The English use the word “moot” to put forward an idea for discussion. So let me share, or moot, an idea to escape the stale and now taken for granted narratives about next year’s elections. As we all know, the pundits take it for granted (or almost so) that the race for President will be between President Joe Biden and Former President Donald Trump.
There are two facts that have had me looking for potential variations on “the race is fixed” proposition. My love of jazz often nudges me toward improvisation.
The first fact is that younger voters by huge margins don’t like either candidate and history show they are often late to tell a pollster what they actually intend to do. The other is that all voters by something around 70% do not want this rematch. And I am in the 70% so my bias favors dynamism.
So, I moot that soon it will be apparent that Former Governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is Trump’s principal challenger. The assumed number two has been, for months, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, but his approval numbers have been in a tail spin. The momentum of subtraction is hard to reverse.
Haley has enjoyed good debate reviews and a doubling or more of poll support. She is, according to the Real Clear Politics average in the crucially important State of New Hampshire, running ahead of Governor DeSantis. Importantly she has begun to attract those people and organizations that write big checks. This monetary poll is almost as important as the approval/disapproval ones. A bad balance sheet in national politics is terminal.
Haley’s deserved debating reviews show that she is able to go beyond talking points. It is always evident when candidates speak in poll tested sentences or clever marketing lines. Voters know that leadership does not come in shrink-wrapped packaging. In the two debates she has quickly and deftly pushed back without turning sour or predatory.
So, I moot that Trump and potentially Biden will have to include Haley in their calculations. Both are a generation older. Neither are as able on the debate stage. Trump, in particular, has more trouble with female challengers and voters. Notably Haley has drawn a Trump sobriquet; he now calls her Birdbrain. Haley’s energy and deftness on the debate stage will be telling if she faces Trump or Biden—a Birdbrain she is not.
Finally, the short game is winning the next and next polls. Do not expect in the Republican Party primary non-Trump candidates to do well in that game until after the New Hampshire or South Carolina votes have been cast.
The long game is consolidating assets and then using them to change the narrative and momentum. Trump’s peril is he is way ahead—he is bumping into his support ceiling. Haley’s momentum, if she can sustain it, would be transformative.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.