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There Are Two GOP Primaries Happening and Only One Is Real
The fantasy may dominate the headlines. Don’t buy into it.
THERE’S ANOTHER WORLD out there—one that’s better than ours. In this world there are two healthy political parties waging vigorous primary campaigns with vibrant debates between factions and these factions have genuine disagreements over what policies will best serve our fellow Americans. I don’t begrudge anyone aspiring to build such a world. I don’t even begrudge those who have chosen to live in a blissful state of disreality and disconnect from politics entirely, rather than face the Super Not Great world we do live in.
But I would expect professional political commentators, and donors shelling out millions in campaign cash, and the political strategists receiving that cash, to live in the real world.
Alas this is not the case. Instead we have a heavily capitalized right-wing ecosystem that exists to prop up an imaginary Republican presidential primary so that the participants can feel better about their party identification. This way they can do business with Republican politicians or chew the fat at the club without feeling icky at having to admit that their Grand Old Party has become something dark.
In this imaginary primary, some people are wondering if Tim Scott might surge to the top. Highly unlikely! Others are looking longingly at Glenn Youngkin and chattering among themselves about whether or not he might perform better than DeSantis.
In this fake primary there are several candidates using creative strategies to figure out how to make it onto a debate stage. Yet should they succeed, they do not plan to use that stage to directly challenge the person beating them by 50 points in the polls. (If he even bothers to show up.) Some people in this fantasy world are even talking about Rick Scott running for president. Yes that Rick Scott! The one with the inverted endo- and exoskeletons.
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But most absurdly, the “professionals” who are running these fantasy campaigns are haughtily dismissing Vivek Ramaswamy, one of the few candidates who is participating in the real primary since he has actual support among the MAGA Republicans who will decide the winner.
HERE ARE A FEW anonymous svengalis quoted last Thursday in a Semafor article titled “Vivek Ramaswamy is rising in the polls. His rivals don’t seem to care.”
“Vivek is like the fajitas that go by you at the restaurant,” one advisor on a rival campaign told Semafor. “They make noise, look exciting, and come on the fun plate. But if you order it, it’s too much, too annoying to assemble, and you wish you just ordered tacos.”
Another advisor on a rival campaign noted that Ramaswamy has “barely raised any money outside of what he donated himself,” and predicted the 37-year-old’s campaign “will fizzle out”—adding he’d ultimately see success in the form of “increased book sales and inflows into his investment products.”
First things first: If I were a candidate I would immediately fire anyone who revealed themselves to be too lazy to assemble fajitas. But moreover, this analysis is just totally wrong. And unless these anonymous hacks work for Trump or DeSantis, the fajita man they are dismissing is currently kicking their ass.
Nikki Haley’s Super PAC put this nonsense on the record in a memo to donors saying “Let’s be honest, there’s only four candidates who can win the nomination: Nikki Haley, Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and Tim Scott.”
Are you sure you want us to be honest, Mark Harris, the lead strategist for the Haley PAC? Because I suspect you can’t handle the actual truth. But here goes.
If there really are only four candidates who can win this primary, then Nikki Haley sure as hell isn’t one of them.
THERE ARE TWO REASONS these strategists can pull the wool over donors’ eyes with these phony arguments:
(1) All parties involved in this exchange deeply wish that the fantasy world existed.
(2) They are hermetically sealed off from what is happening in the real primary.
Do you think Mark Harris or the big donors funding Haley have ever been to a Trump rally? Do you think they watch Greg Kelly Reports? Do you think they have any close friends or colleagues who genuinely believe Joe Biden is a fraudulent president? Because I don’t. And those are the people in the real primary.
As I wrote last week in a profile of Candace Owens, in the media outlets consumed by the MAGA voters who will decide the nominee, candidates like Haley are just apparitions. They’re barely even talked about.
The real campaign among actual voters is essentially between Trump and DeSantis, and right now it’s a blowout. Other than that, these voters are most intrigued by two long-shot options—Vivek and RFK Jr. In the real primary the competition is intense. But Scott, Haley, Youngkin, Will Hurd, and the rest aren’t involved.
For example, last week the MAGA web was on fire debating some highly charged fissures in the real primary. First there was a rare cogent point from the frontrunner in a straight-to-camera video in which he mocked DeSantis for changing the pronunciation of his name to “Dee-sanctus” in the middle of the campaign (something we have also noticed).
Then there was the influencer beef where one Trump supporter called former Trump lawyer and now DeSantistan Jenna Ellis a “stupid cow” and a “thundercunt.” There was also a fiery back and forth over Daily Wire host Michael Knowles’s claim that DeSantis surrogates were harming their candidate’s cause by being too mean to poor Mr. Trump. Oh, and there was a debate over the merits of a new national poll that showed Vivek and “Rod” tied for second place. (The DeSantis team convincingly argues the poll was put out by grifters, though that doesn’t really explain another poll showing Vivek closing fast.)
That’s the real primary. Tainted polls, vile accusations, Vivekmentum, and unidirectional Trump/DeSantis slap fights.
The voters who are consuming that information will be the ones who decide if Donald Trump is nominated by this party for a third time. If some unanticipated “event” upsets the apple cart (if, for example, there is an artery-clogging, well-done cheeseburger of destiny between now and Iowa), these voters still won’t turn to the candidate in a half-zip sweater whom Karl Rove is trying to anoint at a confab in Sun Valley.
There are honest, well-intentioned reasons to run for president without expecting to win. Chris Christie seems to be doing it because he wants to kick Trump’s ass and eat Hardee’s and he’s all out of Hardee’s. Good on ’im. In 1996, Steve Forbes wanted to raise the salience of the flat tax—not my cup of tea, but it was a good-faith effort on behalf of an issue. In 1984, Jesse Jackson wanted to show that his “Rainbow Coalition” had a real constituency and he succeeded.
But that’s not what any of the non-Christie pretenders are doing this time. They are trying to convince the world (and themselves) that once GOP voters get serious in a few months things will go back to normal. They’ll keep on pretending that this is a normal party having a normal primary right up until the moment they are forced to get in line behind the most abnormal, abominable major-party nominee in our nation’s history.
Here’s the reality: The only *serious* people involved in this primary are the ones who see their fantasy for what it is.
Nearly every conversation, memo, and piece of analysis that comes from the donor-class fantasy campaign isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. And everyone except the consultants building a new pool house off their McMansion would be better served if the money going to write those memos were instead redirected to food-insecure youth who have been forced to become vegetarians.