Yesterday was a busy day in American politics. Donald Trump won the Nevada caucuses, President Joe Biden took to national TV to dispute characterizations of him as mentally unfit in a special counsel report, and oral arguments began at the US Supreme Court over whether Trump will be eligible to run for president in Colorado. Thomas Gift breaks down the week’s stories and what they might mean for the 2024 presidential election.
As expected, former president Donald Trump won Nevada’s caucuses yesterday. But do the results even matter?
Nevada was the perfect one-two punch for Trump. First he got to see Nikki Haley crash and burn by losing to the (you would think) not-so-intimidating “none of the above” candidate in the primaries. Then he got to gloat and take home all the state’s delegates in the caucuses a couple days later. All this was inevitable. But that’s the point. Trump is the inevitable Republican nominee. It’s how he’s framed himself since he announced his candidacy. And nothing’s disturbed that truth. Even Haley’s claim that Nevada’s election was “rigged” plays, perversely, into Trump’s hands. Of course she’s right. It wasn’t a fair fight. But the fact that the state GOP committee went out of its way to rig it is emblematic of where the party is. It’s not just Republican voters who are on Trump’s side. It’s the GOP political machine. Trump is their guy. They’ve made that abundantly clear. So, Haley has to ask herself whether she wants to keep taking on the 800-pound gorilla that is Trump’s campaign.
Is there any way Nikki Haley can regain her footing going into the South Carolina primary later this month?
Simply put, no. I think that South Carolina on February 24th is the end of the road for Haley. It’s her home state. She had an 80-plus percent approval rating there when she was governor. If she can’t win in South Carolina, she can’t win anywhere. And the reality is she can’t win in South Carolina. The MAGA wall is just too strong. FiveThirtyEight has Trump at 65 percent in South Carolina, to Haley’s 31. Maybe there’s a small fraction of anti-Trump donors who keep Haley’s campaign afloat until Super Tuesday on March 5th. But it’s already running on fumes, and as the losses stack up, it becomes embarrassing. It’s not clear why Haley herself wants to be martyr for independent-minded primary voters, most of whom will support Biden in the General Election anyway. The bottom line for Haley is: You can’t win a national Republican primary without appealing to the right-wing base. Primaries are dominated by a tiny subset of hard partisans. Those voters are firmly in Trump’s tent.
What did you make of Biden’s press conference yesterday, after the special counsel determined he wouldn’t be charged in connection with holding classified documents?
The report is a relief for Biden legally. But the portrayal of him as a senile old man is much worse for him politically. I think he compounded it with his press conference. When you go on national TV to insist your “memory is fine,” you’re already on the back foot. The fact that he confused Egypt and Mexico while answering questions also didn’t help his case. This is a big problem for Biden. Concerns about his mental acuity started as a right-wing talking point. They’ve slowly radiated out into the mainstream media. To find these accusations front and center in a special counsel report, is damning. Biden’s slogan for a second term is: “Let’s finish the job.” All this does is raise questions about, even if Biden does win re-election, whether he’ll be able to literally finish the job. Obviously there’s a lot of speculation still about an alternative nominee, from the more realistic like California Governor Gavin Newsom, to the more fantastical like Michelle Obama. Expect those rumors to louden.
Oral arguments at the Supreme Court also started yesterday over whether Trump will be kicked off the ballot in Colorado. How did they go?
During arguments on Thursday, the Supreme Court mostly seemed skeptical about efforts to disqualify Trump under the 14th Amendment. Part of me could even imagine a 9-0 ruling in his favor. I think the rationale will just be a jurisdictional one. The justices won’t want to wade into more debatable territory about whether Trump participated in a technical “insurrection.” They also won’t want to debate whether the 14th Amendment applies to Trump as a former supposed “officer” of the United States. Instead, they might simply defer to Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, which says that “The Congress,” meaning the US Congress, “shall have power to enforce…the provisions of this article.” The Colorado Supreme Court obviously isn’t the US Congress. With that in mind, Trump is likely to stay on the ballot. Long term, I think it’s better for the democratic health of the country. For better or worse, it puts the responsibility on Americans to decide what kind of leader – and what kind of country – they want.
- These remarks are based in part on an interview by Thomas Gift for CNN “Newsroom” on February 9, 2024.
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- Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of USAPP – American Politics and Policy, nor the London School of Economics.
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