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Stirewaltisms: Can DeSantis Go the Distance?
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Stirewaltisms: Can DeSantis Go the Distance?

Media speculation about his candidacy heats up.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference on January 18, 2023. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

Formal announcements of presidential candidacies are not that big of a deal for candidates already assumed to be running. But the timing can count. 

Consider the enormous amount of conjecture and speculation around the announcement of former President Donald Trump’s bid. Trump, who was eager to clear the field,  opted to wait until after the midterms were over so he could cash in on what he expected to be goodwill surrounding the success of candidates he had backed, and the Republican Party in general. He picked his moment, but when the expected results did not materialize, the event instead highlighted Trump’s errors in candidate selection and the consequences of the infighting he does so much to promote. 

The unblinking eye now turns to Ron DeSantis. Florida’s Republican governor and Trump’s top rival for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination has laid out a rough timetable for his own announcement. DeSantis has broadly hinted that he expects to be getting into the race in late spring or early summer after a book tour. This is a pretty conventional approach, in which book promotion affords a candidate an opportunity to campaign—and raise money—while still not having to meet all the obligations of an official run for office.

What will become of DeSantis now that he is in the twilight space between expectation and full engagement this week? We got a pretty good taste as media fascination, already high, took on even more intense tones. Keen observers and big brains have started to explore the question of practical DeSantis-ism and how he will really run.

Can he be an Obama-like figure who remains an empty vessel into which members of the various dissatisfied camps of the GOP pour their hopes and dreams? Or wil policy questions start to fill in the empty spaces?

New York Times: Ron DeSantis is no Scott Walker, in no small part because Mr. DeSantis already has impressive strength in the polls. But it’s fair to wonder whether we should really care about that at this early stage. After all, there’s still nearly a year until the primary season begins in earnest. Even at this early stage, the polls are often surprisingly indicative of the eventual result of presidential primaries. The leader in polls conducted in the first quarter of the year before the primaries has won the nomination more often than not… Of course, that relationship is nowhere near perfect. … At this point, most candidates haven’t even announced their candidacies. No one has set foot on the debate stage. And yet poll results already presage the eventual outcome with uncanny regularity. … The easiest interpretation is that candidates with early support in the polls have a lot of advantages over the other candidates in pursuit of the nomination.”

[Listen: Chris talks with Harry Enten about DeSantis’ hard numbers and America’s best soft drinks on The Remnant]

David Brooks: Foreign policy may crack DeSantis coalition: NYT: “This week’s dancing makes me realize DeSantis is in a weaker position than I thought. The G.O.P. is evenly split on foreign policy and significantly split on whether the party should be fiery populist or more conventionally conservative. According to a Pew survey, 40 percent of Republicans think the United States is giving too much aid to Ukraine, while 41 percent believe America is giving Ukraine the right amount of aid or not enough. This data illustrates something also evident in the 2022 election results — that while there are a lot of populists in the party, there are still a lot of normie Republicans who are not.

Trump staffs up in Iowa: Des Moines Register: “Donald Trump announced Monday he has hired four Iowa staffers to help run his 2024 caucus campaign. … Trump has selected Marshall Moreau as state director. Moreau managed Brenna Bird‘s successful race for Attorney General in the 2022 midterms. … Eric Branstad, who helped run Trump’s 2016 and 2020 races, will return as a senior advisor alongside State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann. … Although Trump announced his candidacy shortly after the midterms, he has yet to travel to Iowa.

Floridian fracas: Palm Beach Post: “In the opening remarks of his Presidents Day speech to a fan club at the Palm Beach Airport Hilton, Trump vowed that ‘under no circumstances will we allow anyone to cut Medicare or Social Security for our nation.’ It was a not-so-veiled slap at U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. … Much more directly, Trump targeted Gov. Ron DeSantis by again calling him ‘Ron DeSanctimonious’ early in his speech. The crowd of Club 45 members, now renamed Club 47 to support Trump’s policy agenda for 2024, reacted with mere polite applause…”

Ex-AG of Arizona suppressed 2020 election findings: AP: “Arizona’s former attorney general suppressed findings by his investigators who concluded there was no basis for allegations that the 2020 election was marred by widespread fraud. … Previous Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, never released a March 2022 summary of investigative findings, which ruled out most of the fraud claims… Brnovich, also did not release a September memo that systematically refuted a bevy of election conspiracies that have taken root on the right.”

‘Could Nikki Haley take down the Confederate flag today?’: Semafor: “Haley’s presidential run may be the biggest test yet of how her Confederate flag moment has worn in the intervening years as voters in both parties re-examine her record and scrutinize her campaign’s characterization of the episode. … The former governor mentioned the shooting in both her announcement video and her first official campaign speech. But she did not mention her decision to remove the flag. At the same time, Haley has put a very strong emphasis on race in her campaign. … Haley herself has questioned whether she’d still have been able to take the flag down in later years.”

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.


Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 43.6%
Average disapproval: 52.0%
Net score: -8.4 points 

Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.6 points                        
Change from one month ago: ↑ 2.0 points

[Average includes: NPR/PBS/Marist: 49% approve-45% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 40% approve-55% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 41% approve-52% disapprove; ABC News/Washington Post: 43% approve-53% disapprove; CBS News: 45% approve-55% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


Atlantic: “Why do so many people have an immediate, intuitive grasp of this highly abstract concept—’subjective age,’ it’s called—when randomly presented with it? … We seem to have an awfully rough go of locating ourselves in time. … The gulf between how old we are and how old we believe ourselves to be can often be measured in light-years—or at least a goodly number of old-fashioned Earth ones. Adults over 40 perceive themselves to be, on average, about 20 percent younger than their actual age. … Why we’re possessed of this urge to subtract is another matter. … [L]ots of people consider aging a catastrophe, which, while true, seems to tell only a fraction of the story. You could just as well make a different case: that viewing yourself as younger is a form of optimism, rather than denialism. … If you mentally view yourself as younger—if you believe you have a few pivots left—you still see yourself as useful.”


Politico: “Biden’s past decisions around seeking the presidency have been protracted, painstaking affairs. This time, he has slipped past his most ambitious timetable, as previously outlined by advisers, to launch in February. Now they are coalescing around April. … [H]is indecision has resulted in an awkward deep-freeze across the party — in which some potential presidential aspirants and scores of major donors are strategizing and even developing a Plan B… Democratic Govs. JB Pritzker of Illinois, Gavin Newsom of California and Phil Murphy of New Jersey have taken steps that could be seen as aimed at keeping the door cracked if Biden bows out. … A decision from Biden to [forgo] another run would amount to a political earthquake not seen among Democrats in more than a half century…”

Chicago, Atlanta scrap over Dem convention bids: New York Times: “The battle between Chicago and Atlanta over hosting the 2024 Democratic convention is heating up with a new claim from Illinois that Georgia’s lenient open-carry gun laws … could make security a nightmare. … With a decision possibly weeks away, officials involved agree that Atlanta and Chicago now appear to lead New York, the third of the finalists still under consideration. Union officials have for weeks pressed President Biden and the Democratic National Committee to pick [Chicago]. … Georgia Democrats have scoffed at the pitch. … But, more to the point, the political significance of hosting the convention in a swing state that Mr. Biden narrowly carried in 2020 may supersede logistical and policy hurdles.” 

Dem Senate hopes rest on Manchin, Tester, Brown: Politico: Sherrod Brown says he’s ‘fine’ running for reelection with Joe Biden on the ballot in Ohio. Joe Manchin predicts Biden will ‘get beat so bad’ in West Virginia that he’d have to run separately anyway. And Jon Tester was distinguishing himself from the president even before the Montana Democrat announced Wednesday that he’s seeking a fourth term in his ruby-red state. … [T]he trio of Democrats is staring down their toughest political challenge yet: pulling a Susan Collins. … While Brown and Tester are all in, Manchin hasn’t decided whether to run again. … That makes Tester’s reelection decision all the more critical to the party — he’s probably the only Montana Democrat with a shot. At the moment, Democrats’ hopes of holding the Senate largely ride on Tester and Brown defying their states’ political leanings…”

One liberal, one conservative advance in crucial Wisconsin court race: New York Times: “Janet Protasiewicz, a liberal from the Milwaukee suburbs, and Daniel Kelly, a former Supreme Court justice who lost his seat in a 2020 election, advanced in a Tuesday primary to the April 4 general election. The winner of the race, the most consequential American election on the 2023 calendar, will serve a 10-year term. … If Judge Protasiewicz prevails in six weeks, it would tip the balance of the state’s seven-member Supreme Court. The court would have a four-member liberal majority that would be likely to overturn the state’s 1849 law forbidding abortion in nearly all cases, redraw Wisconsin’s heavily gerrymandered legislative and congressional maps, and influence how the state’s 10 electoral votes are awarded after the 2024 presidential election.”


Rhode Island Democratic Rep. David Cicilline to resign at end of May—Boston Globe

Democrat Jennifer McClellan handily wins VA-04 special—Wall Street Journal


“It was really cool. … I got 60 seconds of eye contact with everyone who came in the room. You can tell a lot about people in that 60 seconds.”—Georgia grand juror Emily Kohrs drops hints about forthcoming indictments in the Fulton County election fraud case during a bizarre media tour. 


