December 4, 2023 | Reading Time: 6 minutes
First law of all political reporting ever? Don’t let it be boring
2024 could be simpler than it seems.
I run the risk of making politics seem overly simple by saying that everything about the Republican Party begins and ends with Donald Trump. At the moment, however, I think that’s true. No one can challenge the criminal former president. The best anyone can do is manufacture the appearance of challenging him.
That’s what’s happening with Nikki Haley. The former governor of South Carolina, and the former US ambassador to the United Nations, is having a moment, as they say. She’s having a moment, because the people who spend their time talking about politics have to talk about something and, because they don’t want to sound bored while talking about it, find ways of making it interesting, especially to themselves.
So in politics reporting the fact that Haley is a hundred miles behind Donald Trump in every poll in every early state in the Republican presidential primary is put in the background while in the foreground is put the fact that she’s ahead of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in two of those states, soon perhaps three. DeSantis was supposed to be Donald Trump without the baggage. Yet here’s Nikki Haley “surging ahead.”
“My faith is in voters, and that faith has shown itself well-placed in the 2022 midterms and again in 2023 off-year elections. I see no reason to let go of it now. It will be close. Every vote will count. And under Biden, every vote will be counted, too. Voter suppression will have a role to play, but that’s why we have to just buckle down and do the work.”
That gives people who spend their time talking about politics a reason to wonder whether Haley has a realistic chance of beating Trump when she probably doesn’t. For now, though, let’s say she does! With that, we have something interesting to talk about, at least until reality comes in the form of primary election results, after which the people who spend their time talking about politics will forget all about what they said.
This desire, to keep things interesting for themselves before anyone else among people who spend their time talking about politics, is an underappreciated aspect of American politics. The press corps’ job is to get your attention. How can they do that if they themselves are bored?
The press corps has been talking about the next presidential election since the conclusion of the last one, reporting each and every poll taken during all this time that shows Joe Biden somewhere close to even with Donald Trump, give or take, and building a “narrative” about the election that may or may not be true but that definitely satisfies the prime directive of all political reporting ever. Don’t let it be boring.
It may not turn out this way, and I run the risk of making politics seem overly simple by suggesting it, but it could be that all this drama that you’re seeing in the build-up to the Republican Party primary, and to the presidential election, is much simpler than it currently seems. It could be, but we can’t know till after the fact, but it could be that the rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump – and make no mistake, it’s going to be a rematch – will be decided in the same or similar fashion as the last match was, with Biden winning, it won’t be close.
I could be wrong! For more, I interviewed Karoli Kuns. She’s the managing editor of Crooks and Liars, and an expert on campaign financing. I asked her about Americans for Prosperity, which is part of the billionaire Koch family network, and its endorsement of Nikki Haley, about the Republican National Committee bringing in pennies, and whether it’s time for the Democrats to start wetting the bed.
JS: Haley is having a moment. Is she a serious challenge to Trump?
KK: She ought to be, but she isn’t. Republicans won’t overcome their misogyny or racism, and churches actively preach against women having authority over men, so there goes the evangelical base.
Billionaires Charlie and Bill Koch are going to spend plenty of cash on her, but she won’t get close to Trump. All of Ron DeSantis’s supporters will move to Trump after he drops out, and Nikki will be the candidate for never-Trumpers and non-evangelical suburban women, which would make her an attractive VP pick. I can’t imagine Trump dropping his “birdbrain” act to bring her on as VP, nor can I imagine him forgiving her for saying he’s too old. She has bruised his ego, just as she did when she resigned as UN Ambassador. Not happening.
JS: Are rich conservative groups like the Koch network hedging their bets or expressing real fear about Trump’s chances of winning?
KK: My understanding of the Koch network, which includes Bill Koch as well as Charlie, plus all of their rightwing friends and anonymous donors via Donor’s Trust, suggests that they are hoping to put enough money under her to be a serious challenge to Trump. It’s a billionaire’s folly, and one that is likely to backfire, since Trump is positioned to call himself the “true man of the people” who can buck the billionaires. No one is going to be a serious challenge to Trump because he has built a cult of personality, and until he’s dead or in jail, nothing will change.
JS: News about Biden’s bad polling is everywhere. Time to wet the bed?
KK: The last poll I saw was Joe Biden up two points over Donald Trump and that was this morning. Hell no, it’s not time to wet the bed!
Democratic voters want someone to fall in love with, but I think they will understand the stakes of this election clearly enough when they vote a year from now, barring some kind of insane rush to third party candidates, which would be a vote for Trump.
What would really be great is if everyone quit with the horse race focus and started paying attention to policy. Yes, there are still economic problems to fix, but Trump isn’t going to fix them. He’s not going to make the price of housing go down. He’s not going to force corporations to quit padding their profits by inflating prices.
Biden has some actual policy chops in this area, and that’s before we get to his knowledge of foreign policy and the true art of the deal. Maybe if everyone stopped with the poll fear mongering and started talking about things like Haley and Trump vowing to end the Affordable Care Act [also known as Obamacare], we might actually see people wake up to the reality of what we are facing next November.
JS: The RNC is bringing in half the money the DNC is. Time to cheer?
KK: Absolutely not. First, the Republican National Committee is superfluous. Dark money finances Republicans, and yes, also Democrats who don’t want to fight with one arm behind their back.
Second, the RNC committed to using WinRed for donations, and WinRed is a for-profit that skims money right off the top, unlike ActBlue, which is nonprofit and asks for donations to cover expenses.
Billionaires aren’t stupid. They’re going to make sure they get the most bang for their buck, so dark money it is. The thing candidates need the most is money to get out the vote and get ads on whatever platform they choose to advertise on. Dark money can buy all of that without direct donations to the RNC. The RNC is going to have to spend money to put on the convention, but the rest of everything else can be covered by 501(c)(4)s, and we’ll never know the donor.
JS: Contrary take: Don’t overthink it. Biden’s gonna win in a walk.
KK: I agree with the overthinking part. I think the Beltway press has a vested interest in promoting a horse race, and trying to even things out between a guy facing 91 felony counts and a guy who just celebrated his 81st birthday after turning this country around after a global pandemic and deep recession. So they’ll keep flogging the wrong stories and ratchet up everyone’s anxiety meter to the red zone.
That said, I am unwilling to say Biden will win in a walk. I think that after the primaries, young people will come around, especially the ones who saw thousands of dollars of student debt evaporate in forgiveness over the past few years. I think women will also be a strong constituency for Biden/Harris. But I by no means see this as a walk.
There is a clear erosion in Latino and Black men supporting Biden, which could be a bit of a realignment. And there are some voters who just like strongmen, which is the role Trump likes to portray, and which he will fill should he be re-elected for a second term.
My faith is in voters, and that faith has shown itself well-placed in the 2022 midterms and again in 2023 off-year elections. I see no reason to let go of it now. It will be close. Every vote will count. And under Biden, every vote will be counted, too. Voter suppression will have a role to play, but that’s why we have to just buckle down and do the work.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.