Playbook: The GOP’s week of woes

Playbook: The GOP’s week of woes

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With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross


UNDERSTANDING TENNESSEE — “No One Should Be That Shocked by What’s Happening in Tennessee,” by Natalie Allison: “I covered the statehouse for years. It’s been heading in this direction for a while.”

SALEM, NH - JANUARY 28: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee's Annual Meeting on January 28, 2023 in Salem,  New Hampshire. In his first campaign events since announcing his plans to run for president for a third time, the former President will also be speaking today in South Carolina, both early-voting states. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s arrest in Manhattan solidified his frontrunner status in the Republican primary. | Scott Eisen/Getty Images

BAD SIGNS FOR THE GOP — If you want to assess the health of the Republican Party going into 2024, there are three big things to watch:

1. Is DONALD TRUMP rebounding? The former president is deeply unpopular and has led his party to three losses in a row after barely winning in 2016. Absent a reinvention that drastically improves his popularity among the small but crucial swing voters who have abandoned the Trumpified GOP, his strength in the GOP primary likely correlates with GOP disappointment next November.

2. Are national issues trending in the GOP’s favor? The threat from MAGA and the threat to abortion rights have repeatedly proven to be winning issues for Democrats in swing races. The more they dominate the national conversation, the worse it is for Republicans.

3. Is President JOE BIDEN still hiding? Biden is also unpopular (43% approval) but the adage he has also lived by — “Don’t compare me to the almighty. Compare me to the alternative.” — has served him well since 2020. The more Biden is able to lay low and keep the spotlight elsewhere — on Trump, on MAGA, on GOP divisions in the House, on unpopular issues such as abortion bans — the more he is able to dodge scrutiny about his age and potential vulnerabilities on issues like crime, identity politics and inflation.

All three of these metrics were pushed in the wrong direction for Republicans this week.

First, Trump’s arrest in Manhattan solidified his frontrunner status in the Republican primary. His campaign said it raised $12 million after the indictment. His lead over Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS in the average of national polls has widened to 27 points (52%-25%), and, yes, national polls at this point in a presidential primary are actually good predictors of the eventual winner.

Meanwhile, DeSantis continues to struggle with donors, as this NYT piece documents, and GOP strategists with no love for Trump continue to grumble on the record about his weaknesses:

— MIKE MURPHY: “There are questions in Republican circles about DeSantis’s candidate skills.”

— ROB STUTZMAN: “I think he’s had a wobbly few weeks in communicating to donors.”

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In a piece this morning, National Review’s Andrew McCarthy warns: “If [Trump] is the Republican nominee, [Democrats] win going away.

“Don’t be fooled by snapshot polls showing Trump beating Biden — which Democrats are hyping because, for now, they want us to think he can win. He can’t. Don’t allow the intensity of Trump’s base supporters to mask how deeply unpopular he is with the country writ large. He had consistently low job-approval ratings as president … Trump could never again win a national election after the 2020 coup attempt, the Capitol riot, and his continued delusional insistence that reelection was stolen from him.

“Moreover, the demagogic riffs that make MAGA crowds swoon — and that Trump doubled down on at this week’s Mar-a-Lago rally (because why wouldn’t an arraignment be the occasion for a rally?) — are exactly what most Americans find deeply disturbing about him. If he’s the nominee, the Democrats will retain the White House by ten points or more, with the tide sweeping the Senate and the House their way, too.”

Second, abortion and House GOP dysfunction returned as dominant issues. Just three days after Democrats proved the strength of their position on protecting abortion rights by winning an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas issued his long-predicted ruling yesterday banning the most common method of abortion (see below for more on that).

Jonathan Swan and Annie Karni’s NYT story about infighting among House Republican leaders, perhaps the most important scoop about Speaker KEVIN McCARTHY’s tenure so far, has helped set up the coming showdown between Biden and congressional Republicans in a maximally beneficial way to the White House.

Finally, Biden continues to be a minor character in American politics in a way that is unprecedented for a modern president. (Quick, can you remember anything notable he said this week?) One reason he continues to put off his reelection announcement is that the almighty/alternative strategy is working just fine.

As one Dem official put it, “What do you gain when the split screen puts them in a bad light and us in a good one?”

Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line and tell us why we’re wrong about the GOP’s bad week: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

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

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A Ukrainian “Grad” fires toward the Russian front lines in the Donetsk region today. | Evgeniy Maloletka/AP Photo



1. MAJOR ABORTION RULING: “Texas federal judge halts FDA approval of abortion pill mifepristone; Biden administration filing appeal,” by CBS’ Melissa Quinn: “In a 67-page opinion, U.S. District Judge MATTHEW KACSMARYK said the FDA’s two-decade-old approval violated a federal rule that allows for accelerated approval for certain drugs and, along with subsequent actions by the agency, was unlawful. He put his decision on hold for seven days to allow for the Biden administration to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The Biden administration indeed filed its notice of appeal late Friday night. … Kacsmaryk’s injunction stopped short of withdrawing or suspending the FDA’s approval of mifepristone.”

