Welcome to Trail Mix, a fun but nutritious snack for your election news diet. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, we pull back the curtain on the GOP’s increasingly fraught electability debate over abortion, with exclusive reporting on more white supremacist involvement in the New Hampshire governor’s race and the mystery of a Michigan Senate candidate’s auto manufacturing job experience. Plus, a vibes-based theory gets put to the test, and how many times can Ted Cruz plug his podcast in under a minute?
Inside the GOP’s War Between Anti-Abortion Wins and Winning Elections
With Donald Trump already starting to look past the primary and toward the general election, the former president is striking a much more moderate tone on a topic that has recently plagued Republicans at the ballot box: abortion.
“We can win elections on this issue,” Trump said last Friday at a key conference for anti-abortion rights conservatives, “but it’s very delicate and explaining it properly is an extremely important thing.”
Despite appointing the three Supreme Court justices who were integral to overturning Roe v. Wade, Trump is trying to sell voters on the idea that he’s more moderate on the issue than his Republican opponents. Gone are the days of telling then-MSNBC host Chris Matthews “there has to be some form” of punishment for women who get an abortion, or declaring to himself as “the most pro-life president in American history.”
Instead, voters are getting a version of Trump whose position on abortion seems to be that he’s savvy about his position on abortion.
“You have to be able to speak and explain it properly,” Trump said last Friday at the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee’s leadership summit in D.C. “A lot of politicians who are pro-life don’t know how to discuss this topic.”
Trump has been hitting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on the issue—calling Florida’s ban on abortion after six weeks “a terrible mistake” for DeSantis—but he’s also been telling otherwise friendly crowds something they don’t want to hear: abortion bans are a losing issue.
“The federal government should stay out of abortion,” a source close to the Trump campaign told The Daily Beast. “For my whole life, it was overturn Roe, overturn Roe. Trump delivered, but when that happened, it wasn’t enough. And now they want more and more and more.”
The Trumpworld operative’s frustrations are shared by other Republicans on the campaign trail who continue to sound the alarm, mostly in private, over how the eventual Republican nominee will have to moderate their stance on abortion in order to have any chance at competing in the 2024 general election.
“If Republicans underestimate it, it’ll be to their peril,” Lee Hartley Carter, a Republican pollster and messaging strategist, told The Daily Beast.
While Carter said she steers clear of taking on any clients pushing for abortion bans, she said she would have some simple advice for a hypothetical client looking to survive the GOP primary and the general.
“If the Republicans are going forward with their pro-life stance, what they’re going to have to do is come up with a pro-woman agenda,” Carter said. “Women are not voting because they’re saying I want an abortion, they’re saying I want equal rights.”
Carter noted that abortion is an especially salient issue not just among Democratic women voters, but also female independents, with Democrats holding a majority of support on abortion from that group and seven-in-10 American women under 50 telling pollsters they don’t trust Supreme Court justices when it comes to their own reproductive health decisions.
While some rival campaign aides have grumbled about Trump’s pivot on abortion, he may be the only GOP politician with the ability to pull it off.
“The fact that he is the guy who got us here in the first place,” former Obama chief strategist David Axelrod told The Daily Beast, “has given him the running room to stray a little now. No one is going to trump Trump on abortion from the right, because he appointed the judges who ended Roe v. Wade.”
Trump, for all his other liabilities as a candidate, has an instinctual pragmatism where he “knows what it takes to be elected,” Carter said. “And he’ll do whatever it takes.”
Carter’s main advice for the rest of the field is to avoid any language that either uses the term “ban” or connotes the thought, part of what she described as a broader problem for the GOP’s brand among marginal voters.
“Book bans, anything around that, that’s what you’ve got to stay away from,” Carter said. “We don’t want them to tell us what to do.”
With the Trump campaign already pivoting to a general election, expectations are cooling when it comes to the issue that cost Republicans dearly in the midterms, and served as a wakeup call via more recent ballot referendums Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana.
“We need to be realistic here,” the source close to the Trump campaign said. “We delivered on returning the power back to the states, and we should take our wins incrementally.”
White Supremacists Give Ayotte an Ayoo!
Kelly Ayotte, the Republican former New Hampshire senator now running for governor, is once again catching the fancy of far-right extremists.
While Ayotte has threaded the needle with Trump in her own weird way—saying the former president has her vote, but not her endorsement—she seems to be having no problem when it comes to white supremacists.
“New England White Network is pleased to announce that we are officially endorsing Kelly Ayotte to become the next governor of New Hampshire,” the group’s founder posted on pro-Trump forum Gab, crediting Ayotte with “making it her mission to prevent New Hampshire from turning into a state like Massachusetts.”
Although the nascent neo-Nazi group was launched in 2022, it’s already been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as a “small white supremacist group” known for “writing letters, emails or online posts directed at various Democratic politicians, Jewish people, minorities, the LGBTQ+ community and educators of diversity curricula among others.”
Back in August, Trail Mix reported exclusively on Ayotte’s connection to other top extremist figures in New Hampshire, Jeremy Kauffman and his wife, Rachel Goldsmith, who have been involved with Moms for Liberty, a group with ties between the Proud Boys and Jan. 6 and the Free State Project, a breakaway libertarian group that advertised a life free of government interference by courting people to move to New Hampshire and eventually form an independent state that would secede from the union.
Ayotte’s campaign did not return a request for comment.
It remains unclear whether Ayotte has a real chance at an endorsement in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary, with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s looming retirement leaving Democrats with their best chance to regain Concord’s corner office since he took over in 2017.
