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DeSantis Scuffling
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DeSantis Scuffling

Plus: The Ukraine war is draining U.S. weapons stockpiles.

Happy Thursday! Remember Sam Bankman-Fried, wunderkind founder of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange who exploded last year into a plume of Ponzi scheme confetti?

A bunch of celebrities—Tom Brady, Larry David, Shaquille O’Neal—are now facing a class-action lawsuit alleging their FTX endorsements abetted fraud. But Taylor Swift reportedly dumped a $100 million deal after asking a pointed question about the legality of FTX’s product: “Can you tell me that these are not unregistered securities?”

She knew SBF was trouble when he walked in.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • House Republicans on Wednesday released the “Limit, Save, Grow Act,” which would raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion or suspend it until March 2024—whichever comes first—cap discretionary spending for next year at fiscal year 2022 levels, and limit spending growth to no more than 1 percent per year. It would also claw back unspent COVID-19 relief, add work requirements for government benefits, and block student loan forgiveness. President Joe Biden has thus far spurned Republicans in debt ceiling negotiations, but McCarthy hopes passing this bill—far from a certainty—will put pressure on the White House to come to the table. Goldman Sachs economists now estimate, based on tax receipts, that the U.S. will hit the debt ceiling by early June, rather than August as previously projected.
  • The Department of Defense announced a new $325 million security assistance package for Ukraine on Wednesday, tapping into previously approved congressional aid as Ukrainian troops prepare for an expected spring offensive. The package will include ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, artillery rounds, anti-tank mines, and other munitions and equipment.
  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday extended its stay to Friday on a Texas judge’s ruling that ordered the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw its approval of mifepristone, a drug used in pill abortions. The order, written by Justice Samuel Alito, doesn’t offer judgment on the case’s merits.
  • Three people—including two teen brothers—have been arrested and charged as adults with reckless murder for a shooting at a sweet 16 party in a Dadeville, Alabama, dance studio this weekend that killed four people and injured 32 others. Prosecutors did not release details about the weapons used or motive. 
  • Outside actors have reportedly begun offering support to both parties in the ongoing conflict between Sudan’s military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, risking regional escalation of the fighting—which has continued despite multiple ceasefire agreements. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Egypt has sent warplanes to back the military—led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan—while at least one plane from Libyan militia leader Khalifa Haftar has helped carry supplies for the RSF, led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. The World Health Organization said at least 296 people—including three World Food Program workers—have been killed and more than 3,000 injured since fighting broke out Saturday.
  • Iranian officials have reportedly sent thousands of texts to business owners warning they will be shut down if female employees don’t wear head coverings—beginning implementation of a promised crackdown on violations of the country’s religious dress code. 

Is DeSantis Losing His Mojo? 

He’s down in the polls. He’s losing donors and endorsements. He’s in an extended spat with one of his state’s largest private employers. This isn’t exactly the runway from which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hoped to launch his much-anticipated presidential campaign. Just a few short months ago—after he won reelection by 19 points while Donald Trump was being blamed for the GOP’s disappointing midterms—DeSantis seemed almost destined to supplant his former mentor as the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Now, a rough few weeks has some commentators wondering if he’s the second coming of Scott Walker.

In the two weeks since Trump’s arraignment in New York, the former president’s lead over DeSantis in RealClearPolitics’ national polling average has nearly doubled—from 16 points to 29. And while national polling is largely irrelevant in presidential primaries—especially this early in the race—DeSantis’ team can’t be happy with the trend line. Plus, what actually does matter—early-state polling—is showing the same thing. A University of New Hampshire poll released yesterday found DeSantis trailing Trump in the Granite State 42 percent to 22 percent. In January, the same poll showed him leading the former president 43 percent to 30 percent.

DeSantis has yet to formally launch his campaign, but it’s hard to tell with all the out-of-state travel he’s been doing to “promote his book.” In the last week alone, the Florida governor spoke at a New Hampshire Republican State Committee event in Manchester and a Liberty University convocation in Lynchburg, Virginia. He’s shown up at GOP events in Akron and Cincinnati, and made multiple stops in South Carolina. Next week, he’ll travel internationally to Israel and Japan. He also returned to Washington, D.C.  on Tuesday, meeting with a handful of Republican lawmakers at an office near the U.S. Capitol in an effort to gin up support for his bid.

