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The Unrestrained 2024 Front Runners

November 02, 2023
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The behavior of the front-running Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns is perplexing. Neither Joe Biden’s surrogates nor Donald Trump seems to know the value of restraint.

First there’s the rhetorical hell Democrats rained down on Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips after he announced he’s running in the New Hampshire presidential primary. Mr. Phillips believes that Mr. Biden is too old and that Democrats will lose the White House unless they nominate a younger leader.

Mr. Biden’s allies quickly blasted away. Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Donna Brazile predicted Mr. Phillips won’t be at the party’s convention next summer “unless he’s an automatic superdelegate.” Democratic House colleagues called his bid a “head scratcher” and an “exercise in futility.” Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, called Mr. Phillips’s entry “clueless.” 

A “senior Black Democrat” told ABC News that by filing for the New Hampshire primary without entering the South Carolina contest, Mr. Phillips is “skipping a very diverse state to go to a nondiverse state.” That’s “a telltale sign of where your values are.” Congressional Black Caucus Institute Chairman Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.) came close to calling Mr. Phillips racist, saying he was “disrespectful to . . . voters of color.” Even Minnesota’s Democratic governor disparaged Mr. Phillips, suggesting in a Biden fundraising email that he was doing “crazy things” and creating “political side shows.”

But why give the largely unknown congressman the attention? Trashing him generates more coverage of him and his argument that Mr. Biden is too old. That’s a statement 73% of voters, including two-thirds of Democrats, agreed with in an Aug. 30 Wall Street Journal poll. Instead of flame-throwing the Minnesotan, the smart move for Team Biden would have been a polite acknowledgment of his entry by a level-three underling. Then silence by all concerned.

Keeping quiet when it’s wise has never been the Republican front-runner’s strength, either. These days Donald Trump can’t stop harping on the polls. In Waterloo, Iowa, last month, he bragged, “We’re leading by a lot.” “Nationally,” he said, “we’re leading by numbers that nobody’s actually quite ever seen.” He claimed to be 67 points ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Actually, that day he was at 57% in the RealClearPolitics average, 45 points ahead of Mr. DeSantis. That’s strong but not 67 points. 

It’s strange Mr. Trump keeps stressing and exaggerating how far ahead he is. Does he think that will demoralize his competitors’ supporters? Maybe. Narcissism is a more likely explanation. Either way, he’d be better off playing down the polls and saying he expects the contest to tighten. That would soften the blow if he gets a surprise.

And one may well arrive. In Iowa, where voters have seen more of the rest of the field, Mr. Trump’s numbers are lower. A new poll there has him at 43%, followed by Mr. DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at 16% each. While a 27-point lead is healthy, it could shrink. Fifty-four percent of Republicans say they’re open to changing their minds. Between the undecideds and those committed to someone else, nearly 6 in 10 aren’t in Mr. Trump’s camp today. Ms. Haley especially has momentum in Iowa, where she’s risen 10 points since August. Posturing as having an insurmountable lead could make Mr. Trump look weak if he wins Iowa with significantly less than 50% and someone’s nipping on his tail—never mind if he loses. 

Mr. Trump combines his bravado about the polls with constant personal attacks on other GOP candidates. The Florida governor is “DeSanctimonious” and “really overrated.” Ms. Haley is “birdbrain” and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a “bum” and “fat pig.” Shortly after Mike Pence gracefully withdrew from the contest Saturday, Mr. Trump couldn’t control himself. He lambasted his former vice president as “very disloyal,” “delusional” and “not a very good person.”

The behavior of the front-running Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns is perplexing. Neither Joe Biden’s surrogates nor Donald Trumpseems to know the value of restraint.

First there’s the rhetorical hell Democrats rained down on Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips after he announced he’s running in the New Hampshire presidential primary. Mr. Phillips believes that Mr. Biden is too old and that Democrats will lose the White House unless they nominate a younger leader.

Mr. Biden’s allies quickly blasted away. Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Donna Brazile predicted Mr. Phillips won’t be at the party’s convention next summer “unless he’s an automatic superdelegate.” Democratic House colleagues called his bid a “head scratcher” and an “exercise in futility.” Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, called Mr. Phillips’s entry “clueless.” 

Read More at the WSJ

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