Playbook: Is DeSantis ready for prime time?

Playbook: Is DeSantis ready for prime time?

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TRAGEDY IN THE DELTA — “At least 23 dead as tornado leaves devastation across Mississippi,” Clarion Ledger: The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency “reports dozens are injured and at least four are missing from the storm that left widespread devastation in the communities of Rolling Fork, Silver City and Amory. ‘Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to change,’ MEMA said in a statement.” The tornado outbreak is America’s deadliest since December 2021.

FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media in the Florida Cabinet following his State of the State address during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. DeSantis' administration is moving to unilaterally forbid classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades, expanding the controversial law critics call “Don't Say Gay” as the Republican governor continues a focus on cultural issues ahead of his expected presidential run. (AP Photo/Phil Sears, File)

Gov. Ron DeSantis is stepping out of his Florida comfort zone and into more hostile waters. | Phil Sears, File/AP Photo

IN SEARCH OF A ‘KILLER SPIRIT’ — Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS has built a formidable brand as a conservative force with a take-no-prisoners approach and a track record most Republicans can only dream about. But is he a paper tiger when it comes to 2024? This morning, a pair of stories quote Republicans questioning whether he has what it takes to topple DONALD TRUMP — and win the hearts of the voters who will decide if he’s worthy of the White House.

In a brutal Daily Beast op-ed, conservative columnist MATT LEWIS writes that DeSantis has “stacked the deck in his favor in Florida,” using the governor’s mansion as “a form of protectionism” to burnish his image while keeping critics at arm’s length. Florida state lawmakers have bent to his will over and over again, rarely challenging a governor whose poll numbers often surpass their own.

Now DeSantis is stepping out of that comfort zone and into more hostile waters. And so far, Lewis is not impressed. DeSantis, he writes, “seems out of his league” and “lacks the killer spirit to vanquish Trump.”

“Slaying a monster like Donald Trump requires a certain presence,” Lewis writes. “DeSantis comes across as a politician who wants to hit his talking points and prove logically why he’s superior to Trump. And the thing is, you don’t slay dragons with logic. You need guts, heart, and a razor-sharp sword (or, in this case, tongue).”

He continues: “The streets are littered with the political corpses of men who seemed eight feet tall and bulletproof before running for president. RICK PERRY was a rock star in Texas before he ran for president. FRED THOMPSON was a literal movie star.” We’re also reminded of SCOTT WALKER, the union-busting Wisconsin governor who was viewed as a 2016 presidential frontrunner before he quickly fizzled out.

— The hand-wringing is underway inside his own tent … NBC’s Dasha Burns, Jonathan Allen, Allan Smith and Henry Gomez write about fears among some DeSantis donors and allies that he might be “missing his moment” — and unprepared for the brutal onslaught from Trump that appears to be crippling him in recent polls.

“Some feel DeSantis needs to accelerate his timeline to run for the GOP presidential nomination and begin directly confronting Trump if he’s to have any chance of thwarting the former president’s momentum,” they write. “Others believe DeSantis should sidestep Trump altogether and wait until 2028 to run.”

Among those with qualms, the NBC crew reports, are megadonors RICHARD and ELIZABETH UIHLEIN, who gave a combined $500,000 to DeSantis’ 2022 reelection campaign: “A person familiar with the strategy around Uihlein’s spending said that right now, ‘The brakes are pumped,’ adding, ‘The polling really made different people pause.’”

— DeSantis is also facing a new level of national media scrutiny … So far, the governor has stuck mostly to RUPERT MURDOCH-owned outlets and other conservative network interviews, shunning national outlets likely to ask tougher questions. And while he’s frequently sparred with local press at Florida news conferences, the format has allowed DeSantis to control the give and take and cut off unfriendly questioning.

There are signs he’s uncomfortable responding on the fly. During a recent book signing in Iowa, AP reporter Steve Peoples asked DeSantis if he thought Trump was being treated fairly by prosecutors, an easy lob that most Republicans would gladly swing at. DeSantis’ response? “Dead silence,” per Peoples. Contrast that to Trump, who is light on his feet, is quick with a snappy quip and surrounds himself with media.