Chuck Morse, the Republican leader of the state Senate since 2018, missed out on Trump’s endorsement in the 2022 race for Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan’s seat. Hassan ultimately shellacked retired Brigadier Gen. Don Bolduc, who got a Trump endorsement after the primary. Trump indicated that he regretted his decision when he was in the state for a luncheon in June.
“Oh, I wish I endorsed you,” Trump told Morse, who gave Trump a hearty “me too” in response.
Rogers Runs for Senate, Assembly-Line Experience Preferred
Michigan Senate candidate and former congressman Mike Rogers recently told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt that, “I’m the only guy that actually has worked in a car factory running for office in Michigan.”
No such experience is mentioned on his LinkedIn, where his professional career starts with a job he co-founded with his brothers after graduating college in 1985.
However, Rogers told The Daily Beast that during his college years, he picked up some experience “working on the line” at two since defunct auto companies, Cars & Concepts, which made Chrysler convertibles, and Thermofil, whose facility emitted dangerous PFAS chemicals into the local groundwater in Lansing after a March 1998 fire. He may not have been clocking in full-time, but what was once an item that didn’t make the cut on the candidate’s resume is now becoming central to his Senate bid in the capital of the automotive age.
While Rogers’ LinkedIn profile shows more experience on boards of directors than in blue-collar work, expect to see the Republican candidate play up his small role in the state’s manufacturing history as he faces attacks from opponents over his most recent residence in Florida. With former Detroit Police Chief James Craig set to join the race on the GOP side, Rogers will be in for a more competitive primary than Slotkin, who has several opponents, but none of the rising stars initially in the mix.
“They were important jobs to help me pay for college,” Rogers said, “and appreciate the importance of manufacturing jobs.”
Trump Voter Vice Signaling
There’s a new theory going around in GOP campaign circles. Both national and early state polls, some anti-Trump Republicans believe, are over-inflating the former president’s support as respondents offer his name not as a sign of genuine support, but as a grievance against coastal elites… making phone calls for polls.
“These polls, they’re not picking up the real Trump vote,” a Republican operative supporting a rival candidate told The Daily Beast. “They pick up the phone, and they just say Trump because they’re unhappy with the direction the country is going in, and they don’t like the legal cases being brought against him.”
It’s almost an upside-down version of the phantom Trump voters theory from both before and after the 2016 election, where pollsters engaged in several years of hand-wringing over undersampling non-college-educated white voters in polls—a group far more likely to vote for Trump.
For longtime Florida pollster Brad Coker, the theory is just a symptom of what a snoozer the 2024 race has become. Coker has previously said the GOP may abandon Trump over something seemingly inconsequential in a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back-type fashion, but in this case, he thinks it’s less complicated than some of the rival campaigns may hope.
“People are too focused on polls that are way out, and on an electorate that’s half-engaged,” Coker said. “I mean, yeah, [the Trump campaign] probably persuaded some people that might’ve been looking at DeSantis to come back to Trump.”
The veteran pollster said Trump’s post-indictments bump “had a lot more to do with the fact that Trump benefited” from the investigations against him and keeps “tying all that back into why he ran in the first place.”
Odds and ends
Larry Elder says seceding from the union is no big deal. Technically still running for president, Republican talk radio host—and failed California gubernatorial candidate—Larry Elder sat down with a leader of the Free State movement to suggest the U.S. splitting in two wouldn’t be that bad.
“I have no idea what kind of world we would have had Lincoln not stopped the South from seceding,” Elder told a longtime Free State Project activist at conference hosted by the Texas Nationalist Movement, a group trying to withdraw Texas from the United States, “but it certainly is something that we ought to be thinking about. It’s not a crazy idea.”
This was in response to whether Elder would send in troops to stop a group looking to peacefully secede from the Union. Elder’s broader argument, borrowed from the late conservative economist Walter Williams, is that “the South should have been allowed to secede. And that had the South seceded, we would have avoided 600,000 deaths, on both sides, and millions of injuries. And eventually, slavery would have imploded on its own accord because of economic reasons, because of moral reasons.”
Vander shots fired. Iowa Republican Bob Vander Plaats, one of the most influential figures in the caucus, took aim at Trump on Thursday, making his own grab bag version of a counterargument to the electability dynamic Trump is trying to lean into on abortion.
“Just to clarify...currently, @RealDonaldTrump is stumped on the definition of a woman, is proud to have locked down the country, enforced vaccine mandates while handing over power to #Fauci and is now clearly #ProChoice,” Vander Plaats posted on X. “So, where’s the win? Asking for a friend.”
Did you know Ted Cruz has a podcast? A new anti-Cruz PAC has cut an early candidate for ad of the year, splicing together more than 40 instances of the Texas senator plugging his, you guessed it, podcast.
Lien on me. Our Roger Sollenberger dove into Nikki Haley’s accounting history in this week’s Pay Dirt newsletter, including new details about money her family earned from a tribal casino that went bust.
Today Tomorrow Toyota. Hill Harper has an acting resume that any Democratic candidate would love to have, except in Michigan, where his past ad spots for Toyota could be a problem, Sam Brodey scooped.
Farewell to Rons. The MAGA trolls are moving on, leaving their favorite pastime of roasting Ron DeSantis behind and moving on to the general election, Trail Mix author Jake Lahut reported exclusively.
DeSantis NH operation ‘on life support.’ With more than a month since his last visit, DeSantis has fallen 32 points to fifth place in the latest New Hampshire poll on Wednesday, and his campaign is panicking, per Politico’s Lisa Kashinsky and Kelly Garrity.
The power of mugshot merch. CNN’s Kate Sullivan interviewed more than 40 Trump supporters on the trail who explained why the indictments have them more revved up than ever before, and how closely they verge on Civil War 2.0 rhetoric.