The national 2024 polls on the GOP side still show Trump with more than a 30-point lead over DeSantis and everyone else bunched at 5 points or less. But yesterday a story broke about how Tim Scott has now broken through the double-digit ceiling in Iowa, with his latest poll number at 11 percent.
What Scott’s upward shift in Iowa represents is a determined effort to get him running as a legitimate candidate in the early primary states, the idea being that once those numbers begin to move upward, that he will emerge as a serious contender to Trump in the other, later primary states.
Scott’s showing in Iowa appears to be largely the result of his campaign plunking down a lot of cash to buy TV ads, with the more than $3 million that his super PAC has spent in July being the most that any GOP campaigner has spent.
Several years ago, one of the NBER research teams did a study on determine the impact of spending on campaign outcomes. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the paper in the NBER archive, but the issue being examined was whether candidates who spent more money on their campaigns did better at the ballot box than candidates who spent less.
The conclusion of this study was not what you might expect, because the research team could only identify one, specific positive result from how much money was spent on a campaign, namely, that a relatively unknown candidate saw his or her name become better known based on how much money the candidate spent. On the other hand, even though campaigns with newcomer candidates became more competitive thanks to larger injections of cash, all that happened was that the lesser-known candidate lost by a narrower margin but still ended up on the losing end.
Obviously, Tim Scott was hardly a household name in Iowa before he showed up to start a campaign. And the fact that he has tripled his poll numbers in the three weeks that he has spent a big wad of cash in Iowa tends to validate what he NBER researchers learned about the way in which money can impact a political campaign.
But the problem that Scott will encounter at some point is the same problem which partially explains the rapid demise of the DeSantis Presidential bid, namely, that Trump still seems to hold the lion’s share of political support within the rank and file of the GOP.
I don’t think there is a single GOP Presidential wannabe who has declined to join the anti-abortion crusade with the exception of Trump. And since you can’t run for the GOP nomination without being hysterical about the Southern border or LGBTQ ‘rights,’ what else is there which might differentiate someone like Pence, or Christie, or Scott, or even DeSantis from the rest of the crowd?
Trump realized early on that running a national campaign really involved running a continuous minstrel show where a large group gets together, eats a hot dog, listens to some country music, yells some vulgar chants and oh, by the way, applauds and screams every time the minstrel (a.k.a. Donald Trump) yells out one of his signature rants about the fake media, or the Deep State, or the Russia hoax.
What Trump understood or maybe understood after it was explained to him by Rush Limbaugh, is that if you are going to run a successful populist campaign where you appeal to the ‘average’ person who feels he has been overlooked or screwed by the elite, you have to make such folks feel they belong to a special group.
This is the reason why Trump uses the word ‘love’ again and again when he stands up in front of a crowd. He ‘loves’ the people who waited for hours to get into the rally, he ‘loves’ the crummy, little town where the rally took place, he ‘loves’ the guy who just took a selfie to send back to all his friends and neighbors after driving four hundred miles to attend the event, he loves, he loves, and he loves.
Why would anyone who is told that he or she is the object of Trump’s ardor and affection give one rat’s damn about whether Trump is indicted or not?
Until and unless the rest of the GOP primary field figures that one out, the top of the 2024 Republican ticket is effectively set.