The Political Report – July 20, 2023

“As the six-month sprint to the Iowa caucuses begins, the sprawling field of Republican presidential candidates is facing growing pressure to prove they can become serious challengers to former President Donald Trump,” the AP reports.

“The urgency is particularly acute for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who entered the race in May with expectations that he would quickly become Trump’s top rival. For now, however, he has struggled to generate the enthusiasm that Trump commands from the GOP base, leaving it uncertain he will become the threat to the former president that he was once billed to be.”

“Big Republican donors seeking an alternative to Donald Trump haven’t consolidated around a single candidate, increasing the likelihood of a protracted GOP primary fight with a crowded field of challengers,” Bloomberg reports.

“Presidential campaigns released their financial information Saturday to the Federal Election Commission, many for the first time. While Trump relied on his army of grass-roots supporters, deep-pocketed donors divided support among several candidates, making it harder for any of them to overtake the GOP frontrunner.”

“Kerry Kennedy, a sister of Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., lambasted her brother in a brief statement Monday after a report that quoted him as saying Covid-19 was ‘targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people’ and that Jewish people are most immune,” NBC News reports.

Said Ms. Kennedy in a statement: “I strongly condemn my brother’s deplorable and untruthful remarks last week about Covid being engineered for ethnic targeting. His statements do not represent what I believe or what Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights stand for, with our 50+-year track record of protecting rights and standing against racism and all forms of discrimination.”

According to Politico, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the longshot Democratic candidate’s remarks “false” and “vile.”

Rory Kennedy, the youngest child of the late Robert F. Kennedy, told The Guardian: “My feelings about my brother Bobby’s recent statement regarding Covid and ethnic targeting are very much aligned with my brother Joe, sister Kerry, and nephew Joe III – all of whom I admire for speaking out against him.”

She added: “There is a great deal of hate in the world and remarks like Bobby’s only serve to fuel that hate. Such conspiracy mongering not only creates more divisiveness, it actually puts people’s lives in danger.”

Boston Globe: “The 69-year-old environmental lawyer and antivaccine activist is waging a quixotic challenge to President Biden for the Democratic nomination. Polling usually shows his support somewhere in the teens, posing virtually no threat other than some mild embarrassment to Biden, despite some Democrats’ reservations about the octogenarian incumbent.”

“But the campaign has brought new and widespread attention to Kennedy, which in turn has elevated his conspiracy theory-laden views. Those include repeatedly debunked falsehoods and misleading statements about vaccines, public health, and about the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy. Each new comment has put an unwelcome spotlight on the broader family.”

Wall Street Journal: Silicon Valley money men are buzzing about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

DESANTIS 2024. “The long knives are out for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign manager amid a cash crunch and flagging poll numbers,” NBC News reports.

“Generra Peck, DeSantis’ top aide, is ‘hanging by a thread,’ said a DeSantis donor who is close to the campaign.”

Said a top DeSantis bundler: “It is the chatter among donors, and it extends beyond the first rung of the bundler class. Money people are losing confidence quickly. It’s time for that kind of change. It’s time for a shake-up at the top.”

For the first time in years, Gov. Ron DeSantis has agreed to give an interview to a mainstream television journalist, sitting down with Jake Tapper of CNN on Tuesday, Semafor reports.

“In choosing Tapper, who is known to aggressively fact check subjects mid-interview and follow-up on questions, the campaign may be hoping to engineer a confrontation similar to Trump’s CNN town hall to generate new interest.”

Philip Bump: “And, given the past willingness of DeSantis (and his team) to attack traditional media, this is not a bad guess.”

“I don’t think it’s true. The proof is in the pudding.”— Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a CNN interview, when asked if he’s alienating voters by taking extreme views.

“A super PAC supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is going on the offensive against Donald Trump, launching a new ad in Iowa amplifying Trump’s spat with the state’s popular Republican governor,” Bloomberg reports.

