Happy Monday. Our thoughts are with the victims of Saturday’s mass shooting at a shopping mall in Allen, Texas as well as Sunday’s deadly incident in Brownsville. Read more details about what we know about both incidents in The Morning Dispatch.
Up to Speed
- Here’s a poll to shake any lingering weekend cobwebs out of your brain: An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last week found President Joe Biden’s approval rating at a career-low 36 percent, with 68 percent of respondents saying he’s too old to serve another term and likely voters giving a sizeable edge to both leading Republicans in general-election matchups. The poll found former President Donald Trump leads Biden 49-42 and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis leads him 48-41.
- Seven years after being outmaneuvered at times in the delegate-selection process by Sen. Ted Cruz’s superior state-by-state political operation, Trump is making sure not to make the same mistake this cycle. Politico reports that the former president and his team have spent ample time in the early stages of the primary wooing likely future delegates in key states, another likely procedural advantage he’ll take into a nominating fight against likely future rival Ron DeSantis.
- Federal prosecutors will reportedly soon decide whether to indict President Biden’s son Hunter Biden, whose foreign business dealings have been under investigation since 2018. In a rare interview with MSNBC Friday, the president defended Hunter’s conduct, arguing that “My son has done nothing wrong.” Asked how an indictment would affect his presidency, Biden replied, “I trust him. I have faith in him. It impacts my presidency by making me feel proud of him.”
- Ron DeSantis was a featured speaker at the Marathon County Lincoln Day GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner in north central Wisconsin Saturday evening, alongside GOP Rep. Tom Tiffany. “No question, a breakout event for [DeSantis],” one Republican activist who attended the event told The Dispatch. “If his goal was to introduce himself to northern Wisconsin, which has been trending Republican, his performance was an easy 10 on the scale.”
- In the wake of yesterday’s mass shooting, President Biden again called for Congress to pass a raft of new federal gun legislation, including a so-called assault-weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines and implementing universal background checks for gun buyers. “We need nothing less to keep our streets safe,” Biden said.
Chris Christie on the Cusp
Chris Christie is planning a campaign for the Republican nomination that takes almost exclusive aim at Donald Trump, casting the Republican frontrunner as a coward and his presidency as a failure. His decision on joining the race, he tells The Dispatch, is just days away.
“I’m not dumb. The way to win is to beat the guy that’s ahead. And so what would a campaign look like? A campaign would look like a direct, frontal challenge to Donald Trump,” the former two-term New Jersey governor said in a lengthy Dispatch Podcast interview. “His presidency failed us.”
That failure, as Christie describes it, is why the former president is reportedly planning to skip the first GOP debate in Milwaukee in August—and possibly the second debate as well.
“He can’t defend his record, he can’t defend his conduct, and he’s afraid to get on stage with anybody who will call him to task on it,” Christie said. “What are we supposed to do, give him a participation trophy for the last time?
“The streak of yellow down his back is visible from where I’m sitting,” Christie added. (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)
Christie has taken a journey to the anti-Trump position. Soon after dropping his bid for the GOP nomination for president in 2016, Christie endorsed Trump and remained an adviser and staunch ally for the next four years. He only broke with Trump after the then-president refused to concede his loss in the 2020 election to Joe Biden. Since then, Christie has been among the few prominent Republicans willing to aggressively criticize Trump in public.
A federal prosecutor before becoming governor in 2010, Christie, 60, has spent the past six months mulling a second presidential campaign. He hosted a few town hall meetings and attended a few house parties in New Hampshire in April as part of the decision-making process.
The appearances have been encouraging, Christie said, reminding him of how much he enjoys interacting with voters. He’s also learned that Republican primary voters are looking for a viable alternative to Trump, notwithstanding the former president’s massive lead in early polling. Having concluded that his candidacy would not be a lost cause—or simply a kamikaze mission to take out Trump—and with his family’s full support, only one question remains to be answered.
“Making sure that you have the resources necessary to be able to communicate—we’re still exploring those issues. And we’ll come to a conclusion pretty quickly,” Christie said. “I expect I’ll decide in the next 10 days or so.” That was five days ago. If he runs, Christie said he will be supported by the same team, “in essence,” that has been with him since his first gubernatorial campaign in 2009.
At least one wealthy Republican donor, Bobbie Kilberg, seems interested in seeing the former governor run. “I think Chris has the guts and the stamina and the energy and the determination to basically take down Donald Trump. He’s not afraid of doing it,” said Kilberg, who recently met with Christie and said she encouraged him to run.