Suffice to say, DeSantis’ trek to D.C. did not go as well as he’d hoped. “I met with Governor DeSantis, and while he has done commendable work in Florida, there is no doubt in my mind that President Trump is the only leader who can save America from the leftist onslaught we are currently facing,” Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas tweeted after meeting DeSantis. And he wasn’t alone.

Trump has padded his endorsement lead in recent days, with much of the new support coming from his—and DeSantis’—home state of Florida. Reps. Vern Buchanan, John Rutherford, Brian Mast, Greg Steube, Cory Mills, and Byron Donalds have all backed the former president this month, and that they’re all Floridians is not a fluke. As Politico first reported yesterday, Trump’s team spent the weekend lining up Sunshine State backers, trying to head DeSantis’ Capitol charm offensive off at the pass. “The amazing part of it is how easy it was,” a Trump confidante said. 

DeSantis didn’t come away completely empty handed—he picked up the endorsement of Rep. Laurel Lee, his former secretary of state in Florida—but the lukewarm reception he received is a worrying sign for his fledgling campaign. After all, DeSantis served nearly six years in the House—these should be his people. Several dozen lawmakers showed up to the event, but Lee is thus far the only one to formally back him. “He’s been a great guy, been a great governor, would be a great president,” Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia told the Dispatch Politics team of DeSantis. But he quickly added he’s “not prepared to endorse” him yet.

The Trump campaign’s entreaties can at least partially explain DeSantis’ modest support thus far, but the past week has reignited longstanding questions about whether the introverted and standoffish DeSantis has the interpersonal skills necessary to mount a winning campaign. Steube, for example, told Politico DeSantis hasn’t once reached out to him in his five years in Congress, and repeatedly ignored his requests to connect. Trump, he said, was the first person he remembered hearing from after he fell 25 feet off a ladder in January. When a DeSantis aide reached out last week to ask for his support, it was too little, too late. 

The endorsements are seemingly just one prong of Trump’s plan to portray his nomination as inevitable and throttle DeSantis’ candidacy before it even gets going. The former president has thrown a variety of attacks at the man he once endorsed, criticizing  him as a “disciple of Paul Ryan” who wants to cut Social Security and Medicare, but also an “average governor” whose success in Florida is more attributable to the state’s “ocean and sunshine” than anything he did. From bringing up his wife to insinuating he’s a pedophile, Trump’s also made some not-so-veiled threats—likely an effort to scare DeSantis out of even jumping in. “If [DeSantis] decided to run for president,” Trump said in a video released yesterday, “he will lose the cherished and massive MAGA vote, and never be able to successfully run for office again.”

“If he remains governor, which is what Florida voters assumed he would do, it would be a whole different story,” he continued. “Just saying.”

It’ll be easier for DeSantis to hit back once he’s formally a declared candidate—likely in about a month—but in the meantime, an affiliated political organization is trying to stop the bleeding. Never Back Down—the super PAC that the Dispatch Politics team reported yesterday will likely run DeSantis’ campaign ground game—launched an opening salvo of ads over the weekend, targeting Trump as both too liberal on gun laws and too conservative on entitlement reform. And in his speech in Akron last week, DeSantis himself previewed what is likely to be a main theme of his campaign against Trump. “Winners get to make policy,” he said, reminding voters the Trump-led GOP has lost or underperformed in the past three elections. “Nationwide, the Republican Party has developed a culture of losing.”

DeSantis had hoped to use Republicans’ supermajority in the Florida state legislature to enact an agenda that could serve as a launching pad for his presidential campaign, but a protracted feud with Disney World—as well as a six-week abortion ban he seemingly tried to keep on the down low—have taken up all the oxygen and alienated some of his supporters. “Because of his stance on abortion and book banning . . . myself, and a bunch of friends, are holding our powder dry,” GOP megadonor Thomas Peterffy told the Financial Times last week. “DeSantis seems to have lost some momentum.” NBC News reported last month that billionaire Dick Uihlein—one of DeSantis’ biggest donors—is also pumping the brakes, concerned about his chances against Trump. 