 “Thanks for the golf tees from [the January Cutline Contest]! Much appreciated. My dad (a founding Dispatch Lifetime member and former very failed congressional candidate from 1990) and his friends enjoyed your good-natured ribbing [in the February 10 note]. I’m quite impressed that you know your Triad BBQ joints. Going to throw you a question that if printed in full will fire up quite a text chain with some of your original subscribers. As when my dad ran he was all excited about rolling out a health care plan and he was warned by all not to say how he would pay for it … but of course he was too infatuated with his ideas and the next day the Indianapolis Star lead was ‘Johnson proposes health tax.’ Question: Why do successful business people turned politicians like Rick Scott and John Johnson (1990 U.S. Congress IN-05) seem to say clever solutions out loud that their handlers would never want them saying? Need you all to host an event in Carolina or at least in Beckley [W. Va.] so we can come out. Keep up the great work!”—Michael Johnson, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

As a Wheeling boy, I have to watch out in Beckley. They throw rocks at the away team down there! But as they would say in southern West Virginia about a story that makes its teller sound foolish, when it comes to policy specifics the answer often is, “I don’t think I woulda told that one.” But there are some distinctions to be made. If you want to enact serious policies on important issues, you will want a mandate. Ronald Reagan had the clout to push through his economic package because he had run on it and won a convincing victory. Contrast that with Barack Obama who ran on a health insurance plan very different from the one he proposed once he was in office. Indeed, it looked a lot like the one he had derided from his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton. The passage of Obamacare and the pain in its implementation was at least partly because of what looked like a bait-and-switch on mandatory coverage. There is no way to guarantee positive coverage or prevent a blistering attack from a rival when you bring policy into politics, but it is still sometimes necessary. I don’t know the details of your dad’s proposal, but certainly eliminating the tax break for employee health benefits is a mainstream idea with lots of support in the policy community. But even discussing that could be political poison. The better idea is to talk about principles and objectives and not granular details. People of good character are obliged to run on the policies by which they intend to govern, but so too can people of good character be counted on to leave some specifics to be resolved once in office. That’s just an acknowledgement of life in a system based on compromise. I’m glad you got the tees, which gave me another idea: I think we may need to convene the first Crokano Invitational at The Greenbrier at some point…  

“I read the following in your latest newsletter, and I am honestly confounded as to what it means. Can you please explain? ‘Witness Nikki Haley telling Fox News that Ron DeSantis is soft on trans and gay issues because his hugely controversial sex ed ban in Florida doesn’t go far enough. ‘I think Ron’s been a good governor,’ she said. ‘I just think that third grade’s too young.’ It’s not Donald Trump calling the Florida governor a ‘groomer,’ but it’s still pretty yucky—particularly because it has policy consequences.’”—Nicola Bird, Los Angeles, California

Good question, Ms. Bird! The issue of how and when to talk about gender and human reproduction in school is a tremendously fraught one, and one in which intense minorities hold very strong opinions and most folks find themselves struggling to find the right answer. This is why educational policy tends to work best when set at the most local level possible. It’s one of the fundamental challenges to public education. To obtain the economics and uniform access required of a system that is under governmental control, the desire is always for more and more standardization. But children, families, and communities are not standard. What works for some kids in some places does not work for other kids in other places. There are many ways to explain the continuing growth in private education in America, but the inflexibility of education at scale is certainly one of them. So is the increasing use of educational policy as a political cudgel. These are things that Haley, a determined advocate for school choice, certainly knows well. She also knows well that emotionally charged issues that have real-life implications for people, especially kids, have to be handled with care. That means you can’t try to score quick points with pat answers on those issues, ergo “pretty yucky.”

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 writerly Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


Sen. Rick Scott listens during a news conference at the Capitol on January 25, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Sen. Rick Scott listens during a news conference at the Capitol on January 25, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Your great patron, Managing Editor Rachael Larimore, laid a little bit of a trap for you last week, gentle readers. The photograph of Florida Sen. Rick Scott is so funny all on its own that it incited lots of lily gilding, including a great deal of juvenile humor that I absolutely did not laugh aloud at before deleting. When the roast beef is this good, you don’t need much gravy. The winner of the penultimate week of the February contest let the ingredients shine. 


“Did you just shush me?”—Dave Tannehill, Fenton, Missouri

Winner, Muppetational Division:

“I told Mitch he looked like a turtle. He called me ‘Sam the Eagle.’ I gotta tell ya, I don’t see it.”—Tripp Whitbeck, Arlington, Virginia

Winner, The Day the Senate Stood Still Division:

“Your choice is simple: Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration”—Jay Hickey, Lakeland, Florida

Winner, And Now a Word From Our Sponsors Division:

“Oh, Rochester!”—Rick Henderson, Raleigh, North Carolina

Winner, Smooth Move Division:

“How long did you say this laxative takes to work?”—Lowrie Beacham, Efland, North Carolina

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants 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!


The Guardian: “As fears over the potential of the pig impact in the US grow, North America is also facing a new swine-related threat, as a Canadian ‘super pig’, a giant, ‘incredibly intelligent, highly elusive’ beast capable of surviving cold climates by tunneling under snow, is poised to infiltrate the north of the country. … The emergence of the so-called super pig, a result of cross-breeding domestic pigs with wild boars, only adds to the problems the US faces from the swine invasion. … These pigs escaped captivity and swiftly spread across Canada, with the super pig proving to be an incredibly proficient breeder … while its giant size – one pig has been clocked at more than [661 pounds]– makes it able to survive the frigid western Canada winters, where the wind chill can be [-58 degrees]. Given the damage the pigs have wrought, a range of attempts have been made to get rid of them,”

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new book on media and politics. 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.