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DeSantis Inches Into the Arena
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DeSantis Inches Into the Arena

Plus: Where West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice stands on a Senate run.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Iowa voters on March 10 in Des Moine. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Happy Wednesday! Pro-tip: If your boss just lost reelection by an embarrassing margin, don’t endorse her would-be successor. Learn from Chicago’s chief labor negotiator Jim Franczek, who has worked for five consecutive mayors but is now reportedly getting the boot from Lori Lightfoot. “Sources said a vacationing Lightfoot called Franczek on Monday and summarily fired him for doing a lengthy interview on a Chicago Sun Times podcast where he essentially endorsed Paul Vallas over Brandon Johnson in the April 4 mayoral runoff,” the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Up to Speed

  • Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin confirmed he won’t challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2024, telling the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Bill Glauber that he “would be bored as a senator.” Walker said he plans to stay on board as president of the Young America’s Foundation through 2025. But the 55-year-old 2016 presidential candidate maintains he’s open to another presidential run. “I’m a quarter-century younger than Joe Biden, so I’ve got plenty of time,” Walker told the New York Times last week. “But not in ’24.”
  • Oklahoma’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the state constitution guarantees a “limited right” to an abortion if the pregnancy endangers the life of the woman due to a condition she already has or is “likely to suffer from during the pregnancy.” According to the court’s majority, “Requiring one to wait until there is a medical emergency would further endanger the life of the pregnant woman and does not serve a compelling state interest.” But Oklahoma’s highest court court notably declined to weigh in on elective abortions, which were outlawed in the state last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade

DeSantis Takes His First Shots Against Trump

Since last year’s midterms, Ron DeSantis has kept a poker face while Donald Trump pummeled his personal life, his voting record, and his supposed disloyalty to Trump himself and to the MAGA agenda. There were two apparent rationales to this: DeSantis was studiously avoiding discussing the possibility of running for president—he’d just won reelection, after all—and he didn’t want to let Trump pull him down into the mud. But the one-way war couldn’t last forever. This week, DeSantis has inched into the arena for the first time, taking his first guarded shots at Trump and suggesting more openly than ever that he’s thinking of running to take on President Joe Biden.

The opening shot, as we noted Monday, came in response to the news of Trump’s possible forthcoming indictment in New York over alleged hush money payments to porn performer Stormy Daniels. DeSantis denounced the prosecutor who may bring the charge but also went out of his way to dwell on Trump’s alleged misdeeds: “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I can’t speak to that.”

DeSantis went further in a Fox Nation interview with Piers Morgan, excerpts of which were published by the New York Post Tuesday night. Asked to cite differences between himself and Trump, DeSantis brought up the former president’s reliance during the pandemic on Anthony Fauci, then the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The governor went on to draw a contrast between himself and Trump’s master-of-chaos leadership style: “I get personnel in the government who have the agenda of the people and share our agenda. You bring your own agenda in, you’re gone. We’re just not gonna have that. So the way we run the government, I think, is: no daily drama, focus on the big picture, and put points on the board.”

And he ventured a guess why Trump has soured on him of late: “The major thing that’s happened that’s changed his tune was my reelection victory.”

DeSantis might not have meant these as explosive digs—some are only marginally more pointed versions of lines he’s made in speeches before—but Morgan was happy to take on the role of fight promoter. “Ron DeSantis rips Trump’s character, chaotic leadership style,” blared the headline of the piece, which characterized DeSantis’ remarks as “a blistering attack on his former mentor.” It’s safe to say the former mentor is likely to take it that way.

Extradition Talk

DeSantis may have hoped to get through his legislative session before he started talking about Trump, but the apparent pending indictment may have forced his hand. When rumors that the indictment was just around the corner started flying, an online chorus of MAGAsphere personalities began to clamor for DeSantis to refuse to extradite the former president from Florida.

“DeSantis should be standing in the breach to stop any sort of extradition of Trump from Florida,” Rep. Matt Gaetz told NewsNation Wednesday. “The fact that he’s not doing so puts every Floridian at risk.”

We should say right up front: This would be impossible. A governor’s role in handling out-of-state extraditions—to the extent he’s involved at all—is essentially administrative: His counterpart in the state issuing the indictment sends him a written demand for extradition, and he checks to make sure it’s in good technical order.

The Constitution is straightforward (and the courts have affirmed) that individual states can’t simply decline to hand over another state’s fugitives. Here’s the relevant portion of Article IV, Section 2: “A person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the state from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.”

The extradition question is also likely a pure hypothetical—Trump’s lawyer Joseph Tacopina told reporters last week that Trump will voluntarily surrender for booking if indicted.

And DeSantis threw cold water on the notion while speaking to reporters Monday: “We’re not getting involved in it in any way.”

“Extradition is being used as a political talking point,” defense attorney Marina Medvin, a DeSantis supporter, told The Dispatch. “In the hypothetical situation that it did apply, DeSantis’s power to stop extradition would be limited to five issues he is permitted to look at, but he lacks discretion outside of that technical review.”