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— The pundits are taking notice … WaPo’s Aaron Blake, who’d put DeSantis first on ranking of top 10 GOP presidential candidates most likely to win the primary, has now moved Trump to the top. His “Trump-usurper armor has shown some early cracks,” he writes, going on to highlight his mixed messages on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“DeSantis once could do no wrong, it seemed, and that threatened Trump,” Blake adds. “But the last two weeks delivered something of a reality check.”

Our Steve Shepard, meanwhile, highlights DeSantis’ ongoing struggles connecting with the GOP’s “beer track” — that is, the less-educated and lower-income portion of the primary electorate — and some recent softening in his support among the more affluent “wine track.”

Bloomberg’s Nancy Cook this morning takes note of the impressive recent senior staff influx into DeSantis world, with KEN CUCCINELLI, JEFF ROE and former Trump spokesperson ERIN PERRINE all signed on to his Never Back Down super PAC and former TED CRUZ finance director LAUREN LOFSTROM expected to join his campaign in a fundraising role. (CBS first reported Perrine’s hire.)

But they are coming aboard an unsteady ship, Cook writes in a piece focused on the “bad week” for the Florida gov: “Despite the campaign’s organization and discipline so far, DeSantis’s efforts to project competence and seem above the fray have been upended as Trump pulls away in the polls.”

Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN’S SATURDAY — The president has nothing on his public schedule.

VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SATURDAY — The VP and second gentleman DOUG EMHOFF will leave Joint Base Andrews at 6:10 p.m. for Lajes Air Base, Portugal.

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WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris shakes hands with Eric Garcetti after his swearing in ceremony as Ambassador to India at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on March 24, 2023 in Washington, DC. Garcetti previously served as the mayor of Los Angeles, California from 2013 to 2022. Garcetti was joined (L-R) by his mother- in-law Dee Wakeland, mother Sukey Garcetti, father Gil Garcetti, wife Amy Wakeland and his daughter Maya Garcetti. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)Pin

VP Kamala Harris swears in Eric Garcetti as U.S. ambassador to India yesterday. | Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images



1. LATEST IN THE MIDDLE EAST: “Conflict in Syria Escalates Following Attack That Killed a U.S. Contractor,” by NYT’s Eric Schmitt: “Iran-backed militias launched a volley of rocket and drone attacks against coalition bases after American reprisals for a drone attack that killed a U.S. contractor and injured six other Americans. President Biden … sought to tamp down fears that tit-for-tat strikes between the United States and militant groups could spiral out of control, while at the same time warning Tehran to rein in its proxies.”

The latest casualties, via CBS: “A U.S. service member was wounded in a series of new attacks Friday.”

What went wrong, per NYT: “Two U.S. officials said the main air defense system at the base was ‘not fully operational’ at the time [of the Thursday attack], raising questions about whether the attackers had detected that vulnerability and exploited it, or just happened to send the drone at that time.”

The geopolitical implications, via WaPo: “The violence that erupted in Syria in recent days highlights the risk for escalation at a moment when Washington and Tehran remain sharply at odds.”

2. ARREST DEVELOPMENT: “Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg gets death threat with powder after Trump warns of probe-related violence,” by CNBC’s Dan Mangan: “‘ALVIN: I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ said the typewritten note in a letter contained in an envelope addressed to [ALVIN] BRAGG … The letter, containing an Orlando, Florida, postmark from Tuesday, was found in the DA’s mail room … The white powder in the envelope was found to be non-hazardous.”

What’s the hold-up? “[F]our legal experts who worked in the DA’s office prior to Bragg’s tenure said [this week’s] pauses didn’t necessarily signal a troubling turn for the investigation,” Erica Orden reports. “They’re more likely the result of prosecutors weighing whether to present a rebuttal witness to counter claims the grand jury heard earlier in the week from a Trump ally or an effort to minimize the time between an indictment and the former president’s surrender. The inaction, though, combined with Bragg’s silence — legally mandated due to grand jury secrecy laws — have allowed Trump to fill the void.”

