So on Wednesday night Donald Trump will not be somewhere.
That somewhere is the first in a series of Republican Party presidential candidate debates.
And Trump not being there seems to be dominating the pre-debate coverage. Oh well – not can be news, too, unless he shows up at the last minute because he’s already taped the Tucker Carlson show and could then be on both fox News and Twitter (sorry, X) at the same time.
But of this you can be certain: California will be there. More specifically, how and why it has become an international exemplar of how not to govern a state.
Each of the candidates has taken legitimate potshots at California, in part because they accurately portray the state of disrepair the state is in and in part because teeing off on the Golden State is the same thing as teeing off on Gavin Newsom, the Democratic nominee presumptive if and when Biden gets up from his beach chair, heads towards the water, and just keeps going.
Of the eight (nine with Trump) candidates on the Milwaukee stage Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the one that has made California and all it stands for one of his most important campaign foils.
It started some time ago, with Newsom buying ads in Florida telling everyone how awful it is while it was growing in population by nearly 1,000 people a day (hmm, that’s pretty close to what California is losing – wonder if that’s a coincidence?)
Anyway, the two have been back and forth since, with DeSantis detailing how Newsom’s woke policies are the reason the state is a mess – true – and Newsom saying Florida is bad because the parameters of the dynamic have re-centered on expanding synergistic capabilities to meet the moment…
The two are still scheduled to debate in early November, pending some back and forth terms and conditions blather.
So, no matter what, California will feature prominently Wednesday and all the way through the presidential campaign. Additionally, the primary vote is early – March 5, 2024 – this time around so the state may actually matter in the nomination process and candidates know that – another reason to chat California. Finally, if a candidate gets 50% of the Republican primary vote they get all of the 169 delegates, a haul the equivalent of about 12% of the number of delegates need to win the nomination.
Currently, Trump holds a significant lead in the polls with just about 50%; DeSantis has actually led Trump in past polls but is currently at about 25% (if no candidate gets 50% then the delegates are divvied up proportionately – 1 % of the vote gets 1% of the delegates, etc.)
With all of that in mind, let’s look at who will be there Wednesday:
Chris Christie – The Round Mound of Impound (Jersey joke) will do his best to focus exclusively on the person that isn’t there. That either makes his job really really easy or makes very little sense at all. As to California, the latest major poll by the Public Policy Institute of California didn’t even ask about him at all; in other words, the PPIC thinks Christie has as much chance of being a factor in the state as, well, me.
Nikki Haley – She will continue her perilous quest to be the vice-presidential nominee for, well, any presidential candidate. Therefore one would not expect her to be too too mean to others on (and off) the stage. Haley has made multiple stops in the state, mostly to fund raise, but she has chimed in on Sen. Dianee Feinstein’s current issues, calling on her to resign (this fits in with a campaign theme of hers involving passing the torch to a new generation of leaders in DC.) She stands about 4% in the polls in the state.
Tim Scott – In what feels like a practice run, the South Carolina senator will view the opportunity to build name recognition, call for unity in the face of the Democratic onslaught, and offer muted criticism of his opponents. That being said, Scott sees himself as a possible “breakout” candidate and has campaigned hard on having actual, real border security, an issue close to Californians. The polls have yet to show that has rung a bell, though, as he stands at about 3% in the state.
Mike Pence – The former VP has visited the state often and spoken to numerous groups, including a gathering of about 800 evangelical Catholic conservatives in Napa. He’s in a distant distant third now, with the polls putting him at about 7%.
To be blunt: while Pence will famously not be in a room alone with a woman is not his wife, we do now know he does have a very specific kink: masochism. He cannot win – highest disapproval ratings in the race – and his whole campaign has been one giant very awkward question, the political equivalent of a ball gag, a woman dressed up in Gestapo gear, and a vinyl gimp suit. Whatever floats your boat, Mike.
Doug Burgham – Who? Oh, the governor of North Dakota. Actually an interesting guy – a North Dakota native – sold his North Dakota-based software company to Microsoft for a billion or so dollars and has re-invested much of that in – you guessed it – North Dakota. And he looks the part, a bit. He may surprise. As to California, the average of the last three polls taken puts him at about 1/3 of 1%, only slightly lower than the percentage of Californians who know who he is and know he is running for president.
Asa Hutchison – Soooo inside DC he should have columns built around him. A very mediocre governor and congressman of/from Arkansas, Hutchison is very open borders and has said he wishes he hadn’t signed a bill barring mask mandates in Arkansas in April, 2021. And he’s dull and two-faced. But he doesn’t like Trump so the media loves him.
California – at least the Temecula part – does not love him; in fact he is loathed in Riverside County Republican circles for ending border patrol sweeps, and got an earful from hundreds of residents when he tried to justify his actions – made for good radio on KFI’s John and Ken Show, though…
And – according to the latest national polls – the top two (obviously, not including you know who):
Ron DeSantis – Oof. He still has potential and he would be a good president, if how he runs Florida is anything to go by. That being said, his campaign has been grizzled, at best. Until recently – when he fired a bunch of people – he was being consulted to death (see Jeb Bush, Meg Whitman’s disaster) by people who look at him and only see dollar signs. Therefore, Wednesday will be a big deal for DeSantis as he needs to re-convince people he can run a campaign well enough to actually take the nomination from Trump. If he can do that, he’s back in solid second; if he can’t, even debating Newsom directly in November may not be enough.
Vivek Ramaswamy – I guess hard work actually pays off. He started his campaign a long time ago and spent months criss-crossing the country even before others had announced. He’s quick, smart, telegenic, and confident. Already graced with the largest “positivity gap” amongst the candidates not named Trump when people are asked if they approve/disapprove of them, Wednesday will be incredibly important as it could allow him to go beyond likable, interesting, etc. to a guy who people think really can be president.
He hasn’t really shown up yet in California polls – 2% or so – but he does watch the state – especially the tech industry– very closely as evidenced by his scathing Wall Street Journal editorial slamming the decision by the feds to bail out the Silicon Valley Bank.
Did we mention Newsom was a client of the bank?
I bet someone will Wednesday.
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