. This Week...

We wrote it up prematurely, but this is the week that Kentuckians will actually head the polls to choose the candidates for this year's gubernatorial election. The Democrat is going to be Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY), while the early frontrunner on the other side, state AG Daniel Cameron (R), appears to have regained his lost momentum, and is expected to capture his party's nod. Cameron, readers will recall, is Black and Trumpy, and has gotten attention for using COVID to ban abortions in the state, and for deciding that no crime had been committed when the police broke into the wrong home and shot Breonna Taylor to death. Our guess is that Cameron is too far-right for even the Kentucky electorate, and that between that and incumbency, Beshear will be in good shape for a second term. But we should probably wait and see what happens on Tuesday first.

Meanwhile, there are also a couple of interesting elections taking place in Pennsylvania. To start, the seat representing Pennsylvania SD-163 is open right now, because Michael Zabel (D) resigned due to a sexual harassment scandal. The special election for his replacement will take place tomorrow. It's Heather Boyd (D) against Katie Ford (R); the dominant issues of the campaign are abortion and education, with Boyd taking left-center positions and Ford taking center or slightly-right-center positions.

In other words, there are no Trumpists here, but no AOCs, either. That may have something to do with the fact that PA-SD-163 is in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It broke pretty blue in the last two elections (Zabel won by a 2-to-1 margin), but before that it split pretty evenly, and was actually in Republican hands before Zabel was first elected in 2018. Also, even in a regular election, there are only 28,000 or so votes cast. In a special election? Anything could happen, even if you have to guess that the Democrat Boyd is the favorite.

The outcome of this contest is actually pretty consequential, as the party that wins will have a majority in the Pennsylvania state House. If that party is the Republicans, then they'll control both chambers of the legislature. The GOP-ers won't be able to get legislation past Gov. Josh Shapiro (D-PA), but they will be able to put referenda on the ballot in 2024.

And that brings us to the tricky question of exactly which party actually benefits from victory here. Specifically, if the Republicans are in a position to put referenda on the ballot, they are expected to quickly arrange for Pennsylvania voters to consider strong abortion restrictions in 2024. This would be in a year where there's a Senate race, and where the Keystone State is a key swing state in the presidential contest. A Pew Research poll suggests that 51% of Pennsylvanians want abortion to stay legal, while 44% want it outlawed. Other polls have given the pro-choice position an even larger advantage, while examination of the 2022 results suggests that pro-choice voters were extra motivated to cast ballots. In short, if the Republican Ford wins tomorrow, and that allows the GOP to put abortion on the ballot, it could well be a case of the red team winning the battle but losing the war.

There is also one other contest of interest. If you're looking for a Trumper, well, remember how he won just one of his election-related lawsuits, and lost the other 60 or so? The judge who sided with him is Patricia McCullough. And now, she is running in the Republican primary for the vacant seat on the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court. This is getting a lot of attention, albeit not as much as the state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin. That is because the Pennsylvania Court is currently 4-2 for the Democrats, so even if McCullough (or some other Republican) wins the seat in November, the GOP will still be in the minority. Still, the blue team would much prefer a dominant 5-2 majority over a slim 4-3 majority, particularly if one of those three is Samuel Alito, Jr. (Z)

...And There Was One This Weekend in Turkey

Let us start this item by making very clear that we know virtually nothing about Turkish politics. If any reader has knowledge that we do not, we are grateful to hear from them. Just know that this item is based entirely on our reading about the election, plus general knowledge of politics.

With that out of the way, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was up for reelection to a third term this weekend. Not everyone in Turkey agrees he's allowed to do that (the rules have changed since he took office), but you know what they say about "might makes right." He was being challenged by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who represents a consortium of five anti-Erdoğan parties. And potentially playing the role of spoiler was far-right independent Sinan Oğan.

As of 1:00 a.m. PT, 99.38% of the ballots had been "counted," and it was Erdoğan with 49.42% of the vote, Kılıçdaroğlu with 44.95%, and Oğan with 5.2%. The Turkish constitution requires a majority for victory and, as you can see, nobody got one. So, there will be a runoff on May 28.

What will happen in the runoff? Who knows? Even if we knew a lot more about Turkish politics, we doubt it would help much. Here are some of the X-factors:

  • Oğan's voters are far-right, and so would figure to flock to Erdoğan, giving him the small number of votes needed to bump him over 50%. However, Oğan is outspokenly anti-Erdoğan (think Chris Christie). On the other hand, Oğan is outspokenly anti-Kurdish, and the Turkish Kurdish party is one of the five that makes up Kılıçdaroğlu's coalition. Oğan has already called himself a "kingmaker," which would seem to be an announcement that his support is available to whichever rival promises the most goodies.

  • There has been a fair bit of "what if this goes to a runoff?" polling, and it gives Kılıçdaroğlu a clear edge—around 8 points. On the other hand, there was also a lot of polling of the first round of voting, and that gave Kılıçdaroğlu an edge of about 4 points. In reality, he came up short by about 5 points, which means the polls were off by 8-9 points.

  • You will note that we put 'counted' in quotation marks above. Kılıçdaroğlu says that a lot of votes in areas where he is strong (Ankara, Istanbul) were excluded due to dubious challenges. "They are blocking the system at the ballot boxes where our votes are high with repeated objections," the candidate said. Presumably there are not enough votes in play to flip this weekend's result. What role will chicanery, or potential chicanery, play on May 28? Unknown.

Turkey is one of the most important nations in the world from a geopolitical standpoint, given its location at the crossroads of Europe, western Asia, and the Middle East. So, lots and lots of people will be watching closely when the Turkish people head to the polls again. And, of course, if the generally unpopular Erdoğan loses, there will be much Turkish delight. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May14 Sunday Mailbag
May13 Saturday Q&A
May12 Title 42 Gets Deep-Sixed... Or Not
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