'Can He Pivot?'
I met with some Republican donors last week who wanted my take on the lay of the land headed into 2024. They had concerns about 2024. Most were enamored with the idea of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as president. A handful had been major Trump donors and I expected some of those would still be with him. They are not.
"Can he pivot?" asked one of the women at the event. She gave Trump money in 2016 and 2020. She was asking about DeSantis. She finds him, in her words, "intriguing." To her and many others in the room, they view DeSantis as the closest to Trump, but with a penchant for pulling the pin on the grenade and throwing it instead of putting it in his mouth.
Her concern echoed through the room. As you might expect, a lot of big donors are not real culture warriors. They may be conservative and may even be socially conservative, but they made their money and want good stewardship. They want to see if DeSantis can pivot to jobs and the economy and not just battling woke businesses. With a recession coming, they are concerned about the candidates' economic records and policies.
The donors recognize the culture fight helps DeSantis show Trump voters he is with them. But they think he'll have to persuade independent voters who rejected Trump in 2020, and they think that will require a broadly popular message about the economy.
A couple of the donors have not committed to Nikki Haley, but they are inclined to. They care deeply about foreign policy and think she has a strong head on her shoulders. They appreciate her commitment to Israel. One very vocally pointed out Haley has a great economic record as governor as well as a foreign policy record DeSantis does not have. "She's got everything everybody says they want," he opined.
Pence had some cheerleaders too. He seemed a logical successor to Trump. He seemed the most levelheaded. One felt they owed it to Pence given his handling of the vice presidency until the very end. A few said Pence was their guy because they have connected to him on faith and just generally like him. Incidentally, Karen Pence was the only spouse who came up. The Pence supporters in the room love his wife, too.
Everyone, to a person, was perplexed by Vivek Ramaswamy. There were lots of conspiracy theories as to why he was in the race. At least one had clearly talked to the same senator I had talked to who said Ramaswamy is running the most expensive campaign for a Cabinet secretary ever. His name came up as a result of concerns about a crowded field.
I told the donors a crowded field helps Trump. But if the field clogs up, that will be for voters to decide. The donor class should not think they can shape the field. To do so would cause blowback from the base. If they have a few favorites, divide up. If they decide they want to pool their money for just one person, they'll probably ruin that person.
I told them they should also not do big ad campaigns for candidates. Instead, spend their money on the ground game. Candidates get discounted ad rates. Super PACs do not. The super PAC consultants make a killing with commissions on ads. Most of the ads aren't very good, the donor gets poor while the consultant gets rich, and the candidate is not helped. See the candidacy of Jeb Bush for example.
I did tell them that if they want to do ads, if only for vanity, they could educate Republican primary voters on Trump's record, particularly platforming Dr. Anthony Fauci. Ironically, I said that and a few days later the Tucker Carlson text message came out wherein he said, "I hate him passionately" and "(w)e're all pretending we've got a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster it's been is too tough to digest. But come on. There really isn't an upside to Trump."
There's a message there.
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