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Ron DeSantis Resets
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Ron DeSantis Resets

Plus: Hollywood goes on strike.

Happy Wednesday! Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was in Beijing yesterday, meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu about the deteriorating relationship between China and the United States. 

Inflation’s so bad you can’t even retire at 100 years old anymore. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Former President Donald Trump said Tuesday he received a “target letter” on Sunday indicating he will likely be indicted on charges related to special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into his behavior after the 2020 election that culminated in the January 6 Capitol riot. According to Trump, the letter offered him an opportunity to speak to the investigation’s grand jury, which meets in Washington, D.C., this week. Representatives of former Trump attorneys John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani said they hadn’t received target letters.
  • Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Tuesday her office had charged 16 people with eight different counts—including forgery—for their participation in a “false electors” scheme attempting to overturn the state’s presidential election results in 2020 by presenting themselves as an alternate slate of Trump electors. Tuesday’s charges appear to be the first against anyone who took part in the false electors scheme, which was replicated in several other states. 
  • U.S. Forces Korea spokesperson Col. Isaac Taylor said Tuesday a United States soldier is in North Korean custody after “willfully and without authorization” crossing into North Korea. Reportedly facing additional military discipline in the U.S. after being held on assault charges in a South Korean jail, Private 2nd Class Travis King skipped his flight home and instead joined a civilian group touring the Joint Security Area on the North and South Korean border before crossing into North Korea, evading United Nations Command security forces escorting the tour group.
  • The USS Kentucky, an Ohio-class ballistic missile nuclear submarine, docked in the South Korean city of Busan as the joint U.S. and South Korean Nuclear Consultative Group met for the first time in Seoul, months after President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s April summit in Washington reaffirming America’s commitment to deterring North Korean nuclear advances. The port visit—by a vessel likely carrying nuclear missiles—is the first of its kind in decades, leading North Korea to launch two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan early Wednesday morning in response. 
  • A Russian Su-35 fighter jet buzzed a U.S. surveillance plane flying over Syria Sunday, forcing the American aircraft to fly through the turbulence of the jet’s wake. The incident follows aggressive Russian intercepts of American drones in the region earlier this month. U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley downplayed the incident at a press conference yesterday, emphasizing the “deconfliction channel” U.S. military personnel maintain with their Russian counterparts to prevent incidents and escalations.
  • The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that retail sales climbed 0.2 percent month-over-month in June and 1.5 percent year-over-year—down from 0.5 percent and 2 percent in May, respectively. Furniture and electronics sales climbed—as did online shopping—while spending at grocery stores and gas stations fell.
  • Navy veteran and Vietnamese refugee Hung Cao announced Tuesday he will run for U.S. Senate in Virginia, seeking the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. Cao ran for the House in 2022, but lost to Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton by nearly 7 percentage points. He now joins a field of eight GOP candidates vying for the Republican nomination. 

DeSantis In Trouble

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks on July 17, 2023.  (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks on July 17, 2023. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Republican primary voters watch out, because “DeSantis is everywhere.” That’s not a threat—it’s a campaign strategy.

Or at least, that’s what Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ team is saying publicly. In a confidential memo to top donors earlier this month obtained by NBC News, the picture was a little less “DeSantis is everywhere,” and a little more “DeSantis is in New Hampshire, Iowa, and maybe South Carolina—but that’s it.” The update for high-dollar supporters is just one of several signs that the DeSantis campaign may not be taking off as hoped: His polling has stalled in several key states, his campaign finance filings show he’s bled some top donors dry, and his operation is starting to lay some people off. But with a lot of game left to play—including the first debate on August 23—before the first votes are cast on January 15, there’s still plenty of time for the Florida governor to right the ship. 

In early 2023, months before DeSantis officially jumped into the race, national polls showed the Florida governor trailing Trump by about 15 percentage points—a sizable deficit, but small enough to provide hope to Republican voters and operatives hoping to topple the frontrunner. But two months into DeSantis’ actual campaign, that same RealClearPolitics polling average now shows him trailing the former president by a whopping 30 points. 