DeSantis’ stumbles have likely changed the calculus for a handful of other potential Republican candidates, as what was once considered a two-man race may not be for long. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson are already in the race, and they could soon be joined by Sen. Tim Scott, Vice President Mike Pence, Gov. Chris Sununu, and/or Gov. Chris Christie, who recently argued DeSantis is not a conservative. If the Florida governor continues to struggle, maybe Govs. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia or Brian Kemp of Georgia will rethink their decision to sit out the race. 

But despite DeSantis’ rough couple of weeks, some Republican strategists think it’s way too early to write the Florida governor off—particularly if he remembers how primaries work. “Stop competing with Trump on Twitter and cable news,” a GOP consultant recommended. “Strip it down, go to Iowa and New Hampshire and beat him there. Run the best statewide campaign that’s ever been run in an early state and change the entire narrative. If the argument is that you’re a winner, then win a state, not a news cycle.”

Staring Down the Barrel of a Munitions Shortage 

If you watch the promotional footage, the United States’ military looks like something out of a sci-fi film: jets that can take off vertically from a dead stop, drones flying over the Syrian desert operated from a dark room in Las Vegas, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers the size of small towns that can stay at sea for 20 years without refueling.

But unlike Star Wars blasters, U.S. guns still need bullets—and we may be running uncomfortably low on those. During more than a year of supplying Ukraine with lethal aid to beat back the Russian invasion, the U.S. has dipped into the stockpiles of the military equipment it would need in a major conflict. These weapons, crucial to the fight in Ukraine,  are not easy to replenish, leaving the Biden administration to decide how to continue supporting Ukraine while maintaining the U.S. military’s ability to respond to threats.

Yesterday, the Defense Department announced a 36th drawdown of existing U.S. military stockpiles, allowing the military to send $325 million worth of materiel to Ukrainian troops preparing for an anticipated spring offensive. It sounds like a big number—the list the Pentagon provided of what exactly the U.S will send was 2.5 pages long. But it’s smaller than previous offerings, which could signal the U.S. is starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel. 

“It is worrisome that today’s package is so small,” said Mark Cancian, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who previously worked on Pentagon budget and procurement in the Office of Management and Budget. “The previous package on April 4 was for $2.6 billion, but only $500 million in immediately available drawdown items. Unless there is a large drawdown package soon, the immediately available amount for this month will be far below the $2.5 billion average over the last year.”

The Presidential Drawdown Authority is one of several mechanisms the U.S. government has used to arm Ukraine, and it’s by far the speediest, allowing the Pentagon to send weapons sitting in U.S. military warehouses directly to the front lines in Ukraine. Congress has also appropriated money to give to the Ukrainian government for purchasing weapons directly from manufacturers, but those weapons must be built from scratch, which can take years—more time than Ukraine can afford to wait. So, Congress increased the cap on President Joe Biden’s drawdown authority from roughly $100 million to $11 billion in fiscal year 2022 and $14.5 billion in 2023. 

There is no congressional mandate to backfill those drawdowns, which means supplies of about half a dozen weapons—Stingers, HIMARS, Javelins, howitzers and their 155mm ammunition—are “limited,” according to analysis by CSIS. 

But what is too low when the U.S. isn’t actively at war? 

“For munitions, it means having enough munitions to execute U.S. war plans,” Cancian told TMD. The Pentagon’s plans for possible conflicts—war on the Korean peninsula, for example—include lists of what equipment and ammunition the military would need for various scenarios, and U.S. military leaders don’t want supplies to dip below what the plans need. The fighting in Ukraine illustrates just how much materiel it takes to sustain—let alone win—a ground war. Ukrainian gunners have been firing as many as 90,000 rounds of 155mm artillery shells a month from howitzers, a number expected to rise as Ukrainians try to break Russian lines during a spring offensive.