“The 30-second ad from Never Back Down, the super political action committee that backs DeSantis, calls Governor Kim Reynolds ‘a conservative champion’ and highlights Trump’s statement that she isn’t invited to any of his campaign events.”

Playbook: “If DeSantis does turn things around, he may have the FEC to thank. Up until the public disclosure of his campaign’s finances, the governor could maintain the fiction that he was running a frontrunner campaign with the resources to travel in presidential style and invest in large-scale ground games in both the early primary and Super Tuesday states.”

“Instead, the DeSantis campaign was the equivalent of three kids in a trenchcoat. When it was unbuttoned, we learned that the candidate campaigning on his executive experience and success running large organizations spent 40% of what he raised, with little to show for it. He had a million-dollar payroll and spent almost that much on travel. His small-dollar donor game was anemic (15% of donations), and $3 million of what he’d raised was earmarked for the general election.”

Though DeSantis insiders have been quietly grumbling about the mismatch between results and finances for weeks, the disclosure of the fundraising internals caused a reckoning. Donors and other supporters had to be mollified. Staff had to be fired. A new strategy had to be unfurled.”

“A pro-Ron DeSantis super PAC uses an Artificial Intelligence version of Donald Trump’s voice in a new television ad attacking the former president,” Politico reports.

“Its content appears to be based off of a post that Trump made on his social media site Truth Social last week…. It will run statewide in Iowa tomorrow and the ad buy was at least $1 million — a massive sum though one doable for the well-heeled super PAC.”

BURGUM 2024. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) told Hugh Hewitt that his presidential campaign will cross the 40,000 donor threshold to make the Republican debate stage later today.

BIDEN 2024. Heather Cox Richardson: “Joe Biden’s Twitter account put that line over an ad using the words of Georgia Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Turning Points Action Conference speech from last weekend, in which she set out to tear down the president’s policies but ended up making him sound terrific.”

“The description she intended to be derogatory—that Biden ‘had the largest public investment in social infrastructure and environmental programs that is actually finishing what FDR started, that LBJ expanded on’—was such an argument in Biden’s favor that the Biden-Harris campaign used it to advertise what the Democratic administration stands for.”

Politico: “Biden’s campaign spent a total of $1.1 million in the second quarter of this year, a remarkably small amount that would put him behind several Democratic Senate candidates in terms of expenditures.”

“Biden had four people on his payroll during that time: Campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez, principal deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks, spokesperson Kevin Munoz, and general counsel Maury Riggan. His campaign spent less than $1,500 on travel, accommodations and airfare. On rent, he spent nothing. He has not opened a campaign headquarters yet and much of his staff has been working out of the Democratic National Committee’s building.”

“It’s a vastly different approach than his old boss, former President Barack Obama, took in 2011 when he was running for reelection and spent more than $11 million in the second quarter of that year. And it has sparked concern among Democrats over what they see as the slow pace of the campaign.”

KEMP 2024. “Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ruled out running for president in 2024 and warned Republicans – including frontrunner Donald Trump – that they can’t win Georgia if they continue to spout false claims about election fraud from 2020,” CNN reports.

“Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is in Washington this week meeting with Senate Republican leaders — and creating a little buzz for Georgia’s next Senate race,” Politico reports.

“There’s no Senate race in Georgia this cycle, but there is one in 2026 — which just so happens to be when Kemp’s gubernatorial term expires. Kemp won his reelection campaign in 2022 by 7 points. Sen. Jon Ossoff will be up for reelection in 2026.”

TRUMP 2024. “Tensions between Donald Trump and his former press secretary, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have grown over her neutrality in the 2024 presidential race,” Axios reports.

“Trump’s frustration has risen recently because Sanders’ team had told his campaign she wouldn’t make an endorsement until after her first legislative session in Arkansas… That session ended in May, and still, no endorsement.”

“The irony is that Pence was arguably the primary enabler of Trump… He was the mainstream traditional conservative Republican who would go to donors and not just defend Trump and his policies, but with a straight face insist that Donald J. Trump was a good man.”— GOP strategist Rob Stutzman, quoted by the New York Times.

