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DeSantis and Haley on Collision Course
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DeSantis and Haley on Collision Course

The debate will tell us a lot about the Florida governor’s future.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in the spin room following a debate held by Fox News, in Alpharetta, Georgia, on November 30, 2023. (Photo by Christian Monterrosa/AFP/Getty Images)

The immolation of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential effort—which began in comically bad fashionproceeded quickly to desperation, self-sabotage, and buffoonery.

It cost DeSantis donors more than $100 million for their man to lose half of his support from Republican voters nationally since that inauspicious beginning. A campaign that started on the premise of clearing the field of the other non-Trump candidates and running a multistate operation is now trying to hold on to a distant second place in Iowa and is well out of the running in New Hampshire.

We’ve now reached the “run for your lives” part of this particular debacle, with the departure of the chairman of the DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down, former Nevada Gov. Adam Laxalt

People don’t lightly leave jobs like that six weeks before the make-or-break Iowa caucuses. Nor do they disembark amid other campaign turmoil without knowing that it will set the vultures circling. And to do it to your longtime friend and former roommate

Woof.

The question once was whether DeSantis would replicate the poor results of Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign by employing a similar strategy and some of the same personnel. Right now, Cruz looks like a juggernaut compared to the DeSantis effort.

Not that a competent, disciplined campaign and PAC would have made the difference. At the core, DeSantis’ problem is about his obvious discomfort with the work of politics. Many Floridians will attest to his enthusiasm for governing, but when it comes to actually getting the job, DeSantis has all the ease and enthusiasm of a badger in a beauty pageant. 

Indeed, DeSantis himself seems almost to be moving on, debating California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week in what looked a lot more like a couple of 2028 hopefuls throwing haymakers than anything about the current campaign. 

A reasonable question for DeSantis to be asking himself now is about his own exit strategy. The most obvious option is to slog it out through the next two months and then bow out following what looks to be a third-place showing in a three-person race after South Carolina at the end of February. Grim, but they didn’t call the PAC Never Back Down for nothing, right?

With the final scheduled Republican debate coming up on Wednesday, DeSantis is set for the beginning of that slog. And the work required is to spend every day attacking his principal rival for second-banana status, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.  

Haley outworked and outlasted the other traditional conservatives in the race, other than the still-swinging Chris Christie. But the former New Jersey governor’s bid for a New Hampshire slingshot into the rest of the race has seemed to fade. And now, Haley has won the big money men and women in the Republican Party still willing to make a bet on giving former President Donald Trump some kind of a race. 

To make that happen, Haley will need to bleed support from DeSantis, especially in Iowa. But in order for his February finish not to go from grim to ghastly, DeSantis will need to knock Haley down, again and again.

On Wednesday we will get to see how these two survivors treat each other, and that will tell us a great deal about what DeSantis is thinking. 

The obvious answer for the Florida governor is to hammer Haley, work that Vivek Ramaswamy will no doubt be delighted to help do. If we see DeSantis echoing the same broadsided attacks on Haley we’ve heard from Trump and Ramaswamy—too hawkish, too cozy with the fat cats, too squishy, too Bush-y—we’ll have our forecast for six more weeks of the same.

In that scenario, DeSantis does the work of Trump for him and, when the trail eventually ends, earns back some of his place in the former president’s orbit. A story about DeSantis that features an ambitious young hotspur who took on Trump but ended up hobbling the last woman standing before dropping out and endorsing The Donald probably looks like the safest course for someone who is obviously already very much thinking about 2028.

But maybe DeSantis isn’t ready to suck it up and go back to being Trump lite. Maybe he figures that he can’t go home again. 

If DeSantis keeps it clean and focuses his rejoinders to Haley on her record as governor and policy stances, then maybe the non-Trump wing of the GOP has reason to hope that there might be a race after all. 

We’ll find out in Tuscaloosa.


Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 39.4%
Average disapproval: 57.2%
Net score: –17.8 points 

Change from one week ago: ↓ 2.0 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↓ 4.2 points

[Average includes: NBC News: 40% approve-57% disapprove; Gallup: 37% approve-59% disapprove; Fox News: 40% approve-59% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 37% approve-59% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 43% approve-52% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: ‘THE HIGHEST EXPRESSION OF THE PIG’

New York Times: “In the streets around the Piazza Maggiore, it can seem as if Bologna produces nothing else, with window after window filled with cylinders of mortadella showing off their patterns of pink meat, bright white fat and sometimes a constellation of pistachios, olives or truffles. Some mortadellas are as big around as a beach ball, and watching workers armed with giant blades carve off thin, silky slices for sandwiches is hypnotic. … [Evan Funke] is one of the chefs who have led the recent resurgence of mortadella in the United States. … Because mortadella is cooked rather than cured, it needn’t be as aggressively salted as prosciutto, salami, and other salumi; nutmeg and white pepper give it a delicate perfume. … And some mortadella is being put to more untraditional use. Win Son Bakery, a creative Taiwanese American diner in Brooklyn, makes a scallion pancake sandwich stuffed with mortadella, egg, melted cheese and pickled peppers. … ‘Mortadella is the highest expression of the pig and the land,’ [Simona Scapin] said. ‘And it deserves the highest respect.’”


