Governor Pawlenty and Brianna Keilar spar on extremist behavior at CPAC
'Do you have an actual example?' Keilar spars with former GOP governor
06:14 - Source: CNN

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Democrats are moving to the middle in recent political tests. Republicans are marching more toward former President Donald Trump and, increasingly, trying to outdo themselves in their fealty.

Kristi Noem, the South Dakota governor, is one potential Republican candidate for president and her speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference this past weekend, with its focus on her hands-off approach to Covid, sounded like the backbone of a conservative campaign.

Drawing distinctions with other governors. It was particularly interesting since she compared her own efforts to other Republican governors. Although she didn’t name names, think of Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott of Texas when you read this from Noem: “We’ve got Republican governors across this country pretending they didn’t shut down their states; that they didn’t close their regions; that they didn’t mandate masks.”

And this: “Now, I’m not picking fights with Republican governors. All I’m saying is that we need leaders with grit. That their first instinct is the right instinct.”

Or this: “Demand honesty from your leaders and make sure that every one of them is willing to make the tough decisions.”

As well as this: “South Dakota did not do any of those (measures). We didn’t mandate. We trusted our people and it told them that personal responsibility was the best answer.”

Note on South Dakota’s Covid deaths: A larger portion of South Dakotans died from Covid than it most other states, according to CNN’s tracker and Johns Hopkins. In South Dakota, 230 people per 100,000 died from Covid. In the United States as a whole, about 185 people per 100,000 died.

CNN’s Maeve Reston, who wrote about the speech, was among reporters who talked to Noem after her speech, when she made clear that the entire field will have to wait for Trump to decide on another run.

Inspirational. “I think he’d be fantastic,” Noem told Reston and others. “He gets up every day and he fights for this country,” Noem said. “Most people when they watched what he and his family went through would be exhausted and quit, out of discouragement. And the fact that he’s still fighting is inspirational to me.”

The lesson Republicans have taken, then, is that Trump is their inspirational leader and Trumpism is the way. But they’re ready in case he doesn’t run in 2024 and in that case they’re going to draft behind him.

Democrats look to moderates. Democrats are learning a very different lesson after Eric Adams, a moderate, won the New York City mayoral primary and Terry McAuliffe, an old school Clinton-style Democrat, won the Democratic primary for governor in Virginia.

Adams appeared on CNN over the weekend and criticized Democratic lawmakers for their efforts on gun control. He argued more should be done to control the flow of handguns into US cities.

This may be too simple, but it’s certainly worth considering: Democrats are inching to the middle and Republicans are running toward Trump.

‘Electricity and fervor for Trump is very much alive.’ What Matters asked Reston, who spent the weekend among Republicans at CPAC, for her thoughts on that oversimplification and whether there’s a middle in today’s GOP.

Here’s what she sent back:

RESTON: There certainly is a sliver of the Republican Party that is exhausted by Trump and ready to move on, but those people are by far the minority.

The more that I talk to Republican voters in places like Iowa and gatherings like CPAC – where the attendees are the true foot soldiers of the party – the more I’m struck by the fact that Trump isn’t going anywhere.

What I hear over and over again from GOP voters is that they have no desire to move on. They aren’t casting about for a new candidate for 2024 or even really thinking about other people who would run.

The vast majority of GOP voters I’ve talked to want to see Trump run again. They see his presidency as unfinished business and many have accepted the alternative reality he’s created about the 2020 election.

Yes, they like other potential contenders like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – who was, once again, the most popular choice after Trump in CPAC’s unscientific straw poll. But they see all these people like DeSantis, Mike Pompeo and Noem as mere back-up options if Trump decides not to run.

The electricity and fervor for Trump is very much alive.

Attendees literally left the room dancing last night after his speech. So as much as Democrats would like to believe that Trump is a “has-been” or a figure of the past – they are fundamentally misunderstanding the mindset of the GOP today.”

