Don't Mess in Texas
A Lone Star State hoedown of significance...
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Less than one month from today, in Austin, Texas, one of the most important moments in the 2024 presidential campaign to date is scheduled to occur.
Governor Greg Abbott, Senator John Cornyn, and Architect Karl Rove are reprising an event held in 2021, in which some of the Lone Star State’s major Republican money folks spend a day in a hotel ballroom kicking the tires on would-be presidents, as the prospective candidates engage in serial one-on-one colloquies with members of the Texas House congressional delegation.
Consider this session to be all cattle and no hat, in part because of the structure of the event, the power of those in the audience, and the fact, as Rove has told at least one attendee, that the sessions are “off-the-record with no press, so you’ll hear some of our party’s most interesting leaders offer their candid views.”
Among those scheduled to appear: Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Brian Kemp, Mike Pence, Tim Scott, and Chris Sununu.
Officially, this is called the “Texas Voter Engagement Project Donor Appreciation Conference,” to be held on February 24 at the Omni Barton Creek hotel in Austin.
Organizers have told attendees to expect the possible appearance of “two more special guests.”
This is not a fundraiser, but rather a donor appreciation/maintenance event put together for those who contributed to the Texas Republicans’ voter registration and get-out-the-vote programs in 2022. Some donors are being given up to eight seats (seems generous!) to join their governor and senior senator in welcoming the out-of-staters to Austin.
Why is this event so significant?
First, the party establishment, including the kind of (mostly) Texans who will be in the audience and the House members who will be in conversation with the potential candidates, are pretty much done with Donald Trump and (desperately, passionately) want someone else to be the nominee. Notice, duh, that Trump is not on the speaker list, just as he was not at 2021’s event:
Many in this group are attracted to Ron DeSantis; they can read the polls and know that the Sunshine State topper represents, in theory, the best hope to stop Trump. At the same time, they know DeSantis is not a sure thing to run and to win. As in, they can also read this week’s Emerson College poll:
In the 2024 Republican Primary, Donald Trump holds a 26-point advantage over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, leading 55% to 29%.
The January poll found a majority of Republican voters (55%) expect Trump to be the nominee, regardless of whom they support, while 35% expect DeSantis to be the nominee. Ten percent expect someone else to be the nominee….
Despite improving job approval, President Biden trails former President Trump in a hypothetical 2024 Presidential match-up, 41% to 44%.
So for the “Stop Trump” crowd, they need a backup plan, especially for the ones not sold on DeSantis – both his capacity to beat Trump and his personality.
The inclusion of Brian Kemp and Tim Scott will be of particular interest to some in the room (and, I suspect, to some reading this….), since they both capture the imagination of more than a few as potential nominees – especially for those who have written off the Trump/DeSantis-slaying and fundraising capacities of Christie, Haley, Pence, and Sununu.
Another reason this meeting is important is for the trajectory of all the hopefuls themselves. Pretty much every presidential cycle, for both parties, whenever there is no incumbent president, at least one candidate emerges from nowhere to become a genuine player in the nomination battle. They don’t typically end up with the gold medal, but their influence on the storyline, on the issues, and on the capacity of the eventual nominee to win a general election is without question. Think Gingrich, Edwards, Santorum, Sanders, McCain (’00), etc.
With DeSantis, Glenn Youngkin, and Trump all absent from this event, those hopefuls who will be present have a chance to impress at least three important constituencies/stakeholders: Big donors/bundlers, influential House Republicans, and Karl C. Rove.
QUESTION: Do congressional Republicans want to destroy Social Security and Medicare by throwing Grandma off the cliff in her wheelchair and strangle the programs in the bathtub until they expire because they detest using government to help the most vulnerable? Or do they value and cherish those two entitlement programs and want to save them by shoring up their finances before it is too late – while Democrats sit back and do nothing but demagogue?
You can be forgiven for not knowing the answer, since, from George W. Bush to Grover Norquist to Paul Ryan to Mitt Romney, Republican leaders have had a hard time projecting a unified, rational, sensible, unfrightening view on these tough issues.
Check out the essential reading Washington Post story on this matter, pegged to the latest efforts by House Republicans to ….do….something on entitlement reform as part of deficit reduction.
