Honestly, I can’t decide whether to interpret this strange three-way micturation contest between Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and Joe O’Dea, the Republican Senate nominee in Colorado who has an outside shot of knocking off Democrat incumbent Michael Bennet, as a portent of something unfortunate to come … or as a grand show that might just steal a seat away from the Evil Party.
The background here is that O’Dea was one of the few candidates who managed to survive the experience of not getting Trump’s endorsement in a Republican primary this year. There are things to like about O’Dea — he’s a self-made man who built a decent-sized Denver construction company, he’s got a small-government, fiscal-conservative message, he’s pro-domestic energy, and he’s a law-an-order guy. O’Dea has also passionately talked about securing the border, particularly given the mass murder of Americans with Chinese fentanyl coming over courtesy of Mexican drug cartels.
On the other hand, he couldn’t be softer on abortion, and he’s completely vacant on the subject of fighting the cultural aggressions of the Left. O’Dea gives off the unmistakable whiff of a Lisa Murkowski/Mitt Romney/Bill Cassidy Stupid Party Republican.
The Democrats didn’t want O’Dea as the GOP nominee. Democrat groups dropped some $10 million in favor of Ron Hanks, who was the Trump-endorsed candidate, because they thought he’d be easier for Bennet to beat. Remember that, and the dozens of other instances where they attempted to manipulate GOP primaries (many of whom will have backfired horrendously on them come Nov. 8 when the MAGA revivalists they thought would be dead ducks in the general election end up taking out their candidates), when they regurgitate their little narrative about how the new conservatives are a “threat to democracy.”
O’Dea beat Hanks by 10 points in the Colorado GOP Senate primary, and he’s picked up support from the party’s establishment, including several million dollars from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Senate Leadership Fund — money that isn’t being spent on candidates closer to victory such as Blake Masters in Arizona and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. Probably because O’Dea would presumably vote for McConnell as the Senate Majority Leader while Masters and Bolduc won’t. For further clarification, see Alaska.
Trump is calling O’Dea a RINO. He doesn’t have a legislative or executive record in government that we could evaluate; at one point it was the fear of a great many conservatives that Trump himself was a RINO, and he proved those fears wrong.
Would O’Dea, should he win? Who knows?
Is it better that he wins, even if he is a RINO? Well, yes and no.
For the Senate to be an actual asset to the conservative movement requires more than just making a GOP majority. As we’ve seen, 51 votes and Mitch McConnell in charge is almost worthless, because getting the Romneys, Murkowskis, and Cassidys of the world to line up for things that are conservative priorities is a whole lot harder than it should be. At this point the goal is to have enough actual conservatives in place that (1) someone other than McConnell can find a majority to unseat him as the leader, or at least (2) that there are 51 solid votes in favor of the conservative position on every issue in front of the Senate so that its work in the next Congress isn’t a series of episodes of Failure Theater.
Which could very well mean Joe O’Dea might be the difference in getting the second objective met, if not the first.
He’s repudiated Trump, and Trump has repudiated him. That was true of Ben Sasse, who made himself more than a little irritating with his scoldings of the president. But as much of an insufferable Never Trumper as Sasse is, he’s actually a pretty good vote, unlike Romney and Murkowski.
If O’Dea is a Ben Sasse, he might be useful even if he’s not a loyal soldier in the political wars. He’s holding himself out as a Republican Joe Manchin, which sounds pretty unsavory until you realize that for all the hemming and hawing Manchin did, he delivered pretty much everything Joe Biden wanted over the long haul, minus the truly outlandish stuff like packing the Supreme Court or killing the filibuster. And Mitch McConnell as the GOP Senate leader will ask nothing outlandish of Joe O’Dea. You need somebody with far more vision than McConnell running the caucus for that to become an issue.
This all became interesting because DeSantis is now helping O’Dea:
Former President Donald Trump responded to reports that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed anti-Trump Republican candidate Joe O’Dea, taking to his Truth Social platform on Sunday evening to say it was “A Big Mistake.”
DeSantis recorded a robocall advertisement for O’Dea, touting the candidate as the right choice for Senate in Colorado.