Politicos and the DeSantis campaign would be quick to tell you national polls are meaningless—particularly this far out—but the tidings haven’t been much better for DeSantis in key state-level surveys. An average of the (admittedly few) recent polls in Iowa—whose January caucuses will be the GOP primary’s opening salvo—shows Trump leading DeSantis by 24 points, a strong showing despite the former president’s recent jabs at Kim Reynolds, the state’s popular Republican governor. In New Hampshire, DeSantis is faring about the same. Things are looking so dire, a new University of New Hampshire survey showing DeSantis only running a 14-point deficit to Trump (and tied with Vivek Ramasawmy for voters’ second choice) is now considered good news.

A poor showing in Iowa and New Hampshire—and South Carolina, if DeSantis makes it that far—would almost assuredly spell doom for his campaign, a situation the internal memo to donors acknowledged. “While Super Tuesday is critically important, we will not dedicate resources to Super Tuesday that slow our momentum in New Hampshire,” the memo reads. “We expect to revisit this investment in the Fall.”

The DeSantis team is clearly thinking strategically about its cash allocation. The campaign posted an impressive $20 million haul in its latest Federal Election Commission campaign finance filing—more than the $15 million Trump’s official campaign brought in and Tim Scott’s almost $6 million since April—but the fine print shows things are rockier under the surface. 

The campaign is burning through cash at a rapid clip, spending around $8 million since the launch–high compared to other candidates, including Scott, who had more cash-on-hand to begin with. Of that $8 million figure, more than $1 million was spent on salaries for the campaign’s roughly 90 full-time staffers, more than double the size of Trump’s operation. The DeSantis team confirmed this week it had let people go to cut expenditures—fewer than 10, according to Politico. A $3 million chunk of the DeSantis campaign’s roughly $12 million cash-on-hand at the end of June is also earmarked for the general election—no use to DeSantis in his mano-a-mano battle with Trump. 

The campaign isn’t the only entity dropping cash to get DeSantis elected: The pro-DeSantis super-PAC Never Back Down has $150 million and a much larger staff. It’s planning for beyond the Granite State, dispatching paid canvassers to South Carolina and moving to hire around 80 organizers in California.

Also troubling for the campaign proper, about two-thirds of DeSantis’ early donors have already maxed out contributions they’re able to make under federal election law, forcing the candidate to court new big donors and expand his small-dollar (sub-$200) donations, which currently make up only about 15 percent of his fundraising. By way of comparison, half of Ramaswamy’s fundraising—and a third of Chris Christie’s—was from small-dollar donations, and the average donation to Trump’s campaign and super-PAC was $34. 

The Trump team smelled blood in the water Monday, sending a memo to DeSantis donors suggesting they cut bait. “If you collectively pour millions of dollars into the failing Ron DeSantis campaign, you can’t say you weren’t warned,” the memo from Susie Wiles, the CEO of Trump’s super-PAC, and Chris LaCivita, a top Trump aide, reads. DeSantis’ early struggles have also kickstarted yet another round of 2024 questions for Republican governors Glenn Youngkin and Brian Kemp, whom a number of Republican donors—and reportedly Rupert Murdoch—seem to prefer to DeSantis anyway. Both have ruled out bids with varying degrees of finality. 

The fatalistic rumblings have DeSantis’ top aides—several current and recently laid-off aides did not respond to a request to comment—rethinking their media strategy. The Florida governor has long-eschewed mainstream media— “corporate” or “legacy” media, as DeSantis likes to call it—in favor of friendlier outlets like Fox News, but no more. DeSantis is emerging from the conservative media ecosystem to try to convince voters—and big donors—that reports of his campaign’s demise are greatly exaggerated. 

“I think the good thing about it is that Republican primary voters are very smart,” he told Fox News’ Howard Kurtz on Sunday, addressing the negative headlines about his campaign that had begun piling up. “They know where these corporate outlets stand on the political spectrum and so to the extent that [Republican voters] become convinced that the media does not want me to be the nominee, that will in the long run absolutely help me.”

DeSantis took the new media strategy for a spin Tuesday in a cordial 15-minute afternoon interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. The conversation—which focused on his Tuesday morning speech outlining his anti-woke military policy—didn’t break much new ground, but some of DeSantis’ responses suggested he knew he was speaking to a different audience than usual. “Not everyone really knows what wokeness is,” he said. “I mean, I’ve defined it, but a lot of people who rail against wokeness can’t even define it.”