That rate of expenditure dwarfs recent production rates. Two years ago, Cancian says, the U.S. was only producing about 100,000 rounds a year, and though that number is up, increasing production takes time. The U.S. Army is planning a 500 percent increase in production of 155mm rounds over the next two years, and is now offering five-year contracts to weapons manufacturers. European allies, too, are looking for ways to boost their stockpiles, but have to work around sluggish bureaucracies.

The Biden administration has several options for dealing with the shortfall—starting with telling the Pentagon bean counters to allow a little more risk in military planning. Assume we won’t see war in Korea or Taiwan for the next few years, for example, and suddenly planners will have more slack to work with and time to replace what Ukraine is using now. And the military could pull munitions from active units in addition to warehouses and training pools.

The administration can also lean on allies to pitch in—which it has done. In November, the U.S. was in talks to buy 100 million rounds of 155mm artillery ammunition from South Korea that it planned to send to Ukraine, a blatant workaround of South Korea’s public pledge not to send lethal aid to Ukraine. The latest batch of leaked Pentagon documents also show the U.S. was pressuring allies including Israel—and South Korea—to sell munitions to Ukraine, even if it meant contravening policies against providing lethal weapons. But ultimately, no U.S. ally has the stockpiles the U.S. does to sustain the war, if simply by virtue of its size: The United States spends almost a trillion dollars on its annual military budget, which in 2021 was more than China, India, Russia, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, and South Korea combined. 

The shortage could provide fodder for those lawmakers—like Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri—who believe the U.S. can’t allow itself to get overextended with rising threats in both Russia and China. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s new push to use the same presidential drawdown authority to send $1 billion in munitions to Taiwan could indeed create dueling priorities, though the plan has yet to be enacted. However, the types of weapons needed in Taiwan—likely an air and sea battle—would differ from the ground artillery-heavy stalemate in Ukraine, which relieves some of the tension between two significant U.S. foreign policy priorities.

If the U.S. can’t solve these supply constraints—for reasons of availability or politics—Ukrainian troops will have to manage them by rationing on the battlefield, as they’re already starting to do. “As ammunition becomes more scarce, they have to prioritize their targets,” Cancian tells The Dispatch. “They’re going to have to be more discriminating about what they shoot at. Maybe it has to be a verified enemy position, because a lot of times artillery is just shooting at a grove of trees that look like it might have Russians in it.”

Worth Your Time

  • “Today, I will explain to my healthy transplanted heart why, in what may be a matter of days or weeks at best, she—well, we—will die.” Two-time heart transplant recipient Amy Silverstein writes in the New York Times about transplant health care’s shortcomings, including corruption in the transplantation network and outdated medicines with miserable—and eventually lethal—side effects. “My first donor heart died of transplant medicines’ inadequate protection of the donor heart from rejection; my second will die most likely from their stymied immune effects that give free rein to cancer,” Silverstein writes. “Transplantation is no different from lifelong illnesses that need newer, safer, more effective medicines. Improvements in drug regimens are needed for lupus, Parkinson’s and a host of others. The key difference is that only in transplantation are patients expected to see their disease state as a ‘miracle.’ Only in transplant is there pressure to accept what you’ve been given and not dare express a wish, let alone a demand, for a healthier or longer life.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics team catches you up on the debt ceiling and DeSantis’ efforts to woo Republicans on Capitol Hill, Scott explains (🔒) the deceptively high cost of labor unions fighting automation, and Jonah (🔒) and Nick each tackle that Fox-Dominion settlement.
  • On the podcasts: On today’s episode of Advisory Opinions, Fox News agrees to pay and pay and pay and David and Sarah discuss the latest Supreme Court action.
  • On the site today: Check out Kevin on how the U.S. economy is in great shape, contrary to what you might be hearing. And Price has an explainer on family policy.  

Let Us Know

Do you think DeSantis has what it takes to defeat Trump? Or have the past few weeks convinced you he’s not ready?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.