The money quote comes from the new Speaker, with the kind of perfect pitch that would get a thumbs up from Ari Fleischer:
“You’ve got to protect Medicare and Social Security. And the path the Democrats are going, they are going to go bankrupt,” McCarthy told reporters last week. “Let’s sit down and find a place that we can protect Medicare and Social Security for the future generations, let’s put our house in order on how we’re going to spend, and let’s make the investments we need to make America stronger.”
Now history suggests that even if McCarthy somehow maintained that message discipline and came up with a policy plan that lived up to those goals, three other things would happen:
1. Some other Republican or conservative would say or do something that the Democrats and their media allies would turn into “throw Grandma off the cliff.”
2. Any talk of investing Social Security funds in the private markets would doom it all.
3. Democrats would not get on board at any price, leaving Republicans with no substantive accomplishment and lots of fair criticism and demagoguery at their political expense.
HALPERIN SAYS: Until and unless Republicans can get the media to press the Democrats on their own plans for saving these programs, they are screwed.
The last two paragraphs of the Post story say it all:
At the White House, Biden and his top aides broadly have held firm in their position that Republicans should not politicize a key fiscal deadline. But spokeswoman Jean-Pierre did not respond last week when she was asked if the White House had its own plan for preventing Social Security and Medicare from becoming insolvent, as she blasted the GOP for “political gamesmanship.”
“We should not put on the chopping blocks the very programs that matter to the American people,” she said.
If you think Republicans can pull off getting the White House to either answer or to pay a price for not answering, then you probably think Republicans will run House investigative hearings of Hunter Biden that will be as well received by the Dominant Media as the 1/6 hearings were.
QUESTION: Is Joe Biden guilty or innocent in the documents matter?
The indispensable-when-she-is-on-fire Marcy Wheeler suggests “innocent” (at least based on the known facts):
The equally-indispensable Andrew McCarthy suggests “guilty” (at least based on the known facts):
Biden seems to be suggesting that sloppy aides packed classified documents in his belongings, and then sent them unsecured to multiple unauthorized locations that all just happen to be Biden’s own private locations. If this happened, these had to be either aides who have security clearances, or uncleared staffers to whom aides with security clearances unlawfully transmitted these documents, and who then shipped them to Biden — without his knowledge, we’re to believe.
If that is what Team Biden says happened, if that is what they are saying was what passed for security protocols in the Obama administration, then that is a scandalous allegation. It would call for intensive national security investigations of all Obama officials whose belongings were packed up and shipped out of the White House when the administration ended.
The media should be pressing Biden and his flacks to identify exactly which Obama administration staffers supposedly violated federal criminal laws that govern the handling of classified investigation.
For myself, though, I’m an Occam’s Razor kinda guy: The simplest explanation is the likely explanation. Ergo, I don’t think this was an Obama administration problem. I don’t think it was a sloppy aides problem. I think it was a Joe Biden problem — and no one who has watched Biden’s erratic half-century political career can be all that surprised.
HALPERIN SAYS: I don’t want to say based on the known facts. I want to know more about the content of the documents, the chain of custody, and the timeline. I do know that some members of the Deep State are not happy about being played by Bob Bauer like Scott Rolen fielding a bouncy grounder. FBI agents and career prosecutors do not like “too cute by half” typically. Team Biden knows a lot more than any reporter does about chain of custody. Joe Biden does not like throwing people under the bus, especially ones who have knowledge of his deepest secrets. So, as I said earlier in the week, wait for some more dropping shoes before reaching any conclusions.
QUESTION: Is the United States going to help Zelensky win both the war and the peace?
You must check out David Ignatius’ interview with Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and not just because of the columnist’s clever quoting of “a State Department official familiar with Blinken’s thinking” and “the official familiar with Blinken’s thinking” amidst all the on-the-record quotes. Between this piece and the adjacent also-optimistic op-ed by Mike McFaul, you will leave your device humming “Put on a Happy Face.”
HALPERIN SAYS: Amidst the push to conclusion, note the reference in the Blinken plan to the need for “a strong, noncorrupt economy and membership in the European Union” for Ukraine. Given the ongoing corruption scandal there (and the dirty dirty dirtiness of the oligarchs) it could well turn out that winning the peace is tougher than winning the war. Birthday boy Zelensky has done an amazing job fighting a war with his nation’s history of sleaze, extortion, and bribery that bears more than a passing resemblance to Putin’s Russia. But that dynamic looms large.
Here more about all this today at 10am ET when I join Michael Smerconish on his SiriusXM radio program for my weekly appearance.