“Former President Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign is once again spitting on campaign finance laws, this time by hiring a strategist who was convicted of crimes related to a political bribery scheme—and who Trump later pardoned,” the Daily Beast reports.

“According to new disclosures filed over the weekend, Trump’s political operation has hired John Tate via his company, JFT Consulting, Inc. JFT received about $13,000 for ‘political strategy consulting’ in June—a $2,903 installment on June 6, followed by a flat $10,000 at month’s end.”

Jonathan Last: “An incumbent’s presidential record can be attacked. Some voters may like it. Some may not. But at the lizard-brain level, they have all seen him sitting at the big desk in the Oval. They know what he looks like as president.”

“An insurgent candidate has advantages, too. But having to clear the bar of being plausibly presidential is the biggest and most fundamental disadvantage any insurgent faces. If a candidate can’t do that, then nothing else he has going in his favor matters.”

“At the risk of stating the obvious: Joe Biden is president of the United States. Donald Trump used to be president of the United States.”

“How rare is this? The last time—the only time—it happened was in 1892 when President Grover Cleveland and former president Benjamin Harrison ran it back from the 1888 campaign, in which the insurgent (Cleveland) defeated a sitting president (Harrison).”

HALEY 2024. New York Times: “Nikki Haley, who served as United Nations ambassador under Mr. Trump and is now running against him, sounded exasperated when asked on Fox News about the investigation into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. She called it a ‘distraction’ from important issues like foreign policy, border security and the national debt.”

Said Haley: “The rest of this primary election is going to be in reference to Trump — it’s going to be about lawsuits, it’s going to be about legal fees, it’s going to be about judges, and it’s just going to continue to be a further and further distraction. And that’s why I am running, is because we need a new generational leader. We can’t keep dealing with this drama.”

RAMASWAMY 2024. “The investment firm founded by anti-woke crusader Vivek Ramaswamy is dialing down the very anti-woke rhetoric that made it prominent,” Semafor reports.

Ramaswamy said that the Jan. 6 insurrection was a “friendly preview” of what the country could see in the future.

“Vivek Ramaswamy, who’s climbed in the polls thanks in part to his strategy of embracing and defending former President Donald Trump, made headlines over the weekend when he blamed ‘pervasive censorship’ for the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol — but he had a different message in the days following the riot,” ABC News reports.

Said Ramaswamy, just after the insurrection: “What Trump did last week was wrong. Downright abhorrent. Plain and simple. I’ve said it before.”

FIRST GOP DEBATE. National Review: “The first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 cycle is about five weeks away, and there’s a strange, inverted dynamic at work in the GOP field. Usually, the frontrunner runs a cautious campaign, while the underdogs and longshots take bigger risks, attempting to stand out, gain ground, and peel away supporters from the frontrunner.”

“But so far, it feels like the opposite is happening, with a lot of the longshots running generic, predictable, cookie-cutter campaigns, while Donald Trump is his usual erratic, unpredictable, winging-it self.”

“Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie and Tim Scott have met the Republican National Committee’s polling and fundraising thresholds to earn invitations to the first GOP presidential primary debate next month,” Politico reports.

“In addition, Mike Pence has met the polling criteria but said earlier Tuesday his campaign is still shy of the 40,000-donor mark to qualify.”

“When the Republican National Committee released its qualification rules for the GOP’s first primary debate in August, a few Republican presidential contenders winced at the prospect of needing 40,000 unique donors to make the stage. Just six candidates have reached or eclipsed that mark so far, and it remains to be seen if some lesser-known candidates can do the same,” FiveThirtyEight reports.

“The donor requirement has created a perverse incentive in which some campaigns are willing to lose more money attracting donors than what they raise from them. Rather than trying to maximize the total amount of money they raise from donors, campaigns desperate to make the debate stage find themselves working to maximize the raw number of individual contributors, regardless of the costs.”

Axios: GOP presidential hopefuls roll out flashy prizes to incentivize donors.