“America needs strong leadership and desperately. That’s why I’m endorsing Joe O’Dea for US Senate. Colorado, please vote for Joe O’Dea,” DeSantis says in the recorded message O’Dea posted on Twitter. “I’ve watched Joe from a distance. And I’m impressed.”
“I think that seeing a Biden-Trump rematch again in 2024 would rip the country apart,” O’Dea said on “The Ross Kaminsky Show” in August. “I think a lot of people are ready to move our country forward. So, I wouldn’t support him running again.”
On Monday Trump called O’Dea a “RINO,” or a Republican in Name Only, and discouraged his supporters from voting for him in the general election.
“MAGA doesn’t Vote [sic] for stupid people with big mouths. Good luck Joe!” Trump wrote on Truth Social, referring to O’Dea.
The Business Insider piece refers to insults made by Trump insiders about DeSantis behind closed doors, and a growing feud between the two. DeSantis’ re-election opponent Charlie Crist, amid getting his backside handed to him again and again in Monday night’s debate, tried to stoke all this by demanding DeSantis guarantee he wouldn’t run for president in 2024, which led to this:
DESANTIS: "The only worn-out old donkey I'm looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Christ."
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) October 25, 2022
This column has preached as loudly as possible that what we need for an American revival is not Trump or DeSantis, but Trump and DeSantis. If that means Trump playing kingmaker and rainmaker while exercising a role as policeman of a populist conservative movement while DeSantis steps forward as the standard-bearer, that’s fine. Some might say it’s preferable. Or if Trump runs in 2024 and DeSantis finishes his second term as Florida’s governor and then carries the GOP ticket in 2028 and 2032, that’s fine too.
Trump versus DeSantis in a presidential primary fight which turns into a political nuclear holocaust within the GOP? Not fine. Not unless something happens between now and this time next year which makes Trump so damaged politically — and what comes to mind there isn’t stupid things like a politicized indictment but more along the lines of a health issue — that there’s no way he can win. And that something would have to be pretty severe.
One imagines both of them know this, and neither one is stupid.
Which is why there’s another possibility here.
What if this was all orchestrated?
Obviously, Trump wanted Hanks, so it wouldn’t have been orchestrated from the beginning. But once O’Dea was the nominee, maybe the judgment became that Trump voters are going to support him, period, because Bennet is atrocious, and to win O’Dea has to bring across the soft Democrat vote.
In Colorado, that’s a real thing. There are too many California leftists living there now for any conservative but a truly elite politician to win on a full-spectrum hard line.
So Trump couldn’t help O’Dea if he wanted to, which he doesn’t anyway. But it’s still preferable to have an extra Republican vote. Especially if O’Dea is going to be a Sasse rather than a Murkowski. So O’Dea channels Sasse and says gripey things about Trump, and all of a sudden he’s that Republican that centrist Democrats can tolerate because they think he shares their hatred of Trump.
And you get DeSantis to pitch in, because the independents might respond to DeSantis and the hard-core Republicans will like him as a stand-in for Trump. And maybe DeSantis’ vouching for O’Dea helps solidify that Trump vote that went for Hanks in the primary while convincing some purple and light-blue voters to join the red wave.
The latest numbers from Colorado in the running CIVIQS survey of Joe Biden’s approval indicate there’s reason to think such a strategy might bear fruit. Biden is underwater 44-47 in Colorado, which is a little better than his 40-52 national number, but he’s getting killed 35-52 with independents and by a 96-2 count Republicans disapprove. Colorado Democrats love them some Joe Biden in ways which aren’t healthy, but even within that there are still 7 percent disapproving. We’ll assume those are the bluish-purple types who might cross over and vote for a Republican if Trump isn’t involved.
So yeah, there could be a path to 50 percent plus one for O’Dea if he consolidates the GOP vote and carries the independents and a few Dems, and maybe this is a way of doing that. Trump publicly griping at DeSantis would even lend some weight to the gag.
If somebody is executing that plan, it’s pretty clever. It might even work.
I’m not saying that’s what’s happening. I’m just theorizing. Because that’s a lot better than the prospect of a brewing Trump–DeSantis war that only degenerate slimeballs like Charlie Crist and the people who handle Joe Biden want to see.