Happy Wednesday! Marianne Williamson launched her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination only a few days ago, and she’s got a ways to go. A Morning Consult poll this week found Biden clinging to a 73-point lead over his challenger—for now.
Up to Speed
- January 6 is back in the news after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave Tucker Carlson thousands of hours of previously unseen footage from the Capitol riot. A bevy of Republican senators pushed back on Carlson’s narrative this week after the Fox News host played down the seriousness of the attack on his show. Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger decried Carlson’s “offensive and misleading conclusions” in a letter obtained by NBC News.
- Former President Donald Trump, by contrast, took to Truth Social to demand the government “LET THE JANUARY 6 PRISONERS GO,” arguing that “THEY WERE CONVICTED, OR ARE AWAITING TRIAL, BASED ON A GIANT LIE, A RADICAL LEFT CON JOB.” Trump added that members of the congressional committee that investigated January 6 “should be tried for Fraud and Treason.”
- Oklahoma voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted down a measure that would have legalized recreational cannabis use statewide. The state’s loose and widely used medical marijuana program, which was implemented by referendum in 2018 and does not require proof of a pre-existing medical condition, was not affected by the vote.
Republicans Study the Youngkin 2024 Tea Leaves
Glenn Youngkin, who rose to prominence after defeating Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2021, has done just enough to keep the embers of a potential 2024 bid glowing. Yet the Republicans closest to the Virginia governor aren’t sure he intends to run—or wants to.
Republican donors who attended a meet-and-greet with Youngkin in New York last week exited the event believing the governor is inclined to stand down. Youngkin did not rule out running. But the governor left the impression that any possible campaign was months away—that he is hyper-focused on running Virginia and wants time to assess the 2024 primary field.
“He did not sound like an all-in candidate,” a Republican insider present for the Manhattan gathering said. “He’s sort of testing the waters.”
Youngkin’s allies say the governor is less interested in running nationally than he is in preserving GOP control of the Virginia House of Delegates and engineering a takeover of the Virginia Senate, where Democrats are clinging to a two-seat majority. The state’s legislators reconvene in Richmond next month to consider amendments to the commonwealth’s budget, and Youngkin will be immersed in that process at least through the end of June.
“He’s fundraising for elections in Virginia,” a Republican operative keeping tabs on the governor said. “That gives him an opportunity to meet with donors across the country.” Most of Youngkin’s political activity runs through two groups: Spirit of Virginia, a state political action committee; and America’s Spirit, a 501(c)4 federal political nonprofit.
Another indication of Youngkin hasn’t made 2024 a priority: Jeff Roe, the governor’s senior political adviser and a top strategist in 2021, is willing to entertain offers to join other presidential campaigns.
Youngkin, 56, is viewed by many Republicans as the antidote to what ails their party. The wealthy private equity executive, serving in his first public office, is a happy warrior who won a state President Joe Biden captured the previous year by 10 percentage points. Youngkin’s 2-point victory was built on recapturing suburban voters, especially women, who have defected to the Democrats during the Trump era. Yet the governor is a staunch conservative on cultural and social issues animating grassroots Republicans.
“Youngkin’s election in 2021 is one of the most impressive Republican campaigns in the last decade,” said Alex Conant, a GOP operative who advised Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 White House bid and co-founded the public relations firm Firehouse Strategies. “His demonstrated ability to win both the Republican base and swing voters could make him a strong presidential candidate.”
Stoking the intrigue surrounding Youngkin is that the Virginia Constitution prohibits him from running for a second consecutive term in 2025. (A spokesman for Youngkin’s political team declined to comment.)
The question is whether there is room for Youngkin, or any other Republican, in a primary where polls show Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis with the lion’s share of voter support. Indeed, Roe declared the field too crowded for anyone other than Trump and DeSantis last month in an appearance on Fox News Sunday. Roe emphasized in subsequent comments he was only referring to the data as it stands today, but veteran Republican pollsters say Roe’s initial analysis raised a legitimate question that is still up for debate among strategists.
“This is exactly the discussion and debate we’ve been having internally,” said pollster Wes Anderson, a partner at the Republican consulting firm OnMessage Inc. “I’ll go with a big fat ‘maybe.’”
