These days, I am often plagued by the nagging sense that I really don’t understand the dynamics of contemporary politics. It pains to admit that it often comes down to a simple matter of logic, as in
If X, then not-Y.
If you said, “Not-Y” then you and I are on the same page. That was my conclusion, too.
But I fear we might be wrong. My old friend Karl Rove just wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal arguing that “Voters Want Anyone but Trump or Biden.”
“Voters” want this, said Karl, explaining that “Neither looks good in the latest polls.” Both parties should consider alternatives for the 2024 presidential election.”
It’s certainly possible that Karl has access to more recondite polls than I do, though the ones he cites are the ones we all know—the recent New York Times/Siena poll, for example, which has the agita-inducing news that Trump leads Biden in five of 6 swing states, Nevada (+10), Arizona (+5), Michigan (+5), Georgia (+6) , and Pennsylvania (+4). The poll had Biden ahead of Trump in Wisconsin, but only by 2 points.
Who was polled to arrive at those numbers? Voters.
Last week saw the third (can we hope that it will be the last?) Republican debate. It took place in Miami. Some 40 percent fewer people tuned in to watch the five contenders than had tuned into to the first GOP debate this summer. Just down the street, in Hialeah, Florida, Donald Trump held a barn-burner of a rally at which some 15,000 people—most of them voters—showed up, many waiting for hours to gain access to Milander Park where the rally took place.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Governor of Arkansas, made headlines by endorsing her former boss at the rally and as I write, the most recent (November 9) RealClearPolitics summary of GOP polls has Tump at 60, Ron DeSantis at 13, Nikki Haley at 5.
What do such polls measure? Some version of voter sentiment, often skewed or massaged in such a way as to cater to the pollsters’ preferences.
And speaking of pollsters’ preferences, what about Nikki Haley? She appears to be something like the final cause of Karl Rove’s column, the end or telos after which it hankers. After telling us that “voters”—though it’s not clear which voters he has in mind—want a “fresh face,” Karl writes that “former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley beats Mr. Biden in all six battlegrounds now. In four states, her margins are wider than Mr. Trump’s.”
So is she the “fresh face” he has in mind? Or is she just, as Vivek Ramaswamy said at the GOP debate, a tired old neocon, “Dick Cheney in 3-inch heels?”
I conclude that there is something to that charge because The Babylon Bee thought it current enough to run with. “Nikki Haley Stumped,” their headline ran, “When Debate Moderator Asks Her To List Some Countries She Wouldn’t Invade.” Ha, ha, ha. The Bee continued the fun: “‘I don’t understand the question,’ a bewildered Haley said in response. ‘You’re asking me about countries to not invade? Why would there be any countries I wouldn’t want to invade? Is this a trick question?.’” Ha, as I say, ha.
Well, columns are not written under oath, and I suspect that there is an explanation for the burden of Karl Rove’s column that can save us the embarrassment of that version of modus ponens with which we began. For one thing, polls often have their meaning, at least in part, in the eye or heart of the beholder. People see in them what they want to see. So it is not surprising that Karl, who does not like Donald Trump, interprets a suite of polls most of us understand as encouraging for Donald Trump as encouraging for his candidate for a “fresh face,” Nikki Haley.
And then there is the issue of voters. The thousands of voters at Trump’s rally, the millions that tuned in to watch it on line, find in Trump’s countenance the freshness they desire. But if you step back and understand “voters” to mean people who agree with Karl Rove about Donald Trump then the world comes back into focus. By “voters,” you see, he didn’t mean “voters.” He meant something like what Rabbit, in Winnie-the-Pooh, meant when he spoke of his “friends and relations.”
Perhaps this is the place to acknowledge that none of us knows what is going to happen in the 2024 election. There are many, many variables which have yet to be assigned a value. A lot could happen, to the candidates, in the country, in the world. The burden of Karl Rove’s column is less factual than emotional. That is, it was meant less to inform than to cajole. It was meant to instill doubt about Donald Trump, fear about the course of the election, anxiety about the fate of his home team, the GOP. I am not sure it succeeds. It’s partly because the polls he adduces speak with different voices to different people. And it’s partly because those “voters” he alludes to just won’t line up in the queue he has prepared for them.
Then there are all sorts of pesky little developments. The news, for example, that Robert Bigelow, one of Ron DeSantis’s most prominent supporters, has withdrawn his countenance from DeSantis and is speaking kindly about Trump. He has yet to make a financial commitment for the very understandable reason that Trump is plagued by “kangaroo court” problems that could possibly land him in jail.
I suspect that eventually Bigelow will decide to support Trump, just as Home Depot Founder Bernie Marcus has decided to do. In a remarkable column for RealClearPolitics called “High Stakes and a Simple Choice,” Marcus, 94, explained that he was tired of politics and had intended to sit out on this election cycle. But the stakes were just too high, he decided. “We cannot,” he wrote, “let the America we see today be what we leave to our children and grandchildren.”
Many of our once-great cities have devolved into lawlessness with random violent attacks on innocent people, rampant looting, and large-scale homeless encampments. There are rarely consequences for the wrongdoers because George Soros-elected prosecutors across America refuse to prosecute them.
Karl Rove might agree with all that. The problem comes with the “simple choice” that Marcus outlines. “Let’s face it,” he writes, “Donald Trump is going to win the nomination.” Republicans who have the good of the country at heart “should be doing all you can to ensure his winning the general election.”
Marcus goes on officially to endorse Trump. His reasoning is interesting, not least in the context of what Karl Rove says about the voters. “I endorse him not only because he has the best chance of winning the general election but because he is the best person to take on and dismantle the administrative state that is strangling America.”
Then there is the rest of the world. We all know that Marcus is right when he notes that, “The new war in the Middle East will present great challenges for the free world for some time, especially in keeping other terrorist groups or nations out of the conflict.” Who is best equipped to face this challenge?
Marcus argues that Donald Trump is. After all, in his first term, Trump displayed “the judgment, strength, decisiveness, and courage” that brought peace to the Middle East, partly by ridding the world of creeps like Qasem Soleimani, partly by fostering world historical diplomatic initiatives like the Abraham Accords. Would Putin have invaded Ukraine on Trump’s watch? Would Hamas have invaded Israel? We cannot know for sure. But we do know that neither happened when Trump was president. Karl Rove tells us that “the voters” want a fresh face. I suspect that Bernie Marcus may be closer to the mark when he says that they want a seasoned and successful hand on the tiller.