DeSantis also batted away a question suggesting he was losing ground on his original, “Trump-without-the-baggage” pitch. “The reality is this is a state-by-state process,” he said. “I’m not running a campaign to try to juice whatever we are in the national polls. […] We’re focused on building an organization.”

“I think some of this is motivated reasoning,” he added, referring to what he called a media narrative about campaign missteps. 

History suggests DeSantis’ fortunes could improve. Just ask Bill Clinton how the media feels about a “Comeback Kid.” In June and July 2007, future nominees John McCain and Barack Obama were running way behind their parties’ respective front runners. In July 2015, Trump trailed a former occupant of the Florida governor’s mansion, Jeb Bush—and we all know how that ended. “Candidates and campaigns also learn and get better,” David Kochel, Republican consultant tells TMD. “[The DeSantis campaign is] probably at that point where they need to figure out how to take control of the narrative again.”

That’s likely about to get even more difficult, with Trump on the precipice of his third indictment. Asked about Trump’s announcement that he was the target of special counsel Jack Smith’s January 6 investigation, DeSantis sided with his chief rival. “This country is going down the road of criminalizing political differences,” he said. “I don’t want him to be charged.” 

Stars Stage a Strike

This Friday, two of the most highly anticipated films of the year will hit movie screens across the country: Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. The coincidental convergence of Gerwig’s bright pink spectacle—so pink it led to a global shortage of pink paint—and Nolan’s three-hour cinematic biopic—with an 11-mile-long IMAX film reel—has fans preparing in a frenzy for the day they’re dubbing “Barbenheimer.”

But one contingent will be notably absent from media coverage of the ironic double-feature: the casts of each film. Under the terms of the current actors’ strike, performers are prohibited from participating in any promotional events or activities for their current projects—let alone filming new ones.

The national board of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the world’s largest actors’ union, voted last Thursday to authorize a strike after it failed to reach an agreement with film studios over compensation structures and the use of artificial intelligence in Hollywood. (The union authorized the strike during the U.K. premiere of Oppenheimer, prompting actors to walk out.) SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000 performers, voice actors, and stunt doubles joined their colleagues from writers’ rooms, who have been on strike for 10 weeks. 

The last time actors and writers went on strike at the same time, effectively bringing Hollywood to a halt, was 1960—when Ronald Reagan was president of the actors’ union. Today, that position is held by beloved TV actress Fran Drescher, known for her lead role on ’90s sitcom The Nanny.

“We’re not going to keep doing incremental changes on a contract that no longer honors what is happening right now with this business model that was foisted upon us,” Drescher said last week in a fiery speech. Much of the tension between workers and film studios has to do with a payment regime called residuals. In the old days, writers and actors owed a substantial chunk of their income to residuals—a type of union-mandated royalties paid out when a cable TV show was rerun. But residual checks for streaming services aren’t based on viewership. They’re determined by how many subscribers the streaming platform has, regardless of how successful any particular content is. That means an actor on HBO’s recent flop The Idol could make more in residuals than, say, a star in the award-winning show Yellowstone—because Max has more subscribers than Peacock.

Several cast members of the hit show Orange is the New Black—one of the first shows to put Netflix on the map—reportedly had to work second jobs for multiple seasons, as residual checks would often come in at under $30. Such pay cuts for actors have come at the same time top studio executives have seen their salaries skyrocket: Disney CEO Bob Iger, who drew the ire of actors after calling their expectations “not realistic” last week, reported making more than $45 million in 2021.

Iger contends that with Hollywood still recovering from the adverse impacts of COVID, “this is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption.” The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said in a statement Monday that SAG-AFTRA walked away from a deal that met many of their demands and would have led to “more than $1 billion in wage increases, pension & health contributions and residual increases and includes first-of-their-kind protections over its three-year term, including expressly with respect to AI.”

“We are not unrealistic or unreasonable,” Writers Guild of America chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman tells TMD in response to Iger’s comments. “They create the content that provides all the wealth and success for these companies, and they need to share in that value. They are partners. They’re creators. They have to be treated appropriately.”

