September 1, 2023

I have a friend who owns a corporate novelty company; the kind that sells t-shirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs, and the like. Among his biggest clients are the gift shops and news stands at Union Station, Reagan National, and IAD where he’s sold a variety of politically themed items over the years. In fact, his sales have been so good that they allowed him to correctly predict the winner of every presidential election from 1988-2016. While the pandemic killed his business in 2020, in each instance, the candidate who generated the highest sales figures corresponded with the winner of the election. Although it’s too early to check in with him and his crystal ball for 2024, in talking to friends and colleagues I’ve begun to sense a real shift in people’s attitudes in terms of who they might like to see as the next Commander-in-Chief. A new poll from the Associated Press confirms my suspicions: Americans think President Biden is too old and former President Trump too morally bankrupt for either to seek another term. Only 24% of voters said they wanted to see Biden run again, even worse than the 30% who said the same of the current GOP frontrunner. Upon deeper thought, across my discussions, it’s not so much who people want to see run for president but what they want in a president. In a word: commonsense. Whereas outright populism in the forms of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders dominated in 2016 and protest voting against the incumbent reigned in 2020, the ground seems to be shifting towards prudence and practicality. Realizing that I live and work in the political bubble that is Washington, D.C., in the land of Rich Men North of Richmond, I went searching for something to validate my beliefs. I found it in a survey of registered voters by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and RMG Research that asked a series of ten questions including: 

  • Equality of opportunity is a fundamental American principle; equality of outcome is not (73% agree/13% disagree).
  • America benefits from the presence of immigrants and no immigrant, even if illegal, should be mistreated. But border security is still important, as is an enforceable system that fairly decides who can enter the country (78% agree/14% disagree).
  • Language policing has gone too far; by and large, people should be able to express their views without fear of sanction by employer, school, institution, or government. Good, not bad, faith should be assumed (76% agree/14% disagree).

Other questions in the survey pertained to race, policing, gender, and energy sources, and in each case, voters seemed to hold commonsense views and stake out pragmatic positions. Stirring somewhere beneath the surface seems to be a realization that not everything is a matter of principle without room for compromise. Although I understand that primaries are all about the base, 2024’s unique circumstances may lead to a candidate who is able to clearly embrace and articulate a common-sense approach to governing.

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

Trade Analyst Laura Chasen Breaks Down Trump’s Explosive Universal Baseline Tariff Idea. In a stunning, but not surprising, development, former president and 2024 Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump has called for imposing a 10% across-the-board tariff, exempting only certain trading partners chosen by the president. The proposal injects international trade into the presidential race and back on the public agenda. To date, trade has not been a topic highlighted by any candidate in the 2024 race, apart from the hard line on China advocated by all. In fact, during the GOP’s first debate trade did not even come up. Trump’s 10% proposal surfaced during an interview when the former president confirmed he wasn’t talking about dumping cases but penalizing all imports. This was no off-the-cuff remark as sources inside the campaign confirmed his comments. Although the precise level of the tariff is still being debated, insiders said it is expected to be a central plank of the Trump campaign. In his recent book former USTR Lighthizer promoted the universal tariff idea, suggesting a 10% rate, while also proposing a general overhaul of the world tariff system. Under the Lighthizer doctrine, a second Trump administration would likely impose a universal tariff using the president’s Section 301 powers. The rationale being to bring friendly nations like Canada, Mexico, and Japan to the table to negotiate concessions. This is the same playbook Lighthizer used to renegotiate NAFTA and U.S. trade agreements with Japan and South Korea. Ultimately, the plan could result in a new U.S.-led system of managed trade with terms beneficial to the U.S. and its allies, while punishing anyone outside of the club, i.e. China. Judging from past experience, Trump would try to implement the plan if elected. In 2016, most observers assumed his radical trade policy proposals—using long-neglected trade authorities—wouldn’t turn into action; they were wrong.