Competing ruling: “On the heels of Kacsmaryk’s decision, a federal judge in Washington state issued a decision in a separate case involving mifepristone that preliminarily blocked the Biden administration from altering the status quo as it relates to the availability of the drug. The two competing orders sets up a high-stakes showdown likely to land before the Supreme Court.”

Biden’s statement: “If this ruling were to stand, then there will be virtually no prescription, approved by the FDA, that would be safe from these kinds of political, ideological attacks.”

Steve Shepard dives into the polling: “Abortion was a 50/50 issue. Now, it’s Republican quicksand”: “The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last year ending that constitutional right has exposed Americans’ broad opposition to the strict abortion bans adopted or proposed in GOP-controlled states. And it’s revealed that public surveys on the matter probably need more nuanced questions now.”

2. BALLOONING DISASTER: “New Batch of Classified Documents Appears on Social Media Sites,” by NYT’s Helene Cooper, Julian Barnes, Eric Schmitt and Thomas Gibbons-Neff: “The scale of the leak — analysts say more than 100 documents may have been obtained — along with the sensitivity of the documents themselves, could be hugely damaging, U.S. officials said. A senior intelligence official called the leak ‘a nightmare for the Five Eyes’ … [T]he leaked documents appear to go well beyond highly classified material on Ukraine war plans. … [T]he increasing trove also includes sensitive briefing slides on China, the Indo-Pacific military theater, the Middle East and terrorism.”

More developments: “Justice Dept. will investigate leak of classified Pentagon documents,” WaPo … “Pentagon Investigates More Social-Media Posts Purporting to Include Secret U.S. Documents,” WSJ … “Leaked military documents on Ukraine battlefield operations circulated as early as March,” POLITICO

3. MORE FROM TENNESSEE: “‘We need you all:’ VP Harris to Fisk crowd after ‘Tennessee Three’ expulsions and Covenant shooting,” by the Nashville Tennessean’s Liam Adams and Melissa Brown: “‘It was about who they were representing, it was about whose voices they were channeling,’ [VP KAMALA HARRIS] said. ‘Is that not what a democracy allows? A democracy says you don’t silence the people, you do not stifle the people, you do not turn off their microphones when they are speaking about the importance of life and liberty.’”

Biden also had a video call with Tennessee state Rep. GLORIA JOHNSON and expelled state Reps. JUSTIN JONES and JUSTIN PEARSON.

Related reads: “The view from Nashville: How Democrats turned their punishment into a national cause,” by Semafor’s Dave Weigel

4. THE JAN. 6 PROSECUTIONS: “Appeals court ruling puts hundreds of Jan. 6 felony cases in limbo,” by Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein: “The three-judge panel spared the Justice Department an immediate disaster by agreeing to permit three challenged Jan. 6 obstruction cases to continue. But the judges — one liberal and two conservatives — all raised serious questions about whether other Jan. 6 obstruction cases might face legitimate challenges. At the heart of the conflict is how to measure whether Jan. 6 rioters acted with ‘corrupt intent,’ a central element in the crime of obstructing an official proceeding.”

5. ARIZONA SENATE RACE TAKING SHAPE: “Arizona GOP Sheriff Mark Lamb to launch a U.S. Senate bid,” by NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard: Pinal County Sheriff MARKLAMB’s entrance could set up a key Republican primary match-up with KARI LAKE … Lamb has remained a vocal critic of President Joe Biden’s administration’s handling of the southern border.”

“Kyrsten Sinema Is Preparing for a 2024 Re-Election Campaign as an Independent,” by WSJ’s Eliza Collins: “People close to [Sen. KYRSTEN] SINEMA said she saw a possible path to victory that includes keeping some Democratic voters, but her focus will be on bringing in a significant number of the state’s independent voters and soft Republicans turned off by their party’s rightward swing.”

6. BUBBLE BURST: After the possible hiring of LAURA LOOMER on the Trump campaign was floated in the NYT yesterday, the backlash was fierce — and by the end of the day, “a high-ranking campaign official said Ms. Loomer was no longer going to be hired,” Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan report. The news had provoked an especially sharp reaction from Rep. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-Ga.), who feuded with Loomer and urged Trump to reconsider hiring someone who’s “mentally unstable and a documented liar.”

