The Sweep: A Taste of 2024 Strategy

A (satirical) peek behind the presidential positioning curtain.

Chris Stirewalt, the erstwhile politics editor for Fox News and friend of this newsletter, has had some free time on his hands of late. And I asked whether he would want to share some of his insights with you all, dear readers. We talked deadlines and topics that might interest y’all. But then, last night, Chris happened to email me exactly the type of juicy 2024 strategy memo that Sweep aficionados will appreciate.

Of course, after reading it, I reached out to Governor Wormwood’s campaign for comment about this leaked strategy memo, but they referred me to their communications consultant at Screwtape Enterprises, who replied that “the safest road to reforming the Republican Party is a gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

But even so, I think you’ll find—as I did—that it’s filled with some interesting observations (about alpacas?) and predictions (also about alpacas?). And from what I hear, Chris may be able to get his hands on even more of these nuggets in the coming weeks and months. 

But before we get to that …

Woof: Senator Raphael Warnock became Georgia’s first black senator when he was sworn in last week. And the New York Times had an interesting write up of the campaign’s advertising strategy that was heavily reliant on a beagle named Alvin. But the biggest surprise: Alvin isn’t Warnock’s dog! And before people get too high on their partisan horses (puppies?) around here, it might be worth noting that Michael Steele ran very similar ads back in the 2006 Maryland senate race that he lost to Ben Cardin. And that wasn’t his dog either!  

The Stat 2024 Hopefuls Are Pondering This Week: “61% of Trump voters say they trust their employer's CEO. That compares to just 28% who trust government leaders, and a mere 21% who trust journalists,” according to Axios.

Religion in Politics: Tevi Troy did an inaugural address deep dive, telling us something about our modern campaigns and politics along the way. “In the 29 speeches from Washington through William McKinley’s second inaugural in 1901, only 11 alluded to the Bible,” Tevi found, “the frequency has increased since, with 23 of 30 speeches making a biblical reference.”

Did January 6th Matter? Maybe Not: Morning Consult polled Texans and Missourians before and after Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley objected to Biden’s slate of electors in the hours following the riot at the Capitol. For me, these sort of “tracking polls” are the most reliable way to judge whether voters changed their views about a given issue. And in this case, of course, we want to hear from GOP voters in their home states, so it’s as good as a poll can get for these purposes. And here’s what they found: “Hawley’s approval rating among Missouri Republicans fell 9 percentage points, while Cruz saw a 5-point dip in his job approval among Texas Republicans during the same time.” But, it’s worth noting that even after the riots, “among local Republicans, the share who strongly approve of Cruz (46 percent) is [STILL!] 16 points higher than the share who say the same of Cornyn.” 

2022 Drama: A few weeks back, I wrote in this newsletter that “[Ohio] is a safe seat for Republicans unless something drastically changes.” Well, it just did. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced he will not run again. We still haven’t heard a definitive answer from Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin about his plans. So this means Republicans will be defending seats in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio and potentially Wisconsin without incumbents.  

Pivot!

Last week, I watched a fascinating presentation by Doug Kronaizl, marquee staff writer at Ballotpedia.org, after his deep dive into the 2016 pivot counties and how they performed in 2020. Pivot counties, as y’all will remember from previous editions of The Sweep, are the 206 counties that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then “pivoted” to Trump in 2016. The 181 that stayed with Trump in 2020 became “Retained Pivot Counties” and the 25 that bounced back to Biden have been deemed “Boomerang Pivot Counties.” 

One data nugget I found fascinating was that Trump’s margin of victory decreased in 93 of the original 2016 pivot counties (68 that he retained and the 25 that Biden won back). But his margin actually increased in 113 of those original pivot counties, which tells us just how much more polarized the nation has become in the last 12 years. 

I asked Doug what his biggest takeaways were. First, he noted that “the number of Retained Pivot Counties was much higher compared to previous years with large pivots.” For example, Doug also looked back to the last pivot election. “In 2008, there were 264 counties that voted for the Democrat, Obama, after voting for the Republican, Bush, in 2000 and 2004,” Doug said, and “of that total, 54 percent flipped back to Republicans with Romney in 2012.” But this time, only 12 percent of the pivot counties came back to Biden.

And why was that? As Doug put into one of his slides, around 62 percent of Americans identify as white, but in those Retained Pivot Counties that number is up around 80 percent. “The results in these Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties fits in with the broader urban-rural contours of American politics,” he said. “Consider Suffolk County, N.Y., a Retained Pivot County on Long Island. It was the largest Pivot County with a population of 1.5 million. Trump won the county in 2016 by about 50,000 votes, or six percentage points. In 2020, Biden narrowed Trump's margin of victory to 232 votes, or 0.1 percentage points.”

