March 8, 2024

Thought of the Week:

One of my wife’s favorite movies is the Gen X defining film Reality Bites. A classic scene in the picture is when Winona Ryder’s character, Lelaina, is asked by a potential employer to define irony. Ryder stumbles, and, as an elevator door closes on her, hurriedly exclaims she can’t define it but knows it when she she’s it. Later, when tested to define irony, her brooding, pseudo-intellectual love interest, Troy, played by Ethan Hawke, casually remarks that irony is when the actual meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning. The scene is classic because it conveys all three levels of irony simultaneously. First, it gives us situational irony—one would expect Lelaina, a valedictorian who majored in filmmaking, to know the definition of irony. Second, it offers dramatic irony—even though Troy is smug and sure of his answer, the audience knows (or should know) that by omitting context, Troy’s definition of irony is incomplete because opposites are not necessarily ironic on their own accord. And third, verbal irony—Lelaina rhetorically uses a figure of speech in response to Troy saying, “Where were you when I needed you?” With Super Tuesday behind us, and President Biden and former President Trump all but set to lead their respective parties into the conventions, the 2024 campaign has already gifted us with a dose of dramatic irony—although the candidates may have wanted it, polls show that upwards of 60% of the electorate never wanted to see a 2020 rematch. And while the candidates are sure to provide us with reams of verbal irony over eight months of speeches, advertisements, and possibly even debates, with 73% of voters believing that the country is headed in the wrong direction, just 37% approving of the job Joe Biden is doing as president, and Donald Trump’s favorability rating hovering in the low 40% range, it’s still too early to tell which political party will be draped in situational irony come November 6. Let me explain. Nearly every analyst we’ve spoken with concedes that they cannot remember a time when two major candidates faced off for the presidency saddled with greater weaknesses and more vulnerabilities. Despite this background, Democratic party elites made the determination that it was less risky to stick with Biden despite concerns about his age than it was to have an open primary. Although the grassroots of the party wanted to move on to a candidate from a new generation, they were blocked by party leaders. In fact, the decline in support for Biden by rank-and-file Democrats is the leading reason his job approval sits at that 37% level. What’s more, hundreds of thousands of ballots cast for “uncommitted” from the Michigan, Super Tuesday, and other primaries demonstrate Biden’s frailty with his progressive base. Trump faces almost the opposite challenge; while grassroots Republicans largely support his reelection campaign, GOP moderates carry deep misgivings about his candidacy. With grassroots support, Trump has convincingly won nearly every primary and caucus by a wide margin. However, the same factors that make the former president a formidable contender in the primaries will make him a weaker candidate in the general election—independents and many swing voters are turned off by the personal qualities and issues that inspire the Republican base. So, regardless of which candidate eventually claims the White House, the opposing party is going to find themselves knee-deep in situational irony with millions of voters contending they should have known better to run who they did.   

Thought Leadership from our Consultants, Think Tanks, and Trade Associations

Bloomberg Government Sees the Presidential Conventions Luring Lobbyists Back After Covid Break. For the first time in eight years, lobbyists may have to juggle summer vacation plans with work trips to Milwaukee and Chicago for the presidential nominating conventions. Although lobbyists won’t go for the TV cameras or acceptance speeches, they are gearing up for shadow conventions out of the spotlight, complete with networking events, concerts, parties, and policy discussions that give them a chance to mingle with political bigwigs. While those events paused almost entirely in 2020 during the height of the Covid pandemic, Republicans will descend on Milwaukee in July and Democrats will head to Chicago in August. The concentration of members of Congress and other elected officials is a draw for lobbyists, corporate clients, and industry groups. And while many large companies evaluate potential risks to their brands if they have a presence at one or both conventions, others have already traveled to the convention sites to scope out venues as places to connect with political VIPs. Corporations concerned about tainting their brand with partisan politics may still attend but opt for events with nonpartisan groups, with state delegations, or that stick to policy focused discussions with elected officials. Of course, not everyone from K Street will decamp to a political convention, but more are including it in their summer plans.