The big picture: “G.O.P. Demands on Prosecutor in Trump Case Test Limits of Oversight Power,” by NYT’s Charlie Savage

3. WHO’S OUT … AND WHO MIGHT BE IN: Georgia Gov. BRIAN KEMP tells WSJ’s James Taranto outright that he’s not considering a presidential run (among other candid commentary). But The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Rob Port floats a new name: North Dakota Gov. DOUG BURGUM, who’s traveling to Iowa, making more national media appearances and possibly doing some polling in Iowa.

4. PAGING JOE MANCHIN: “U.S. eyeing ways to include Europe in electric car tax breaks,” by Zack Colman: “No such concessions for Europe will be included in a long-awaited proposed guidance that the Treasury Department will release for the incentives next week … But ongoing talks between the U.S. and EU could produce an agreement allowing vehicles that include European minerals to qualify for the full extent of the tax breaks.”

5. LAW & ORDER: SVB: “How Bank Oversight Failed: The Economy Changed, Regulators Didn’t,” by WSJ’s Andrew Ackerman, Angel Au-Yeung and Hannah Miao: It was “a combination of fast shifts in the economy plus regulators who adjusted only slowly, if at all, to those changes. Even when supervisors spotted problems, they didn’t move quickly or decisively enough to stop them from snowballing into a crisis.”

Related reads: “Bank failures and rescue test Yellen’s decades of experience,” by AP’s Fatima Hussein … “Banking failures put Fed under yet another harsh political spotlight,” by WaPo’s Rachel Siegel

6. THE NEW GOP: “The right’s new viral video fixation,” by Semafor’s Dave Weigel: “Contextless video clips of fights, anti-white harassment, and general urban decay appear to be flooding conservative corners of social media, where they’re shared with commentary blaming liberal prosecutors for an unchecked crime wave and progressives for racial division. … At least one prominent conservative user who has been harshly critical of the left’s take on crime and race [IAN MILES CHEONG] is unnerved by what he sees as a steady stream of vaguely sourced rage-bait.”


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7. SPECIAL REPORT: “U.S. and China wage war beneath the waves — over internet cables,” by Reuters’ Joe Brock in Singapore: “Subsea cables, which carry the world’s data, are now central to the U.S.-China tech war. Washington, fearful of Beijing’s spies, has thwarted Chinese projects abroad and choked Big Tech’s cable routes to Hong Kong.”

8. WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, PART I: “Crisis in Israel Tests the Complicated Ties Between Biden and Netanyahu,” by NYT’s Katie Rogers: “[I]t also highlights how Mr. Biden, who has warned that democracies around the world are vulnerable to an uprising of populist and authoritarian forces, now faces not only a foreign policy challenge — but a domestic one, as well. Concern is growing among American Jewish leaders who say they are alarmed by the move to overhaul the Israeli judiciary at a time when groups of Americans, particularly young ones, are cooling on their support for Israel.”

9. WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, PART II: “Stolen Valor: The U.S. Volunteers in Ukraine Who Lie, Waste and Bicker,” by NYT’s Justin Scheck and Thomas Gibbons-Neff: “They rushed to Ukraine by the thousands, many of them Americans … Now, after a year of combat, many of these homespun groups of volunteers are fighting with themselves and undermining the war effort. Some have wasted money or stolen valor. Others have cloaked themselves in charity while also trying to profit off the war.”

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 15 funnies

A political cartoon is pictured with Donald Trump in Pin

Davies – Andrews McMeel

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“Why Kids Aren’t Falling in Love With Reading,” by The Atlantic’s Katherine Marsh: “Hint: It’s not just the screens.”

“The Making of Tom Wambsgans,” by The Ringer’s Alan Siegel: “Before the final season of ‘Succession,’ Matthew Macfadyen and others explain the creation and expansion of the show’s most unlikely power player.”

“I Saw the Face of God in a Semiconductor Factory,” by Wired’s Virginia Heffernan: “As the US boosts production of silicon chips, an American journalist goes inside TSMC, the mysterious Taiwanese company at the center of the global industry.”

“Taken for a Ride,” by Ian Frisch in The Verge: “He was a self-made tech millionaire looking for a good time. But a Tinder date turned out to be a brazen car theft scam. And things only got worse when he tried to get his prized Jaguar back.”

“Gunsapalooza!” by Ander Monson in Esquire: “At the world’s biggest machine gun shoot, a tight-knit community of enthusiasts from diverse backgrounds are married, buried, and bonded forever by their shared passion: blasting away with extreme firearms.”

