Happy Wednesday! Donald Trump told the world on Tuesday he’s been informed he’s the target of another criminal probe and expects to be indicted on charges related to January 6. On the same day the special counsel leading that investigation, Jack Smith, was spotted by CNN grabbing a bite to eat at a Subway in Washington.
Up to Speed
- President Joe Biden has reinforced his lean campaign team, adding three new members to the payroll to bring the total employees to seven, Politico reports. The announcement follows his campaign’s $72 million second-quarter joint fundraising haul with the Democratic National Committee. Biden revealed Tuesday his campaign will be headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware.
- At the Christians United for Israel Summit outside Washington on Monday, Republican presidential candidates, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and former Vice President Mike Pence, attacked Democrats’ stances on Israel. DeSantis called the Biden administration’s Israel policies “disgraceful.” Haley added: “The Democratic Party is the definition of extreme.” And, Pence criticized recent remarks from Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. “President Biden and every Democrat member of Congress should denounce them,” the former vice president said.
- A newly released anti-Trump ad from the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down uses artificial intelligence to create a voiceover that sounds a lot like the former president. The audio is a reading of a recent Truth Social post from Trump criticizing Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Never Back Down previously used AI to add fighter jets to footage of a DeSantis speech.
- Retired Navy Capt. Hung Cao launched his campaign for U.S. Senate in Virginia, hoping to win the seat occupied by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. Cao, a Republican, lost a closer-than-expected congressional race against Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton in 2022. Cao joins a Republican field that also includes activist and former Ron DeSantis aide Scott Parkinson.
- Several House Freedom Caucus members hope to succeed Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania as the group’s leader when his term expires at year’s end. Contenders include Republican Reps. Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Chip Roy of Texas, Bob Good of Virginia, and Warren Davidson of Ohio, according to Politico. The Freedom Caucus board is expected to choose Perry’s successor.
- No Labels, a centrist group seeking presidential ballot access for a third party candidate, officially launched its 2024 effort at an event in New Hampshire on Monday, reports the New York Times. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and former Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah jointly introduced the group’s policy manifesto but told reporters the pair were not coming out as an official third-party presidential ticket. The two said that No Labels would not even form a ticket if the Republican and Democratic nominees embraced moderate positions. “That won’t happen if they’re not threatened,” said Manchin.
- In a unanimous decision released Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court dismissed Trump’s petition to prevent an Atlanta district attorney from investigating alleged 2020 election interference and discard evidence from a special purpose grand jury. According to Georgia’s top court, Trump failed to demonstrate “extraordinary circumstances” that would warrant its intervention.
Pence Focuses on Fundraising as Debate Pressure Mounts
Mike Pence is racing to amass enough campaign donors to qualify for a crucial Republican debate in Milwaukee that is five weeks away.
The former vice president remains short of 40,000 individual donors required to earn a spot in the televised August 23 faceoff. To get there, Pence is focused on converting donors to the political nonprofit organization he founded after leaving office into campaign contributors. For this and other fundraising efforts, Pence is leaning on direct mail. It’s a historic strength for the former vice president but takes longer to produce results than digital appeals.
Fundraising through online platforms is also a priority. Like any modern presidential contender, Pence is using media interviews and social media posts to acquire donors and boost his war chest. The campaign acknowledges it’s been slower going than preferred but says the former vice president is on track. Just Tuesday, spokesman Devin O’Malley reveals, Pence’s appearance on “Fox & Friends” generated 200 new donors in the 15 minutes immediately following the Fox News morning show segment.
“The rate of unique donations has ticked up with each week,” O’Malley tells The Dispatch. “As that rate increases, so does our level of confidence that he’ll be on that stage.”
The super PAC supporting Pence’s White House bid, Committed to America, is working separately to effect this outcome.
“We have been doing conduit fundraising since Pence announced—both digital and mail—to supplement the campaign and build up its donor base,” veteran Republican operative Scott Reed, the group’s senior strategist, says. “We are confident putting these efforts in place will help to ensure he makes the debate stage.”
Super PACs are prohibited by federal law from coordinating with campaigns. But they are permitted to augment campaign activities. Hosting an event where a candidate interacts with voters is one example of this sort of “legally appropriate” assistance. In this instance, Committed to America is mining for Pence supporters via direct-mail and online appeals and then directing them toward the campaign so the former vice president can encourage and capture their financial contribution.
The Republican National Committee has set polling and fundraising thresholds for the party’s first presidential debate. Pence appears to be polling well enough, running third nationally with an average of 6 percent. But the former vice president’s second quarter fundraising was anemic—even accounting for the fact that he entered the race on June 7, three weeks before the end of the period. Normally a prolific fundraiser, Pence raised just under $1.2 million and reported $1.1 million in cash on hand.
Longshot contender Chris Christie didn’t do much better, collecting just over $1.6 million after launching his campaign the same week. But the former New Jersey governor, who trails Pence in many polls, says he has already acquired enough donors—40,000 total, including at least 200 in 20 states or U.S. territories—to qualify for the debate. Republican insiders who are rooting for Pence to succeed say his weak fundraising is a reflection of the myriad challenges he faces in the 2024 primary.