There were leaders of fringe groups like the Oath Keepers who were involved in the January 6 riot at the Capitol in attendance as well.

Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican governor of Minnesota who is not actively running for anything and has called on his party to evolve, was asked about CPAC on CNN’s “New Day” on Monday and he tried to equate extremists on the right to extremists on the left.

“The Republican party does not want to become the party of, you know, extremist folks who have conspiracy theories and are militant and violent, and the same is true on the left,” he argued, although the point here is that Trump, who controls the energy in the party, is intentionally appealing to extremism whereas Biden is talking about the need for unity.

“I think it’s a disservice to the debate to say there’s only crazy militant people on the right, said Pawlenty. “There’s also crazy militant people on the left, and the rest of us in a democracy have to be united enough and common – have enough common sense to say we’re not embracing any of that, right or left, in who we choose as leaders and how we govern our country.”

10 seats most likely to flip in 2022. Americans get their next say in who controls the national government in about sixteen months, when control of the House and Senate are up for grabs.

CNN’s Simone Pathe published her latest in a series of periodic check-ins on the political map.

Her list is of the 10 Senate seats most likely to flip from one party to the other. But only eight of them are considered to be competitive at the moment, according to Inside Elections. Four of those are controlled by Democrats at the moment and four are controlled by Republicans. Pathe’s slightly larger list features two additional retiring Republicans in Ohio and Missouri.

Each of these races will be shaped in the coming months as primaries develop. Both parties will have important decisions to make.

Top pickup opportunity for Democrats, per Pathe:

Pennsylvania where GOP Sen. Pat Toomey is not running for another term – remains the seat most likely to flip, in large part, because it’s an open seat in a state that Biden carried last fall. And while this race may come down to whatever the national environment looks like next year, Democrats regard it as their top pick up opportunity – even if they don’t yet know who their candidate is going to be.

She outlines a crowded Democratic field and notes two names: Conor Lamb, the moderate congressman, and John Fetterman, the progressive Lieutenant governor. This could be an interesting primary. Neither man has officially jumped in the race.

The top pickup opportunity for Republicans, per Pathe:

Georgia – Republicans are eager to redeem their trifecta of recent losses here. But they’re still in a waiting game when it comes to who will avenge the loss to Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who’s now running for a full six-year term. That’s because Herschel Walker, encouraged by Trump to run, continues to have a freezing effect on the field. Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black announced his candidacy in early June, becoming one of the most prominent candidates so far, while other Republicans have been reluctant to jump into the race if they know someone else will have Trump’s backing. Former Rep. Doug Collins, for example, already passed on a run. Walker, who lives in Texas, teased a campaign with a June 17 video of him revving the engine of a car with Peach State license plates (in a garage). “I’m getting ready,” the former NFL running back said. Trump said in a radio interview last week that Walker told him he’s decided to run. GOP strategists, however, are nervous about a risky candidate jeopardizing a must-win seat.

Those who want to be in Republican politics are finding a way to talk the talk.

Revisionist history. J.D. Vance, the Ohio businessman who wrote the best-seller “Hillbilly Elegy” about how he got from growing up in a poor family in Ohio to Yale law school, is a prime example.

Scrubbing his past as he mounts a run for Senate, Vance has had to explain and delete tweets that were critical of Trump.

“Like a lot of people, I criticized Trump back in 2016,” Vance explained. “And I ask folks not to judge me based on what I said in 2016, because I’ve been very open that I did say those critical things and I regret them, and I regret being wrong about the guy. I think he was a good president, I think he made a lot of good decisions for people and I think he took a lot of flak.”

CNN’s Chris Cillizza explains what’s happening here:

Look. This isn’t complicated. In 2016, Vance wasn’t running for Senate. Now he is. What he said then was what he believed. What he is saying now – essentially totally disowning what he said then – is born of political necessity.

That necessity? Kissing up to Trump. The political reality at the present moment, and this has been the case since at least 2017, is that you simply cannot win a contested Republican primary unless you are outspokenly pro-Trump.