If he wanted, DeSantis could use that technical review as a fig leaf to throw up delays in processing Trump’s extradition—passing off the responsibility of following the law onto the federal courts, which would then have to issue an order compelling DeSantis to comply. But there’s zero chance such a maneuver would ultimately protect Trump from extradition—the legal principles involved are too simple and stark.

For some Trump supporters, however, that was beside the point. DeSantis should have taken an extradition stand even if it wasn’t within his authority to do so, they argued, just to prove he was willing to take the fight to the left.

“We all know DeSantis would lose extradition fight in court,” new right commentator Mike Cernovich tweeted Tuesday. “So what. Make the enemy [fight] for every inch.”

And Justice for West Virginia?

If there’s a more coveted Senate recruit for the Republican Party than West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, you’d be hard pressed to find him (or her). 

Justice is a former Democrat who announced his plans to affiliate with the GOP during a 2017 political rally in Huntington, West Virginia, hosted by then-President Donald Trump. “Tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican,” the governor said then, with a beaming Trump looking on. Republicans in Washington are hoping he’s ready for another switch: from the governor’s mansion in Charleston to a Senate office on Capitol Hill. 

Justice is playing coy, a response to heavy courting from top party officials and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) born of legitimate indecision, sources say. “Is he in? He’s not there yet. Does he like the attention? I’m sure he does,” a GOP operative in West Virginia told The Dispatch. Justice spent some time at NRSC headquarters in Washington last week discussing a potential 2024 Senate bid with Republican insiders, among them Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, the committee’s chairman. 

Senate Republicans are so focused on Justice simply because they believe he’s a near-slam dunk to oust Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who has defied the odds to win repeatedly in a state that shifted political allegiances long ago. Indeed, some Republicans believe a Justice candidacy will scare Manchin out of the race, betting the 75-year-old senator would prefer to finish a distinguished career in public service on top, rather than gamble on going out a loser. Notably, Manchin has declined to rule out mounting an independent presidential campaign.

Justice isn’t sold, and age is a part of the equation for him, too. The governor is a 71-year-old ultra-wealthy businessman accustomed to the CEO role who needs to figure out if he wants to be one of 100 Senate freshmen. And although Justice has a personal fortune to draw on, he might want to know exactly how much support he’ll get from the national party in the Republican primary versus Rep. Alex Mooney, the candidate preferred by the Club for Growth.

We reached out to a Justice spokesman multiple times attempting to figure this out for ourselves. No response so far. But Hoppy Kercheval, the dean of West Virginia journalists, pointed us to this comment the governor uttered during the State of the State address in January: “I won’t be your governor for a whole lot longer, but I surely won’t go away. You’ll probably be able to find me at home, or you may find me in Washington.”

“All indications are that he’s planning to run and he has made public comments that he’s leaning that way,” Kercheval said Tuesday. “Whenever he’s asked about it, he says everything but ‘I’m running.’”

Eyes on the Trail

  • GOP senators weigh in on potential Trump indictment: Facing swarms of reporters in the U.S. Capitol Tuesday evening, Republican senators almost uniformly pushed back on Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s reportedly looming indictment of Trump. But they diverged over whether the House GOP’s Judiciary, Oversight, and Administration Committee chairmen were right to double down on the news by requesting communications, documents, and testimony “relating to Bragg’s unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority” before any indictment has even dropped. “There’s more than enough to do,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told Punchbowl. “I would hope they would stick to the agenda they ran on when they got elected to the majority.” And Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas told Axios that “You want to know lots of facts before you set down that path.”
  • Bloomberg gives Hochul a boost: Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former three-term New York City mayor and 2016 presidential candidate, is giving New York’s Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul a helping hand as she fends off progressive opposition to her budget proposal in the state legislature. The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos scoops that Bloomberg “has given $5 million in seed money to help fund a blitz of television advertising, social media influence campaigns and rounds of mailers targeting individual lawmakers as they grapple with Ms. Hochul over the shape of the budget, according to two people briefed on his giving. Two more people, who also insisted on anonymity, confirmed the gift but not the amount.”
        • Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most Montanan of them all? As Audrey reported in November 2020, “Montana is a state that lends itself to retail politics: personality, personal connections, and state pride traditionally matter more than party labels. Senior Democratic Sen. Jon Tester used this strategy in 2018 against his Republican challenger Matt Rosendale, a state auditor who is a native of Maryland. In what became one of the most effective electoral slights in Montana’s political history, Tester’s campaign began referring to Rosendale as ‘Maryland Matt,’ which immediately solidified the latter’s reputation as an outsider and ultimately doomed the GOP’s hopes of ousting the Democratic incumbent.” It’s no wonder then that Tester—whom Republicans are hoping to oust next cycle—is already doing everything he can to emphasize his Montana roots ahead of 2024: from tweeting gory pictures of home-butchered meat to sending fundraising emails that emphasize his “$12 flattop haircut” and “collection of dirt-stained t-shirts.” But as Roll Call recently pointed out, Tester’s claim that he’s the “the only working farmer in the U.S. Senate” may be a bit misleading…

        Notable and Quotable

        “This is xenophobic … And it’s part of another Red Scare.”
        –Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman to Insider over bipartisan calls to ban TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing app, March 21, 2023

        Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

        David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

        Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.