EVEN BIDEN 2020 VOTERS SOUR ON ECONOMY

New York Times: “In a recent New York Times/Siena College poll of voters in six battleground states, 62 percent of [Biden 2020] voters think the economy is only ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ … Of those surveyed … who plan to vote for Mr. Biden in 2024, 47 percent say social issues are more important to them, while 42 percent say the economy is more important — but that’s a closer split than in the 2022 midterms, in which social issues decisively outweighed economic concerns among Democratic voters … The health of the economy is still a major variable leading up to the election. A downturn could fray what the president cites as a signal accomplishment of Bidenomics: low unemployment. A study of the 2016 election found that higher localized unemployment made Black voters, an overwhelmingly Democratic constituency, less likely to vote at all.”

TRUMP GOES BACK TO OBAMACARE 

Politico: “[Trump] fired off a post on Truth Social saying he was ‘seriously looking at alternatives’ and that 2017’s failed repeal and replace effort was ‘a low point for the Republican Party.’ … In a click of a button, a long-dormant campaign fault line was reopened. The post lit a fire under President Joe Biden’s slow burn campaign. Significant campaign resources were quickly mobilized in response. … The fallout from Trump reading the Journal editorial page looms large. It didn’t just underscore how potent health care remains as a policy motivator for Democrats, but how deeply embedded the Affordable Care Act has become in the nation’s political and social fabric. … It also demonstrated once again, how Trump’s impulsive social media habit remains a major variable for the coming election. … For Democrats, Trump’s renewed attacks on Obamacare amount to a political gift that some in the party said they couldn’t have timed better.” 

Top Ramswamy staffer jumps ship to Trump campaign: CBS News: “With the Iowa caucuses less than 50 days away, one of GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s top political advisers is leaving to work for former President Donald Trump’s campaign. … Brian Swensen, who served as Ramaswamy’s national political director since the spring and was a key player in the campaign’s work in New Hampshire. … News of Swensen’s departure comes at a critical time for Ramaswamy, who has failed to recapture the momentum he had over the summer. Polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show the Ohio entrepreneur in the single digits, lagging far behind Trump.”

RED-STATE DEMS RELY ON ABORTION TO SAVE SENATE MAJORITY

New York Times: “Perhaps the toughest test for the [abortion] issue’s power will come in Senate contests like Senator Sherrod Brown’s in Ohio and Senator Jon Tester’s in Montana. The fate of the razor-thin Democratic majority in the chamber could well be sealed in those two places. … The open question is whether Mr. Brown, 71, and Mr. Tester, 67, can maintain their invaluable political personas while — for the first time in their lengthy careers in public office — persuading their constituents to keep abortion rights front and center when voting next year. … This year, Mr. Brown’s campaign has already released a video attacking his three potential Republican challengers as extreme on abortion. In Montana, the Democratic Party has taken a similar approach on behalf of Mr. Tester. … Some Republicans have said that Ohio’s ballot referendum means the abortion issue will have less urgency in the state next year.”

And rally behind border security measures: Politico: “A growing number of Senate Democrats appear open to making it harder for migrants to seek asylum in order to secure Republican support for aiding Ukraine and Israel. … They also believe changes are needed to help a migration crisis that is growing more dire and to potentially dull the political sting of border politics in battleground states before the 2024 elections. … ‘Look, I think the border needs some attention. I am one that thinks it doesn’t hurt,’ said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) … ‘I am certainly okay with [border policy] being a part of a national security supplemental,’ said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), another Democrat facing reelection next year. … Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also said he was open to including border security policies.”

Tester delights as libertarian joins Montana Senate race: Great Falls Tribune: “Libertarian Sid Daoud of Kalispell has announced a run for the U.S. Senate. … Daoud is a member of the Kalispell City Council and chairperson of the Montana Libertarian Party. … Speculation is high that Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale will make a run for the Senate, but he so far has not filed for the race. Political analysts say Libertarians can pull votes away from Republicans. MTN News reported Libertarians earned more votes in 2006 and 2012 than Tester’s margin of victory over Republicans, but Daoud argued they pull from both parties — and bring in voters who wouldn’t otherwise go to the polls.”