NAM Takes Credit for Scaled Back Climate Rule. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved new climate disclosure requirements that have been in the works for two years. Last-minute changes to the rule represent progress for most corporations, although industry will still face new cost burdens. While the SEC voted in favor of requiring public companies to disclose greenhouse gas emissions and other climate-related information, due to widespread business advocacy, the agency dropped its onerous Scope 3 emissions mandate. That provision would have forced public companies to divulge information about emissions coming from anywhere in their supply chains—including from small and family-owned businesses. In their lobbying efforts, business focused on the practical realities such a sweeping rule would have, encouraging the SEC to make significant changes to remove inflexible and infeasible mandates, require disclosure of only material information, and protect smaller corporations from the impact of the requirements. In addition to the Scope 3 change, the SEC exempted smaller companies from Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions reporting and delayed the rule’s effective dates. The final rule is also more narrowly focused on “material” information (data investors need to make informed decisions) than what had been proposed previously. Because it remains to be seen whether the rule is workable in practice, business organizations such as the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), of which SCOA is a member, will work to ensure that the SEC acts within its statutory authority and prioritizes flexibility.

“Off the Record”

State of the Union, and Republican Rebuttal, First Impressions. Last night, President Biden delivered his third State of the Union address. March 7 was the latest a State of the Union has ever been given. Some quick takeaways from the speech include:

  • Whether the speech could be described as “forceful” or “angry” depends on which side of the aisle one sits.
  • Based on crowd reactions, it was evident that the idea of “two Americas” still remains.
  • This was a speech meant to appeal to the progressive Democrat base, not moderates, independents, or potential cross-over voters. /
  • This was not a pro-business speech.
  • Katie Britt’s (R-AL) rebuttal was a stark contrast in age and articulacy.
  • It became apparent why Republicans view Sen. Britt as a “rising star” in the Party, and why one consulting firm recently told us she is being considered for Vice President.

Capitol Hill and K Street are Pessimistic about Trump’s Chances of Winning. Washington is doubtful former President Trump will return to the White House. Punchbowl News’ survey of K Street in January (the Washington office participates) and Capitol Hill in February found little confidence in Trump as the GOP’s presidential candidate. Just 11% of K Street Republicans and 28% of top congressional GOP staffers said Trump was the party’s best choice. In fact, downtowners and top Hill staffers are not optimistic about Trump’s chances of defeating President Biden. Just one-third think Trump will win. On K Street, 64% believe Biden will win reelection. Regardless, Trump has an uncanny ability to defy political gravity, remains popular across the nation despite his legal battles, and leads President Biden in most polls. Trump is also gaining public support on Capitol Hill, despite GOP lawmakers’ private reservations. The former president has snagged the endorsements of every top Republican leader in the House and most Senate GOP leaders. Meanwhile, President Biden is wobbling in his quest for reelection, has stubbornly low polling numbers, and is bleeding support from young voters. The administration’s handling of the southern border and Israel-Hamas war have put him in a bind. On Capitol Hill, 60% of respondents said the lawmaker they work for disapproves of Biden’s handling of the border, and 66% believe Biden’s response to the Israel-Hamas war will harm his chances of winning in November. Just 7% said the issue would help the president.

In Other Words

“It is abundantly clear that former President Trump has earned the requisite support of Republican voters to be our nominee…It should come as no surprise that as the nominee, he will have my support,” Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY).  

Did You Know

The District of Columbia has a total of 464,000 registered voters, only 23,000 are Republican. The number of GOP voters is so small that the Republican primary had just one voting site—three blocks from the Washington office. A total of 2,030 votes were cast, with Nikki Haley (1274 votes) defeating Donald Trump (676) to make her the first woman to win a Republican presidential primary.   

Graphs of the Week

Former President Trump is Now the Favorite. The Supreme Court’s decision to examine whether a president is immune from criminal prosecution will result in a delay of former president Trump’s trial for election interference, neutralizing one of his vulnerabilities in the fall campaign. Concerns about President Biden’s have intensified, and polling shows Biden’s approval is suffering from a split in the Democratic Party. The Eurasia Group places Trump as the favorite to win the Electoral College and general election in November (60%, up from 45%).  

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