Thought of the Week:
For a kid growing up in suburban Washington, D.C., there were few better years than 1983. That year, the Redskins won the Super Bowl and the Orioles the World Series; Return of the Jedi, Risky Business, Flashdance, and An Officer and a Gentleman ruled at the box office; and The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” finished atop the Billboard 100. The drinking age was still 18, and the crowds that filled M Street in Georgetown every night were a testament that the malaise of the 1970s was on its way out and Morning in America was on its way in. 1983 was also a year when a teenager in Maryland could register to vote right in his high school, just as long they were eligible to vote in the next election. I was, and I did. Although my parents were Republicans, as most of Montgomery County was at the time, while the state was largely Democratic, when it came to choosing a political party, I registered as “Unaffiliated” (I stayed unaffiliated for most of my life, but that’s a subject for a another blog post). In 1984, like everyone in the country, except for maybe 7 or 8 people in Minnesota, I voted for Ronald Reagan. In a landslide victory President Reagan carried 49 states and won the Electoral College by an astounding 525-13 over former Vice President Walter Mondale. Since that first vote, up and down ballot, I’ve voted for Republicans, Democrats, and even third party candidates. Today, with 59% of Americans not wanting a Biden-Trump rematch (National Journal), more than two-thirds of voters believing the U.S. is on the wrong-track (Morning Consult), and a record 43% of Americans identifying as Independents (Gallup), the question becomes: does 2024 offer a unique set of circumstances that makes a third-party candidate viable? In 1992, Ross Perot polled as high as 39%, leading both President Bush and Governor Clinton, just five months out from Election Day; the third-party candidate would end with 19% of the vote. What made Perot’s candidacy viable, at least at the outset, was not that it offered simply an outlet for protest, but that it turned on a salient issue—the nation’s debt and deficit. Coming from a successful businessman, Perot’s explanation that the U.S. was wrongly using short-term debt to finance long-term investments made sense, and the issue, if not the candidate, endured past Election Day. President Bill Clinton, with an assist from a GOP Congress, balanced the budget, and budget surpluses were recorded from 1998-2001. The lesson being that candidates and issues can, and do, matter. Regardless of the electorate’s desire for an alternative choice, any third-party candidate who enters the 2024 contest with little more than an offer of being a “moderate” or “Independent” or “normal” will have little chance of winning. If a serious candidate, a Joe Manchin or a Nikki Haley, were to enter the election just after Super Tuesday on a No Labels or other third party ticket, he or she would still need to give people a reason to vote for him or her. As Tom Carothers, a former State Department official and expert on democracy at the Carnegie Endowment told me yesterday, “There’s already two protest candidates in this election…the country is split…to protest Trump, people will vote vote Biden, and to protest Biden, people will vote Trump.” Borrowing a famous movie line from 1983, I still can’t help but think that there are more than a few Americans hoping that a third party candidate will just go ahead and “Make my day” by deciding to run.
Thought leadership from our consultants, think tanks and trade associations
Bloomberg Government Reports on 2023’s Top Lobbying Tabs. Meta Platforms and Amazon Services spent the most among companies on federal lobbying last year, while health and big business groups dominated the influence sector. The US Chamber of Commerce topped all groups in federal lobbying as it sought to influence artificial intelligence, tax, immigration, and other policy measures. The biggest players in federal lobbying are now turning their attention to the contentious election year as lawmakers seek a bipartisan tax agreement and measures to fund the government, with an eye to the campaign trail that can put corporate interests in the crosshairs. Will Moschella, co-chair of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the largest outside firm in terms of revenue reported under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, said he expects an annual defense authorization as well as negotiations over aid to Ukraine and Israel to be among the matters that will drive some of the lobbying business this year. Technology policy, including artificial intelligence and legislation affecting children’s online activities, are also likely to be at the forefront again this year.
Eurasia Group Sees the Uptick in Consumer Sentiment Data as a Bullish Sign for Biden. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index rose by 13% in December to 73.2, capping a nearly 30% increase over the last two months; this is a bullish sign for the reelection bid of President Biden, who has floundered in public opinion polling on his handling of the economy as voters remain unhappy over high prices, especially in the grocery sector (see Graph of the Week). Rising consumer sentiment, and lowered inflation expectations, suggest that Biden’s numbers on his handling of the economy will improve in the coming months, although a crucial question is whether voters assign the Biden administration any credit for an improving economy. There is still a wide gap between Democrats’ and Republicans’ perceptions of the economy, both of which have improved markedly. Along with former president Trump’s legal issues and Biden’s age, the economy is likely to be one of the major issues of the campaign. Trump has the upper hand on the economy at the moment, thanks to voters’ positive memories of strong growth, wage gains, and low inflation during his term.
“OFF THE RECORD”
Punchbowl News’ Take on “3 Johns” and a Trump. A majority of the Senate Republican Conference has endorsed Donald Trump’s comeback presidential bid. But of the three potential successors to Mitch McConnell as Senate GOP leader just one is an enthusiastic supporter. The “Three Johns,” as they’re known, are angling for the job in unique ways. While McConnell could still decide to seek another term as party leader, whoever wins the nod will need to work closely with Trump if he’s elected—especially if Republicans win a Senate majority in November. It’s hard to see McConnell, already the longest-serving party leader in Senate history, staying in that role if Trump is back in the Oval Office, so this issue becomes even more high-profile. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the No. 3 Senate Republican, endorsed Trump earlier this month, becoming the highest-ranking GOP senator to do so. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) has doubled down on his concerns about Trump’s viability in a general election. And Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who once cast similar doubt about Trump, said he’ll do “whatever it takes” to prevent President Biden from winning a second term (Sen. Cornyn endorsed the former president after his win in New Hampshire). Barrasso is viewed as the most conservative of the three, and his early endorsement distinguishes him from Thune and Cornyn, putting him in a strong position to succeed McConnell under a Trump presidency.
IN OTHER WORDS
“You can be the most worthless Republican in America, but if you kiss the ring, he’ll say you’re wonderful. You can be the strongest, most dynamic, successful Republican and conservative in America, but if you don’t kiss that ring, then he’ll try to trash you,” Florida Gov. DeSantis (R) on Jan. 14
“Trump is superior to the current incumbent Joe Biden. That is clear. I signed a pledge to support the Republican nominee and I will honor that pledge. He has my endorsement because we can’t go back to the old Republican Guard of yesteryear,” Florida Gov. DeSantis on Jan. 20.
DID YOU KNOW?
With Rep. Johnson’s (R-OH) resignation to serve as president of Youngstown State University, the Republican majority in the House sits at just six seats—219 Republicans compared with 213 Democrats. That six-seat difference is the smallest for a House Republican majority since the 83rd Congress (1953-54). Republicans lost the House in the November 1954 elections and wouldn’t win back a majority for 40 years.
GRAPH of the Week
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which helps feed more than 6 million low-income women and young children, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024. Growing participation and high food prices have created a budget crisis for the program, putting benefits in jeopardy for the first time in nearly 30 years.