Meanwhile, count Christie among those Republicans who believe the federal government has to overhaul Medicare and Social Security to avert a debt crisis and preserve the fiscal sustainability of the two programs. Trump opposes reforming the popular entitlements and has even attacked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely presidential candidate, of wanting to gut Medicare and Social Security.
“I’m going to protect those programs. But the way to protect them is to do something to fix them,” Christie said. “Believe me, I know Donald Trump won’t, because he did nothing to fix [them] in the four years he was there. And if you give him four more years, he won’t do it.”
Mark Walker ‘Leaning’ Toward North Carolina Governor’s Race
Former GOP Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina tells The Dispatch he’s “leaning” toward running for retiring Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s seat next year.
“We’re trying to clear a few benchmarks that we need to see fall into place—whether that’s endorsements, whether that’s a level of support as we just test putting some things out there,” Walker said in a Friday interview. “If we check all those boxes, I think we will continue to move forward in that direction.”
A campaign from Walker—a former pastor who represented North Carolina’s 3rd District between 2015 and 2021 and finished third in last year’s U.S. Senate primary—could shake up a primary that already includes frontrunner Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and state Treasurer Dale Folwell. If he runs, Walker plans to take direct aim at Robinson, a former furniture manufacturer who rose to prominence after delivering a viral gun rights speech to a town council meeting in 2018.
Robinson, the state’s first black lieutenant governor, has a strong base of grassroots support. But many operatives worry that his controversial views, checkered personal and campaign finance background, and history of disparaging remarks against minority groups could make him a weak general election candidate against Attorney General Josh Stein, the Democratic frontrunner and likely nominee.
Some of Robinson’s more alarming statements include mocking child shooting survivors, arguing that maggots serve more of a purpose on Earth than gay people, and decrying the Marvel movie Black Panther as “created by an agnostic Jew and put to film by satanic marxist” to “pull the shekels out of your Schvartze pockets.”
Walker, who previously chaired the conservative Republican Study Committee and served in House GOP leadership, emphasized that North Carolina “is considered a purple state,” where independents and suburban voters are key to any general election victory. Although Republicans hold both U.S. Senate seats and a supermajority in the state legislature, Democrats have won seven of the eight most recent gubernatorial elections dating back to 1992.
“I believe the ability not just to hold the conservative positions but to be able to share those conservative positions in a way that compels people as opposed to repels them, I think, is what North Carolina needs,” Walker told The Dispatch.
A Robinson spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Eyes on the Trail
- It was just a memo: Former President Donald Trump continues to do his best to discourage Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from challenging him for the Republican nomination. Last week, that effort took the form of a Trump campaign memorandum claiming DeSantis is running out of money while his poll numbers drop. Translated, the memo from top Trump campaign strategists Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles appears aimed at the governor’s financial backers, listing the millions of dollars invested so far by pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down and juxtaposing that with recent GOP primary polling trends: “What you are witnessing is fleecing on an epic scale. Tens of millions of donor dollars spent, while poll numbers … drop.” DeSantis and Never Back Down appear unmoved: The governor is taking steps to get into the race, and his super PAC continues to hire and advertise.
- A MAGA culture armistice? Here’s something odd that’s started bubbling up on the right recently: hardcore MAGA Republicans like Arizona’s Kari Lake suggesting that culture-war issues should take a back seat to economic and foreign policy concerns in the leadup to 2024. This, too, seems to be downstream from the Trump/DeSantis clash for head of the GOP class. As Nick Catoggio noted in Boiling Frogs Friday, DeSantis can make a strong case that he has been a more effective executive in prosecuting the culture war as governor than Trump was during his first term: Just look back over the list of wins DeSantis racked up in the Florida legislative session that just wrapped up, from a six-week abortion ban to a huge school-choice expansion to constitutional carry to bans on sex-change operations for minors and DEI initiatives in universities. Meanwhile, Trump is on stronger footing with the populist base in crucifying stances DeSantis took while a Tea-Party era congressman on reforming entitlements and projecting strength abroad. If DeSantis is going to gain ground against Trump, he needs cultural issues front and center in the upcoming primary.
Notable and Quotable
“I’m laughing, because I literally just spent time explaining how broken the two parties are. You don’t leave one broken party to another.”
—Independent Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to ABC News’s Margaret Brennan on why she wouldn’t join the Republican Party, Friday, May 5
Senior editor Michael Warren contributed to this edition.