BRIEFLY

George Santos becomes first Republican ever to be expelled from House—Reuters

Dems coalesce around Mondaire Jones to challenge Rep. Mike LawlerAxios

After challenge to Biden, Rep. Dean Phillips won’t seek reelection—Politico

GOP majority will narrow after Rep. Bill Johnson tapped to lead Youngstown State—Canton Repository

Georgia GOP unveils redrawn districts—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

WITHIN EARSHOT: REMEDIAL HISTORY 

“I think it was President Reagan who said, ‘We’re from the government. We’re here to help!’”—Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, during a meeting with Western state governors in Wyoming, misunderstanding former President Ronald Reagan’s famous critique of government intervention. Reagan’s famous quote from a 1986 press conference was, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”


MAILBAG

“I think there is a lot of merit to [banning] online anonymity, and I am impressed that Nikki Haley had the courage to call this out. It is far from a crazy idea and if you are not familiar with some of the things being proposed, I would suggest reading up on it.”—Mike Farley, Lakewood, Ohio

Certainly I see the many demerits of online anonymity, Mr. Farley. And certainly Haley is right that when people face real-life accountability for online speech, it causes them to be more judicious. It works the other way, too. It’s harder to demean and denigrate real people than it is to hurl insults at other anonymous users. There’s the foreign threats piece of it, too. Haley is absolutely right that America’s adversaries exploit online anonymity to foment discord and spread misinformation. I used the example of Haley’s misstep not to disparage her intention or as a defense of online anonymity, but as a case of growing pains for a candidate. A serious contender can’t float such an obviously ill-considered proposal for such a sweeping change. It’s one thing to, as many Americans do, say “there oughta be a law” forbidding online anonymity, but a very different thing to make it part of a credible presidential campaign. Moving from long-shot to contender means changing one’s approach to policy pronouncements. And in this case, the policy desire runs headlong into the “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” part of the oath of office. When we get into the federal government regulating or restricting the free expression of American citizens, we want to tread very carefully and treat the matter with seriousness, not toss something out during a daytime TV hit that is walked back the next day. One of the many advantages to candidates of our dysfunctional system is that “on day one” policy pronouncements, even politically infeasible and constitutionally dubious ones, can be thrown around casually. It allows politicians to exploit the understandable anger and frustration voters have with the system, and then provides an excuse for why those things end up not happening. That, in turn, increases anger and frustration, paving the way for even more exorbitant “on day one” promises for the next cycle.

“One of the things I remember Jonah saying was that Trump didn’t do anything that the average Republican president wouldn’t (or something close to that). He gets a lot of credit for things that I tend to think would have been good at that time anyway, like the economy! People seem to think that Trump is going to fix it if he’s elected again, but I don’t think presidents have that much influence. The other thing I keep reminding friends of is he managed to get some good people in his Cabinet in the beginning, until they quit or he fired them. But, I would give them more of the credit for the positive things that happened than Trump himself. Please, what are your views?”—Anne Watman, Monroe, Wisconsin

Maybe start by thinking of this the other way around, Ms. Watman. Put yourself in the shoes of a MAGA fundamentalist. Not a QAnon creep or a very online “do it for the lolz” Trump supporter, but one of the millions of Americans who are genuinely enthused about the idea of Trump being returned to power. In this version, Trump is a kind of Jefferson Smith figure. Call it Mr. Trump Goes to Washington. Trump, a successful businessman, makes an unexpected foray into politics and wins a stunning upset over two long-entrenched political dynasties, the Bushes and the Clintons. But when he gets to Washington, he finds that the people who are supposed to be helping him, the leaders of the Republican Party, including the members of his own Cabinet, are working to undermine the very reforms that Trump sought. Leaders in Congress and sometimes his own cabinet secretaries fight him on the border wall, America First foreign policy efforts, repealing Obamacare, etc. Good results, including on the economy, were accomplished with Trump fighting both parties at the same time. You may know what a self-serving narrative this is for Trump and his enthusiasts, but within the twaddle is some truth. The remnants of the old Republican Party did keep Trump out of the ditch and often delivered considerable successes, particularly in judicial appointments, the work of Sen. Mitch McConnell and his team, and on tax cuts, a Paul Ryan joint, to be sure. Standard-issue Republican appointees at federal agencies like the departments of Labor, Interior, Justice and the Federal Communications Commission pursued policy agendas that would have been very much at home under any GOP president. We also know about how figures like James Mattis, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, and others worked publicly and privately to keep U.S. foreign policy on a basically normal track, despite Trump’s occasional freelancing. The one place where I think Trump achieved an obvious victory outside the bounds of traditional Republicanism was on trade policy, particularly the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But on a host of other issues, most notably the efforts to weaken legal and ethical restraints on Trump and granting inflationary federal spending, Republicans just went along for the ride. Now, think again of the Trump fundamentalists and their leader. How do they envision a return to power? This time, they won’t be caught off guard by the perfidious scheming and disloyalty of the Republican Party. Rather than relying on the likes of Mike Pence for help in building and staffing an administration, Trump has his own crew of loyalists. They proved their devotion by standing by Trump when his bipartisan foes betrayed him, even impeaching him simply for asking questions about what was obviously to them a rigged election. What Trump failed to accomplish can thereby be blamed on his, if you will excuse me, innocence and naïveté. What he did achieve seems even more impressive to them because it was done against the political establishment’s wishes, even the things that were, as you know, done in spite of Trump. Republicans who may not be MAGA maniacs but who are sanguine about the prospects of Trump defeating Joe Biden are, not unreasonably, imagining a second term that would be much like the first. But Trump and his people know that wouldn’t be the case. The Republican Party, weak when Trump took it by storm, is a husk. McConnell is headed for the cloak room and the House Republican leader made his bones by abetting Trump in his effort to steal a second term. And now there’s a whole Cabinet and administration-in-waiting of cynical sycophants and true believers. They won’t need the help of old hands from the old Republican Party to get going. Good people, having seen the wreckage of the careers and reputations of those who tried to mitigate the harms of the first term, would know better than to get tangled up with what would surely be a wild, chaotic, and frequently lawless effort. “Let Trump be Trump” would finally get to see its full flowering. Trump and his devotees know the second time would be different, but I’m not so sure that the rest of the Republican Party really understands that.