The union is also demanding an increase in minimum rates for actors. The AMPTP has offered to raise minimum rates, but SAG-AFTRA says the increases are insufficient to keep pace with inflation.

The strike isn’t all about A-list movie stars, though. Another major point of contention in the negotiations has to do with the use of artificial intelligence to scan background actors and train generative AI systems—an innovation that could essentially eliminate the jobs of an unseen but substantial contingent of Hollywood performers. SAG-AFTRA is asking for a commitment that studios won’t use actors’ performances to train AI systems without obtaining their consent and compensating them.

Past Hollywood strikes have lasted up to six months, and with streamers now able to rely on a backlog of ready-to-go content, studios are facing less pressure to bring writers and actors back. It’s unclear how long the strikes will last, but studios have signaled that they’re willing to let writers go broke before they come to the table. 

Stutzman tells TMD she sees those comments as “a poor attempt to scare writers and now actors into thinking that their strike doesn’t have power in hopes that they will settle for less than they deserve.”

If the strike drags on, though, the costs will extend beyond your favorite shows and movies being put on hold. The writers’ strike has already cost the California economy $30 million a day, and some estimates say the costs of the dual strike could exceed $3 billion. But the strikes are just two of many in what some are dubbing the “Summer of strikes.” It comes at a time when support for unions is as high as it was during the 1960 Hollywood strike, but the number of workers in unions has since plummeted.

The Labor Action Tracker, maintained by Cornell’s ILR School, has documented almost 200 strikes this year. And hundreds of thousands of UPS Teamsters and auto workers could go on strike if negotiations aren’t resolved by the time their contracts expire at the end of this month and in mid-September, respectively. Those strikes could have major consequences for the economy.

Kate Bronfenbrenner, a former labor organizer and the director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, says many of these strikes are sparked by frustration over stagnating pay. “They feel like they sacrificed a great deal in the 2008 recession and during COVID and then discovered, despite employers saying ‘we’re all in this together,’ that corporate profits were soaring and CEO compensation was going through the roof,” Bronfenbrenner tells TMD.

Worth Your Time

  • Shaving cream, cardboard, paint, therapy—about 50 Ukrainian children whose fathers have died in the war attended a two-week grief camp in Irshava, Ukraine, to help them process, and some spoke with the New York Times for this video. “[My dad] climbed a tower so he could catch an internet signal because there was no longer any connection in Mariupol because the Russians had already begun destroying everything,” Alina said. “He called us and the first thing he said was ‘Alina, daughter, I love you.’ The next day a shell hit him in the head and he died.” What is war? “It’s when strangers enter your house and tell you to leave your home and then they’ll shoot you,” said one child. Another: “I don’t know, but I think it’s when politicians misunderstand each other and because of that people die.”
  • Andrew Leland is losing his vision. He writes in The New Yorker about learning to navigate the world sightless at Colorado Center for the Blind. “Students learn to pay attention to their surroundings and use the information to orient themselves. Instructors were constantly asking Socratic questions, such as ‘What direction do you hear the traffic coming from?’” he writes. “The most notorious test is the ‘independent drop’: a student is driven in circles, and then dropped off at a mystery location in Denver, without a smartphone. (Sometimes, advanced students are left in the middle of a park, or the upper level of a parking garage.) Then the student has to find her way back to the Colorado Center, and she is allowed to ask one person one question along the way.” One graduate told Leland, “Until you get profoundly lost, and know it’s within you to get unlost, you’re not trained—until you know it’s not an emergency but a magnificent puzzle.”

Presented Without Comment

CNN: Accused Discord Leaker Jack Teixeira Argues He Should Be Let Out of Jail as He Awaits His Classified Documents Trial, Citing Trump’s Release

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Harvest reports on Democratic infighting over Israel, and Nick responds to (🔒) Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s openness to supporting Trump in 2024.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah is joined by Matt Lewis on the Remnant to talk about his new book, Filthy Rich Politicians.
  • On the site today: Peter examines Los Angeles’ plan to house the homeless in hotels and Jonah looks at the 2024 GOP field’s difficult July.

Let Us Know

Do you really think the DeSantis campaign is in trouble or is it too early to write it off? If you think the campaign is in trouble, why?

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.

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.

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.

Jacob Wendler is an intern for The Dispatch.