Elections come down to voter turnout, as we know. And while voter turnout in both Retained and Boomerang Pivot Counties went up by about 7 percent from 2016, Boomerang Pivot County turnout was up around 72 percent in 2020. Retained Pivot County turnout, on the other hand, was actually below the national average--only hitting 68 percent. 

Just how pivoty are these counties? 35 voted like this: Clinton-Clinton-Bush-Bush-Obama-Obama-Trump. And of those 35, 32 voted for Trump again this time around. 

If you’d like to watch Doug’s whole presentation, you can find it here.

Stirewalt’s Memo

To: Interested parties

From: Strategy team

Re: Wormwood 2024 pre-primary state of play

After hearing from a lot of you squishes about “bad optics” from having several of the Capitol rioters photographed for their mug shots in Wormwood shirts and one admittedly unfortunate neck tattoo, we thought it was time to remind everybody of what we’re doing here.

From the beginning of our effort with Gov. Wormwood our endless, pitiable struggle has been to raise his name identification. After years of grueling work, we stand at the threshold of actual celebrity. This is the point, people!

You’re nuts if you think that we’re giving up after all this firm has put into taking a man with the personality of an undercooked lamb chop and making him seem like some kind of transgressive political rebel.

We’d direct you back to the slide Taylor M. shared on our Zoom last week that showed a 44 percent increase in primary voters identifying the governor as  “dangerous.” His word cloud now includes “rabid” and “intense.” At the same time we’re hearing fewer mentions of “doughy,” “creepy,” and even our old nemesis, “translucent.” Sadly, “punchable face” remains a top response.

It seems like just yesterday that we were sitting down with the very first billionaire eager to fund our candidate’s passionate, uncompromising work on whatever issue mattered most to them that day.

Since that first campaign for state agriculture commissioner (something to do with animals for sure—we all remember the incident with the alpaca) we have changed the policies and personas many times.

We have been on both sides of military intervention, trade, federalism, subsidies, deficit spending, free speech and term limits. We have presented the governor as both a wily player of the inside game and a straight-talking outsider. We have been a scolding voice for civility and a scorched-earth owner of the libs.

But no matter where we have followed money and attention, we have always made one thing clear to our donors: In order to achieve whatever goals mattered so much to them at the time, the first step is to raise our notoriety. First we get famous, then we will achieve lasting victory on blah, blah, blah …

Many of you lamestream types doubted this strategy when we ran and won the most expensive House campaign in state history. You complained again about our ultimately unsuccessful but strategically brilliant primary challenge against Sen. Clutterbuck.

Remember how foolish you felt when it paid off and President Trump made the governor the first left-handed American of Welsh origin to serve in a cabinet-level post? Or how perfectly we timed the departure to run for governor?

All of the work—the late night and early morning cable hits, the skinny lattes with extra birthday-cake-flavored vodka you made for Mrs. Wormwood, the innumerable reporters’ eye rolls, the contempt of your peers, the ruined personal lives and, for many of you, the loss of once-promising professional careers—has led us to this moment.

While Clutterbuck and all of the other senators are going to be stuck in Washington trying to get attention for opposing Joe Biden, we’ll be out here in the real America doing something about it. The ones in our lane—Cruz, Hawley, Blackburn and Johnson—need Mitch McConnell’s permission to go the potty. We can say and do anything we want, all the time.

Plus, they’ll have to actually do things and take votes. The holier-than-thou Republicans like Romney, Sasse, and Scott who said they were too good to get in on the sweet, sweet #StopTheSteal action are going to be hating it in Iowa and New Hampshire when we’re talking about how they voted to fund the lib provisions that are in whatever fiscal deals they make.

As for Rubio and Cotton, Tyler B.’s focus-group work suggests that they have so far failed to convince the Q-curious voters that they’re really on their side. But if they chase MAGA votes, they’ll keep losing with the conservatives who launched their careers.

While all those dopes are sitting through an impeachment trial and either gurgling about their duty to the Constitution and the republic or elbowing Lindsey Graham out of a live shot to be the 20th person that day to call it a coup by the radical left and big tech, where’s Wormwood?

As we write this, two satellite trucks are parked outside of the governor’s mansion for primetime hits on our whole secession “hot mic” rollout. For those who didn’t read Tyler S.’s memo, the point of the secession leak is to pivot tonight to launch the criminal investigation we’ve ordered into Biden and Harris. The t-shirts and neck tattoo just make it all the more irresistible to the press.

If everything goes according to plan, we’ll have every political reporter in the country writing about the first-ever state to indict a sitting president and vice president. I hear you saying “It will never get through court.” Even better. Remember, accountability is the enemy and publicity is the goal.

One day soon, the name Wormwood will no longer evoke memories of a viral video of a man with a sweaty upper lip being attacked during a local TV interview by a crazed alpaca. It will be synonymous with greatness.