“Tate-Pilled,” by N.Y. Mag’s Lisa Miller: “What a generation of boys have found in Andrew Tate’s extreme male gospel.”

“In Search of Lost Time,” by Tom Vanderbilt in Harper’s: “The science of the perfect second.”

“What If the Worst Crime Imaginable Never Happened?” by Lara Bazelon in The New Republic: “Jimmie Duncan is on death row in Louisiana based on fraudulent science — but that might not matter if the state’s governorship flips this fall.”

“Antonin Scalia’s Origins,” by Jeffrey Sutton in National Review

“Getting the Candidate We Deserve,” by Jeffrey Anderson in the Claremont Review of Books: “Time to redesign the GOP presidential nominating process.”

“Why So Many Elites Feel Like Losers,” by Freddie deBoer: “It’s destabilizing to have a nation of young strivers with no coherent vision or path to success.”

JOIN POLITICO ON 4/5 FOR THE 2023 RECAST POWER LIST: America’s demographics and power dynamics are changing — and POLITICO is recasting how it covers the intersection of race, identity, politics and policy. Join us for a conversation on the themes of the 2023 Recast Power List that will examine America’s decision-making tables, who gets to sit at them, and the challenges that still need to be addressed. REGISTER HERE.


Greg Murphy and Katherine Tai got into it a bit: “You’re too nice a person to be in the job that you’re in.” … “I don’t need your pity.”

Rob Menendez got custom Air Force 1s, while Patrick McHenry and Richard Hudson dressed up in honor of Howard Coble.

Steph Curry and Chloe Kim are among the new members of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition.

Kyle Cheney needs to ask POLITICO for a new computer.

TRANSITION — Ellen Locke is now PAC manager for UnitedHealth Group. She most recently was director for U.S. government relations at MetLife, and is a Nationwide alum.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Bari WeissErika Moritsugu of the White House … Sofia Kinzinger Jordan Montoya of first lady Jill Biden’s office … POLITICO’s Raymond Rapada Michael Ortiz of Sequoia Capital Partners … Liz Timmons of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Democrats … Joel Wanger of the Democratic Majority for Israel … AP’s Steven Sloan … Fox News’ Nick Kalman and Pat Ward … CAP’s Daniella Gibbs LégerKatey McCutcheon of Firehouse Strategies … Raben Group’s Pete Weber Marneé Banks Emily Schillinger of the American Investment Council … Sarah BadawiGrant Dubler of Sen. Jacky Rosen’s (D-Nev.) office … Lauren Aronson of Mehlman Consulting … UPS’ Andrew OkuyigaPatrick BaileyAnthony GarrettLauryl Dodson JacksonSarah EymanChristopher HaleJoe ChelakAaron David MillerCarolyn Goodman Arthur Allen Chris Whipple Pete Van Vleet … BCW’s Erica Cooke Maddie Wu Nicola Wenz Kelton Morgan (54) … Gene Shalit (97) … Gloria Steinem

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

CNN “State of the Union”: Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) … Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) … Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) … Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). Panel: Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), Kristen Soltis Anderson, Karen Finney and Scott Jennings.

NBC “Meet the Press”: Joe Tacopina … Preet Bharara … Utah Gov. Spencer Cox. Panel: Yamiche Alcindor, Cornell Belcher, Peggy Noonan and Jake Sherman.

Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures”: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) … Mike Pompeo … Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) … Matt Taibbi. Panel: Alan Dershowitz and Matthew Whitaker.

ABC “This Week”: Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) … Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.). Panel: Dan Abrams and Asha Rangappa. Panel: Donna Brazile, Sarah Isgur, Astead Herndon and Alex Burns.

MSNBC “PoliticsNation”: Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) … Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) … Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) … Brandon Johnson.

CBS “Face the Nation”: Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) … Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) … John Kirby … Neel Kashkari … Bill Bratton … Robert Costa … Rikki Klieman.

FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) … TobyMac. Panel: Brit Hume, Trey Gowdy and Jonathan Turley. Panel: Annmarie Hordern, Lis Smith, Guy Benson and Vince Coglianese.

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.

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