You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the loaded up and truckin’ Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


CUTLINE CONTEST: CHECK YOUR DMs

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks alongside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during the NBC News primary debate on November 8, 2023, in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks alongside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during the NBC News primary debate on November 8, 2023, in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

What a perfect picture to play with! It’s not funny, per se, but it is positively pregnant with possibilities. Our winner and the first entrant into the December Cutline Contest finals found a way to be on the news—Haley’s changeable posture about online anonymity—and make a sight gag about the photo. 

“Nikki Haley announces that her online ID is ‘Little Ms. Ambassador’”—Steve Wilson, Batavia, Ohio

Winner, Scare Quotes Division:

“Yes, of course it is ‘possible’ I could overtake Trump … ”—Doug Leo, Scottsdale, Arizona

Winner, Bet the Under Division:

“Christie changes his parlay”—Matt Dunning, Cincinnati, Ohio

Winner, Let Her Be Frank Division:

“People in Chris’s home state of New Jersey consider hot dogs to be ‘BBQ’!”—Robby Morrow, Columbia, South Carolina

Winner, Hopping Through the Forest Division:

“Christie and DeSantis pause uncomfortably while Haley regales the debate audience with her rendition of ‘Little Bunny Foo Foo.’”—Peter Gessel, Riverton, Utah

Winner, A Wise Guy, Eh Division:

Moe prepares to poke Larry and Curley in Stooges remake.”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania

Winner, Scepter’d Isle Division:

“We shall fight in the caucuses; we shall fight in the primaries; we shall fight in the donor meet ‘n’ greets; we shall never suspend.”—Bill Ward, St. Augustine Beach, Florida

November results 

And now, onto the results of the November contest. Our winner Paul Williams, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, was riffing on  a photo of Gov. Glenn Youngkin holding a sheaf of papers and talking excitedly to a young Virginian on the campaign trail: “No, I don’t know who you are.  That’ll be a buck fifty for the newspaper.” Please send us your mailing address, Mr. Williams, so we can send along your prize, a copy of the June 12, 1924 New York Times announcing the Republicans nominating then-President Calvin Coolidge for a full term.

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the best entrants for each week and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!


YOU’D THINK SOME PEOPLE MIGHT PAY EXTRA 

Cowboy State Daily: “Two Crook County, Wyoming, ranchers who had been accused of bleaching male genitalia and other markings on their neighbor’s cows are no longer facing charges, as the judge didn’t find sufficient evidence to advance the case to the felony-level court. The property destruction charges against Patrick Sean Carroll, 66, and his son Tucker Kye Carroll, 34, both have been dismissed without prejudice, meaning a prosecutor could bring the charges again if additional evidence compels him. … The men were originally accused of bleaching penises and other shapes onto the bodies of 189 of their neighbor’s heifers and six of his bulls to get the neighbor’s attention after three years of the cattle crossing onto their land. … An experienced livestock seller estimated each of the bleached animals was worth $500 to $700 less per head. He said after checking with buyers, the cattle that would’ve been worth about $2,600 per head was instead worth about $1,850.”

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.