WHITMER 2028. The New Yorker runs a must-read profile of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and how she helped turn her state reliably blue.

Whitmer says she’s focused on resurrecting the state’s economy by attracting young people, in part through implementing socially liberal policies they want.

YOUNGKIN 2024. Former Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross “is pulling together top donors and Republican Party leaders to meet with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin with an eye to recruiting him to run for president,” The Messenger reports.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) raised $29 million in the second quarter, Punchbowl News reports.

That outpaces Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) haul and positions Jeffries as a worthy fundraising successor to Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

CHRISTIE 2024. “A group supporting Chris Christie is out with a television ad trying to goad Donald Trump into a debate, signaling the former New Jersey governor is betting on a prime-time televised takedown to deny the ex-president the Republican nomination,” Bloomberg reports.

From the 60-second ad: “If you don’t go, you’ll be called a coward, a chicken — reduced to throwing spitballs from the sidelines. So, Donald, you need to decide, are you a chicken or just a loser?”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) is inviting all the GOP presidential hopefuls to join her for “Fair Side Chats” next month at the Iowa State Fair, Fox News reports.

Reynolds’ political team says the one-on-one style interviews “will go beyond just the issues of a presidential campaign and allow fairgoers to see who the candidates really are.”

NO LABELS. “The centrist group No Labels signaled on Monday it will present a candidate for a third party presidential ticket by Super Tuesday if it’s clear by then the choices will be former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden — and if the group sees public support for an alternative,” Politico reports.

Former Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO) spoke to PBS Newshour: “Our greatest worry is that campaigns take on a life of their own. If, next spring, they have raised a bunch of money, and they have candidates who are announced and out there, it will be very hard to pull that effort down. That’s our great worry, is that we will just blindly walk into a reelection of Donald Trump.”

Mother Jones: “No Labels, the self-professed centrist group that is preparing to possibly run its own presidential candidate in 2024, says it is not a political party. That means it does not have to reveal the donors that have pumped tens of millions of dollars in recent years into its coffers. Parties must disclose their funders; nonprofit outfits, as No Labels claims to be, do not.”

“But in several states, No Labels has established an affiliate that explicitly declares it is a political party, and some of these groups, particularly the party it set up in Florida, have deep Republican roots.”

Anne Applebaum: “Today, Tennessee is a model of one-party rule. It has a Republican governor and legislature. Republican appointees run the state supreme court. The state’s nine-member U.S. House delegation contains eight Republicans; Tennessee has sent two Republicans to the Senate. The governor is the only other official elected statewide. Unlike in other states, the attorney general and secretary of state in Tennessee are appointed, and they are both Republicans too.”

“Nor will the situation be easy to change, because gerrymandering is something of a blood sport in the state. The still-blue city of Nashville had a single Democrat representing it in Congress, but when the map was redrawn before the 2022 elections, GOP lawmakers split Nashville into three districts that stretch out into the countryside. Each elected a Republican.”

HUTCHINSON 2024. “Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson pledged to offer kickbacks to donors or those who procure donors in a bid to make the first primary debate next month,” National Journal reports.

Said Hutchinson: “If people will get 100 donations, then we’ll put them on the payroll in the sense of an independent contractor, and they’ll get a percent of what we raise.”

Hutchinson told News Nation that Donald Trump’s “stranglehold” on the Republican Party is the reason he was subjected to a mass booing during a speech over the weekend.

However, he added: “But what you saw in that audience were thousands of young people who I was speaking to, and they were listening.” 

“Former aides to members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday launched the first-ever super PAC affiliated with the caucus’s political action committee, adding a powerful new player to the stable of Democratic groups with plans to spend big in the 2024 election,” the HuffPost reports.

“The Rolling Sea Action Fund, so named for lyrics in the Black national anthem, intends to spend upwards of $10 million on TV and digital advertisements, field organizing and other forms of engagement directed at Black voters in an effort to help Democrats retake the House of Representatives.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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