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T-Minus One Month Until the First Republican Debate
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T-Minus One Month Until the First Republican Debate

Plus: Donald Trump tries to flood the zone with evidence he’s inevitable.

(Photo of Donald Trump by Mario Tama/Getty Images. Photo of Ron DeSantis by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Happy Monday! Are you looking for an exciting new opportunity to take a leadership role in a small organization with potential for growth, all while living in a paradise on Earth? The Hawaii Republican party is seeking a new chairman after its most recent one resigned—the third chair to do so this year.

Up to Speed

  • In a Fox News interview Friday morning, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire insisted candidates could defeat former President Donald Trump in the Granite State’s GOP primary. “That’s 60 percent of the voters right now that are not with Trump in New Hampshire,” said Sununu, referring to a recent University of New Hampshire poll. “All of these candidates have to start hitting this guy. You can’t run against somebody, be twenty points down, but not be willing to talk about him,” added Sununu. When asked repeatedly if he would consider a third-party run, Sununu responded with the same answer, “No, nothing I’m looking at.”
  • Sununu’s interview comes after his announcement last week he would not seek reelection, opening up the race for the GOP nomination for governor in New Hampshire. Among those running is former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who confirmed her candidacy Monday morning on Twitter. Ayotte served one term in the Senate but narrowly lost in 2016 when Trump, at the top of the ticket, was defeated in the state.
  • Former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said on Friday he’s “left the door cracked open” for a third-party presidential run. “I finished my eight years as governor with a 77 percent approval rating. Highest in the country. It was over 70 with Democrats, independents, and Republicans,” added Hogan, the co-chair of No Labels, the centrist group considering fielding a presidential ticket in 2024. “Of course, I’m not well known across the country. But you’ve got to run a race to see what it’s gonna look like.”
  • Behind closed doors, the relationship between President Joe Biden’s administration and labor unions is rockier than advertised, according to Politico. The United Auto Workers is withholding its endorsement of Biden, and its new president, Shawn Fain, has criticized the administration for giving billions in subsidies for electric vehicles without ensuring higher wages and other protections for workers. Trump, who has the support of many rank-and-file members of the union, is “gunning” for the UAW’s endorsement.
  • Special counsel Jack Smith recently asked Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for information about efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results, according to the Washington Post. Smith also contacted Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who was pressured by Trump to reverse the close results in his state, for similar information. 

Republicans Prepare for First Debate Next Month

As of Sunday, the first debate for the 2024 Republican presidential primary is a month away. At the moment, six White House hopefuls have claimed to have passed the fundraising and polling thresholds set by the Republican National Committee to qualify for the debate: former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota says he has raised money from at least 40,000 unique donors, but he has yet to hit 1 percent or more in at least two qualifying national polls and two qualifying state polls from different states.

Each of the qualifying candidates have indicated they will show up in Milwaukee on August 23—except for Trump. “Ronald Reagan didn’t do it, and a lot of other people didn’t do it. When you have a big lead, you don’t do it,” he told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo last week. (It’s not really clear what Trump is referring to, since Reagan did debate his primary opponents in the 1980 cycle. Reagan did not do so in 1984, when he was the incumbent president and faced nothing more than token opposition for the nomination.)  

Despite this, Trump added in his interview with Bartiromo, “I haven’t really made up my mind.” When asked by The Dispatch if Trump has made a decision about it since then, campaign spokesman Steven Cheung simply referred back to the former president’s recent comments.

Some say Trump needs to appear on the stage, despite his current advantage in the polls.

“Trump skips and he loses the debate,” says Terry Sullivan, a Republican consultant who managed Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “The only significant dip in the polls for him in 2016 was when he skipped a debate.”

But Trump’s point about having a “big lead” stands. As the qualifying candidates prepare to descend on Milwaukee on August 23, they face a dynamic that remains largely unchanged for most of the year: Trump remains the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. He leads DeSantis, his closest opponent, by double digits nationally and in early-state polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

And while Trump says he doesn’t see why he needs to appear at this debate while he continues to dominate the polls, DeSantis needs to demonstrate in next month’s faceoff why he deserves to remain the favored non-Trump Republican—both to voters and, crucially, to donors. If Trump is unable to resist the allure of the camera and shows up to the debate, DeSantis has one job.