Inside U.S. Trade Reports on Possible Updates to the Section 232 Exclusion Process. The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is calling for public feedback on proposed revisions to improve the product-exclusion process for Section 232 duties on steel and aluminum products. Industry groups and lawmakers have criticized the exclusion process since it was launched, and they have repeatedly called on the agency to simplify it and provide more transparency. The proposed rule “finalizes” the interim rules and outlines four key changes the agency contends will help streamline the process. First, the rule would broaden the agency’s criteria for identifying “General Approved Exclusions,” a system established in 2020 to reduce the volume of requests for exclusions that were consistently approved because the products were not available in the U.S. BIS proposes broadening the GAE criteria to include products “with very low rates of successful objections,” a change that could result in a 20% reduction of exclusion requests submitted to the agency. Second, the rule would create a parallel “General Denied Exclusion” process, a system sought by commenters who submit objection requests. Similar to the GAE process, the GDE system would apply to products that “have very high rates of successful, substantiated objections.” Third, the rule would place increased obligations on requesters by requiring them to certify that they have made reasonable efforts to source their product from the U.S. and then, if unsuccessful, have made reasonable efforts to source their product from a country with which the U.S. has an alternative means to address the threat to national security under Section 232; such countries include: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, EU, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and the UK. Those obligations would add to existing certification requirements introduced in 2020 after BIS found that some requesters were filing exclusion requests for “high volumes” of products that they never ultimately imported. A final change would add certification language on the objection form to ensure objectors can supply comparable quality and quantity steel or aluminum and make it ‘immediately available’ to requestors.

Observatory Group’s Take on the Republican Debate and Status of the Primary Race. While there has been a lot of hype since Donald Trump announced last November that he was running for President, the Republican Primary is just now heating up. As things stand, Trump is the front-runner, but he is not the inevitable nominee. Despite early stumbles, Florida Governor DeSantis continues to be the top challenger. While many political pundits praised the debate performances of former Vice President Pence, former South Carolina Governor Haley, and political newcomer Ramaswamy, the debate helped DeSantis push back on his detractors and solidify his position as the Party’s top alternative to Trump. At this stage, it is clear that DeSantis, Haley, South Carolina Senator Scott, Ramaswamy, and North Dakota Governor Burgum all have the resources and political support necessary to contend for the nomination. Others, like Pence, former New Jersey Governor Christie, and former Arkansas Governor Hutchinson, either lack funding and/or the political support to be competitive. However, for any contender to be competitive with Trump, the current field must consolidate. If not, a repeat of 2016 is likely—when Trump won the nomination with a plurality, not a majority, of GOP primary voters. The key question becomes: when will non-viable contenders withdraw? Although the media is focused on national polls, the primary campaign is not a national election but a race to secure a majority of delegates (1,234 of 2,467) to the Republican National Convention, and those delegates are earned in state-by-state primaries. While national polls may indicate trends, they are irrelevant to how the nomination is secured, with the path to the nomination running through separate contests in 50 states and six territories that allocate their delegates by winner-take-all, winner-take-most, or proportional convention models. The first four primary contests are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. If Trump wins all four, he will cruise to the nomination. However, if the field consolidates and Trump falters, the chances of a non-Trump GOP nominee increase considerably. Though Trump dominates the field today, the first primary is 140 days away—plenty of time for circumstances to change.

“Off the Record”

According to Politico, the first insider account of President Biden’s initial two years in office is scheduled to drop next week. Atlantic staff writer Franklin Foer set out to write an account of Biden’s first one hundred days in office, focusing on the pandemic and the unraveling of President Trump’s major policies, but kept reporting as the American Rescue Plan, Inflation Reduction Act, Afghanistan withdrawal, Ukraine, and midterm elections unfolded. The result is a 407-page book about Biden world: “The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden’s White House and the Struggle for America’s Future.” A major media rollout has already kicked off, and “The Last Politician” is seen as a market test for political books about figures other than Donald Trump. In Washington it will also serve as a test for how the White House grapples with the first detailed excavation of its successes and failures.

In Other Words

“This is a very sad day for America that should never happen. The election was a rigged election, a stolen election, and I should have every right to do that…If you challenge an election, you should be able to challenge an election,” Former President Trump immediately after surrendering in Georgia.

Did You Know

The Senate returns from recess on September 5; the House on September 12.

Graph of the Week

No Labels Ready to Commit? Former Senator Lieberman’s centrist No Labels group revealed that it is actively working to appear on every state ballot and will hold a convention in April to select a presidential ticket. Although it remains unclear how the group will choose their candidates, likely options include Senator Manchin (D-WV) and former Maryland Governor Hogan (R). Although a No Labels candidate would have virtually no chance of winning, one could siphon enough votes in swing states to impact the election. Among the potential third-party bids are:

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