DeSantis’ Loaded Legislative Session Kicks Off in Florida
Ah, spring—the season when college students and politics newsletter writers everywhere set their sights on Florida. We won’t be partying on a beach anytime soon, but we are closely watching the legislative session that started yesterday. Gov. Ron DeSantis has big plans for his new Republican supermajorities in the state House and Senate.
“November’s election results represent a vindication of our joint efforts over these past four years,” the governor told lawmakers in a “State of the State” address Tuesday. “The results also vest in us the responsibility to lead and provide us the opportunity to shoot for the stars.”
Over the coming weeks, the legislature intends to take up bills that, on issue after issue, represent DeSantis’ hardest-charging reforms yet. Several bills expand on controversial laws already signed by DeSantis.
Last year’s Parental Rights in Education law—dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics—forbade elementary-school classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity. This year the legislature will take up two more bills restricting teaching related to hot-button social issues. One bill would make it “the policy of every public K-12 educational institution” that “a person’s sex is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex.” Another would require middle and high school students to be taught as much in the classroom.
One year after signing a 15-week abortion ban, DeSantis has this time around endorsed a ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. (The six-week ban would contain exceptions for rape and incest up to 15 weeks; the current law contains no such exceptions.)
DeSantis and his allies also plan to expand school vouchers, tighten the screws on illegal immigration through universal E-Verify and other changes, crack down on diversity programs at public universities, and implement “constitutional carry”—the right for Floridians to carry concealed weapons in public without a license.
DeSantis also supports a measure that would make it easier for public figures to sue news organizations for defamation. Though he said Tuesday he would not support a widely derided bill that would force “any blogger writing about government officials” to register with the state government.
It’s no surprise that DeSantis is doubling down on his hard-nosed cultural agenda. He’s coming off a triumphant reelection last November in which he beat Democrat Charlie Crist by nearly 19 points, the biggest margin for a Florida governor in four decades. The session is an opportunity to build up a head of steam ahead of the presidential run that could begin once the legislating in Tallahassee is complete.
Biden Blindsides House Dems on D.C. Crime Bill
President Joe Biden sent shockwaves through Capitol Hill last week when he announced he would join Republicans in overhauling D.C. City Council’s controversial criminal code—reversing his administration’s prior opposition to the GOP-led effort. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer followed suit Tuesday afternoon, paving the way for in-cycle Democratic senators to do the same without fear of retribution.
Last month 173 House Democrats, citing support for D.C. home rule, voted in favor of a hands-off approach to the local legislation, which lowers minimum prison penalties for carjacking, robbery, and other violent crimes, among other controversial measures. But now the overwhelming majority of House Democrats can now credibly be accused by Republicans of voting to the left of Biden on crime-related legislation.
Some of the more vulnerable House Democrats say they feel blindsided by the president’s 180.
“I’m learning how things work here, but I think it would have been a good professional courtesy to have given us the heads up,” Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola of Alaska told The Dispatch Tuesday.
Another swing district Democrat, Rep. Hillary Scholten of Michigan, maintained in an interview Tuesday evening that Biden “doesn’t dictate how I’m going to vote in the House.” Though she conceded that “the president certainly didn’t put us in the best position possible when he reversed course.”
Congress has constitutional authority to overturn the D.C. laws, but it rarely acts on that authority. Progressives have long supported the concept of “home rule” and advocated for D.C. statehood. Muddying the waters for Democrats is D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s own opposition to the city council’s criminal code rewrite that passed in November. (Her subsequent veto of the legislation earlier this year was quickly overridden by the city council.)
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill later today even after the city council tried to withdraw the bill this week. A number of swing state Democratic senators—including Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who are up in 2024—have already decided that siding with Republicans is the best move. The calculation is that even playing footsie with a soft-on-crime message hurts them with suburban voters. (See New York House Democrats’ disastrous 2022 midterm performance or Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s primary loss last week.)
Larry Hogan: Not Running, Not Hanging It Up
Republican Larry Hogan is plotting a return to the private economy after serving eight years as Maryland governor and deciding against a presidential bid. But he still has no plans to scale back his political operation.