“DeSantis has to directly engage Trump and not lose the exchange,” says Sullivan.

A breakout performance in Milwaukee from Haley, Scott, or even Burgum could pull the rug out from under DeSantis, whose failure to launch to the front of the pack after his campaign kicked off in June has these also-runnings gunning for the Florida governor. Each of these candidates will want the post-debate attention on them.

“Message development and execution will be key to breaking out of the pack,” says Dave Carney, a veteran GOP strategist.

“It’s less about what people watching the debate see and more about having a standout moment at the debate that gets replayed on the news afterward,” says Sullivan.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Mike Pence, who is currently fourth in the Real Clear Politics national polling average, told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday that while his campaign has still not raised the required donations from 40,000 unique donors, he will “make it soon.”
“The rate of unique donations has ticked up with each week,” Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley told Dispatch Politics last week. “As that rate increases, so does our level of confidence that he’ll be on that stage.” But time is running out for the former vice president and the other candidates who have not qualified, including former Rep. Will Hurd, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.

Trump Twists the Knife in DeSantis

As Donald Trump plays the game of ‘will I or won’t I?’ regarding his plans to participate in the first Republican debate, his campaign is working overtime to convince voters and anyone with a reason to follow the 2024 primary that the contest is effectively over. 

Since last Monday, the former president’s team has issued a bundle of memorandums and statements that essentially declare Ron DeSantis’ White House prospects dead and buried. The Florida governor, who poses the biggest threat to Trump’s nomination, is facing a host of challenges as he seeks to come from behind and overtake the frontrunner. Rather than sit idly by and let DeSantis stew in the sea of problems suddenly engulfing his campaign, Trump pounced.

“Some reboots were never going to be successful, like Dynasty, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or even MacGyver. And now we can add Ron DeSantis’ 2024 campaign to the list of failures,” Trump campaign senior advisor Jason Miller says in a statement. “The real story here is that the DeSantis campaign doesn’t know how to turn things around with their current candidate.”

DeSantis hasn’t taken the hint. The governor’s campaign acknowledges recent struggles but insists the governor remains on track to win the nomination when the voting in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina actually get underway early next year. In a press release issued Saturday, DeSantis communications director Andrew Romeo highlighted a fresh poll showing the governor more competitive than Trump against President Joe Biden. 

But just in case the polling disparity between the two isn’t clear enough—51 percent to 19.3 percent in national averages, roughly the same in the early states—the Trump campaign publicized a couple of memos explaining as much. One such missive, from Trump campaign advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles, is directed to “Ron DeSantis for President Donors and Other Interested Parties.”

“As Governor Ron DeSantis hits the road over the next week, seeking more funds for his campaign, we believe it is important to provide you, the donors who generously fund and raise money, with a list of relevant questions considering the current circumstances faced by his campaign.” 

From there, the memo is more or less a list of news stories laying out the myriad hurdles standing between the governor and nomination after a second quarter fundraising report that revealed a campaign top-heavy with staff. 

“If the campaign has not demonstrated sufficient enthusiasm to build a national fundraising base who is motivated to contribute, how can they effectively implement what they call a ‘long slog strategy?’ The answer is simple: They can’t,” the memo reads.

Bolstered by current polling and Trump’s command of the Republican party since his rise in the 2016 primary eight years ago, this assertion from the former president’s 2024 campaign has seeped into the conventional wisdom undergirding much of the analysis and reporting about the GOP primary. Whether DeSantis can prove it wrong could rest on his performance in Milwaukee next month.

Notable and Quotable

“You can’t be too careful.”
—An aide to Joe Biden to NBC News about making sure the octogenarian president avoids embarrassing public reminders of his age, Monday, July 24

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.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.

Thomas Dorsey is an intern for The Dispatch.