Some say he’s caught between grassroots Republicans supportive of, or at least sympathetic to, Donald Trump—and GOP voters who want to move on from the former president. Those still fond of Trump are angry with Pence for refusing to go along with his old running mate’s schemes to overturn the 2020 election. Those who have turned against Trump believe the former vice president was too accommodating, despite his actions on January 6, 2021.
Some say Pence’s problem is that he’s a candidate better fit for the pre-Trump era, when Republican voters gravitated toward statesmen who delivered serious speeches and did not expect presidential campaign rallies to deliver the thrill of a concert or sporting event. Some say the former vice president’s biggest hurdle is that Republican voters consider him a throwback to a political era defined by Ronald Reagan—an era they prefer to leave behind.
Indeed, Pence is running as an unapologetic Reagan Republican, promoting policies and a civility more common before Trump first ran for president eight years ago. “The shadow of Donald Trump is very long and it’s casting itself over Mike Pence,” says Dave Wilson, a conservative political consultant in South Carolina who is neutral in the primary. “He’s been out there campaigning. But he’s going to have to bring the pep rally to campaign.”
DeSantis Shifts Media Strategy with CNN Interview
After keeping the mainstream media at arm’s length for months, Ron DeSantis sat down Tuesday with CNN’s Jake Tapper for a wide-ranging interview that gave the Florida governor a chance to defend his record, his proposals, and the state of his campaign. The interview was the first to reflect a new media strategy for the DeSantis campaign, which is struggling to break him out of his second-place status in most national polls against the frontrunner, Donald Trump.
“This is a state-by-state process. I’m not running a campaign to try to juice, you know, whatever we are in the national polls,” DeSantis said.
Despite his often antagonistic relationship with non-conservative media, DeSantis maintained a respectful rapport with Tapper as their conversation touched on foreign policy, social issues, and Trump’s potential coming indictment. While there were none of the friendly questions often posed to him on networks like Fox News, DeSantis was given a platform to explain his views under direct questions—the sort of scrutiny that he would face on a daily basis as president—while reaching an audience of potential supporters who don’t consume conservative-leaning media.
“He needs to do this three times a day, every day,” said Kevin Madden, a top adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, who told The Dispatch DeSantis performed well in the CNN interview and should continue to engage with mainstream news outlets. “He should be talking to every affiliate in South Carolina, Iowa, and New Hampshire.”
Tapper kicked off the interview by asking DeSantis to respond to Trump’s claim on Tuesday he had received a letter from the Justice Department saying he was a target of an investigation regarding the January 6 riot. At first, DeSantis pivoted to dismissing another indictment, from Manhattan Attorney General Alvin Bragg, as politically motivated. He also spoke broadly against the “weaponized” FBI and Department of Justice before Tapper pressed him about the possible forthcoming indictment from special counsel Jack Smith.
“I hope he doesn’t get charged,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think it would be good for the country.”
In a discussion about foreign policy, DeSantis insisted there is no strategic interest in deploying U.S. troops to defend Ukraine and said as president he would try to bring an end to the conflict with Russia. Asked if a U.S.-negotiated end to the war should mean Ukraine ceding land to Russia, DeSantis declined to get specific but outlined his larger view.
“So what I would say is, the goal should be a sustainable and enduring peace in Europe, but one that does not reward aggression. And there’s going to be different levers that you’re going to be able to pull. We will pull some levers against Russia,” he said. He also contrasted his outlook in Eastern Europe to that in the South China Sea, where fears that China could invade Taiwan are growing.
“Now, in terms of Taiwan, that is a significant interest of the United States,” DeSantis said. “Taiwan is a strong ally. Taiwan is important for us economically and for a variety of other reasons. Also, a potential Chinese attack on Taiwan successfully would have big reverberations in the Asia-Pacific. But our policy’s going to be very simple. We’re going to deter that from happening. China respects hard power.”
DeSantis also defended his conservative record and viewpoints on certain social issues, including his recently signed ban on abortions after roughly six weeks of gestation—though he declined to endorse a federal policy along those lines or any other.
“I’m pro-life, I will be a pro-life president, and we will support pro-life policies. At the same time, I look at what’s going on in the Congress, and I don’t see them, you know, making very much headway. I think the danger from Congress is, if we lose the election, they’re going to try to nationalize abortion up until the moment of birth. And in some liberal states, you actually have post-birth abortions, and I think that’s wrong,” he said.
At the end of the interview, which took place in South Carolina, Tapper asked DeSantis directly if he would win the Palmetto’s State’s primary on February 24.
“Yeah, we are. I think this is a great set-up for me. I’m the only veteran running. I’ll be the first president elected since 1988 that served in a war. There’s very few states in this country with a stronger active-duty military presence and veteran presence than here,” he said. “This is a great state for us.”
Notable and Quotable
“I don’t think it serves us good to have a presidential election focus on what happened four years ago in January. I want to focus on looking forward.”
—Gov. Ron DeSantis, in his interview with CNN, Tuesday, July 18