Hogan will continue traveling the country to support like-minded Republicans for office—which he hopes includes his party’s presidential nominee. Broadly, that means Hogan will keep urging Republicans to return to some semblance of Reagan-era conservatism and put an end to former President Donald Trump’s eight year reign atop the GOP.
“Hopefully we’ll find a candidate to get behind [that] I can support so we can not only support the Republican nominee but win the general election,” Hogan told The Dispatch Monday. “I think I can help them focus on issues that can appeal to swing voters and maybe help us get the White House back, get the congress back.”
Besides a couple of Maryland-centric political groups, Hogan maintains two federal organizations: Better Path Forward, a PAC, and An America United, a 501(c)4 nonprofit. Critics might snicker at his quixotic-seeming attempt to cleanse the GOP of Trump. But as a popular Republican in deep-blue Maryland—only the second Republican governor reelected there in decades, Hogan might know a thing or two about expanding the party’s tent.
Hogan, 66, spoke at length in a wide-ranging interview for The Dispatch Podcast the day after publicizing his decision to forgo a White House campaign. He said the move reflects his commitment to blocking Trump from the nomination; the more candidates in the primary appealing to voters opposed to the former president, the likelier he is to ascend with a small plurality. But Hogan conceded another, unsurprising reason for sitting out 2024.
“In a general election I believe I had the best ability to win swing voters and win over converts, which I think is important for us to do in the fall. But the primary’s a different kind of calculation,” the former governor said. “It was somewhat a personal decision and somewhat of a selfless act.”
After leading the Republican Party to disappointing finishes in three consecutive elections, Trump is diminished—but not defeated. The former president is the frontrunner for the nomination with roughly a third of GOP primary voters backing him in key early states. Polling suggests only Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, yet to declare his candidacy, can beat Trump.
Would Hogan back DeSantis if that’s what it takes to halt the 45th president’s comeback? Should other Republican contenders—like Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ex-ambassador—get out of the way too? “I don’t think you can say, today, that it’s either going to be Trump or Ron DeSantis,” Hogan said.
“If people think they have a shot to contend then they ought to get into the race,” he added. “But if there are a whole bunch of them and they’re not getting traction, I think people ought to make a similar decision that I did, which would be, do the right thing for the party and the country.”
On a tangential matter, we asked Hogan just prior to signing off if he would consider running for president in 2024 on a third-party ticket if some outfit like No Labels came calling: “It’s not something that I’m really giving any kind of consideration to, but I don’t like to ever rule out anything.”
You can hear the rest of our interview with Hogan on The Dispatch Podcast, or watch it here:
Eyes on the Trail
- Manchin for president? West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is widely considered the only Democrat who could keep next year’s Senate race close in the heavily Republican state, but Manchin’s keeping the door open for a bigger race. In an interview with CBS News Sunday, Manchin declined to endorse Biden’s forthcoming reelect bid and suggested he might be eyeing the top job himself: “I’m not taking anything off the table, and I’m not putting anything on the table. … I’ve got plenty of time to make up my mind.”
- Mastriano redux: He may have lost his governor’s race to Gov. Josh Shapiro by nearly 15 points last November, but Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano hasn’t given up on seeking higher office. Mastriano told Politico this week that he’s prayerfully considering entering the Republican primary against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey: “We’ve seen people in the past, other Republican gubernatorial candidates, they rise and they disappear when they lose. Why? You have people that love you and support you.” Mastriano is a hardcore Trump ally—he participated in a scheme to try to steal the 2020 election and attended Trump’s January 6 rally on the National Mall—and he was notable during the midterms for his hardline positions on issues like abortion. Unlike some other hardliners, however, Mastriano did not deny the validity of his 2022 loss, but quickly conceded defeat.
Notable and Quotable
“When or if the president should go is of course a question we would talk about, but I don’t think this is something we’ve been agonizing over in real time.”
—a senior White House official to NBC News on whether President Biden still intends—as he said last week—to visit East Palestine, Ohio, March 6, 2023
Editor’s note, March 8, 2023: An earlier version of this newsletter misspelled the name of former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.