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7. THE OTHER TRUMP INVESTIGATIONS: “Georgia Looms Next After Trump’s Indictment in New York,” by NYT’s Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim: “While nothing is certain, there are numerous signs that [Fulton County DA FANI WILLIS] may go big, with a more kaleidoscopic indictment charging not only Mr. Trump, but perhaps a dozen or more of his allies. … For Ms. Willis, the choice to pursue a narrowly focused indictment or more a sprawling one — a classic prosecutor’s dilemma — carries with it potential risks and benefits on both sides. … If Ms. Willis chooses to seek indictments in the Georgia case, she may do so after a new grand jury begins its work in the second week of May, though nothing is set in stone.”

8. RED-LIGHT REDISTRICT: “Tish James and Hochul seek to toss House lines in New York,” by Joseph Spector in Albany: “New York Attorney General TISH JAMES and Gov. KATHY HOCHUL submitted a court brief Friday in support of having new district lines drawn for the U.S. House after the current ones crafted by a judge last year fueled Republican gains.”

9. HOUSE GOP’S LATEST SALVO: House Judiciary Chair JIM JORDAN (R-Ohio) requested testimony and documents from Manhattan DA senior counsel MATTHEW COLANGELO as Republicans continue to attack the office’s indictment of Trump, per NBC. “He also asked Colangelo to schedule a ‘transcribed interview’ with committee staff by April 21.”

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker15 funnies

A political cartoon is pictured of NATO construction around Vladimir Putin.Pin

Granlund – Cagle

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“Emma Tucker’s Deadline,” by N.Y. Mag’s Shawn McCreesh: “The new Wall Street Journal editor had just been imported from London by Rupert Murdoch. Then Evan Gershkovich was arrested.”

“How Fox Chased Its Audience Down the Rabbit Hole,” by the NYT Magazine’s Jim Rutenberg: “Rupert Murdoch built an empire by giving viewers exactly what they wanted. But what they wanted — election lies and insurrection — put that empire (and the country) in peril.”

“Candace Owens — Friend of Kanye, Power Troll, Parler ‘Trad Wife’ — Is ‘Playing for Keeps,’” by Vanity Fair’s Emily Jane Fox: “Triggering people is her business, and business is good, she tells VF. As for Trump in 2024? It’s complicated.”

“Tenn. drag queens feared it was their final hour — and gave it their all,” by WaPo’s Jesús Rodríguez in Johnson City: “Hours before a new state law was set to take effect, an enthusiastic crowd (and presidential long shot Marianne Williamson) turns out to support their queens.”

“The Gambler Who Beat Roulette,” by Kit Chellel in Bloomberg Businessweek: “For decades, casinos scoffed as mathematicians and physicists devised elaborate systems to take down the house. Then an unassuming Croatian’s winning strategy forever changed the game.”

“Hellhounds on His Trail: Mack McCormick’s Long, Tortured Quest to Find the Real Robert Johnson,” by Texas Monthly’s Michael Hall: “For decades, the Houston folklorist labored over his biography of the legendary bluesman. Seven years after McCormick’s death, the book is finally out—and so are the secrets long kept by its troubled author.”

“‘Bees are sentient’: inside the stunning brains of nature’s hardest workers,” by Annette McGivney for The Guardian in Cortez, Colo.: “‘Fringe’ research suggests the insects that are essential to agriculture have emotions, dreams and even PTSD, raising complex ethical questions.”

“How Rural America Steals Girls’ Futures,” by Monica Potts in The Atlantic, adapted from her new book, “The Forgotten Girls” ($28): “Death in a dying town.”

“A Psychedelics Pioneer Takes the Ultimate Trip,” by the NYT Magazine’s David Marchese

STEP INSIDE THE WEST WING: What’s really happening in West Wing offices? Find out who’s up, who’s down, and who really has the president’s ear in our West Wing Playbook newsletter, the insider’s guide to the Biden White House and Cabinet. For buzzy nuggets and details that you won’t find anywhere else, subscribe today.


Martin Heinrich rocked long hair as a college student.

Dennis Kucinich is advising Robert F. Kennedy Jr. now.

Brandon Johnson made a play for the Democratic convention in Chicago in his phone call with Joe Biden.

Duncan Hunter played a previously unreported role in a 2004 friendly fire disaster in Iraq, NPR reports.

OUT AND ABOUT — MSNBC celebrated 10 years of “All In with Chris Hayes” at DOM Lounge in Manhattan on Thursday night. Rashida Jones lauded Hayes’ “eternal curiosity,” and Hayes expressed his “tremendous and profound gratitude” for the work. His parents and wife, Kate Shaw, were there, and DJ Prince Hakim did the music. SPOTTED: Cesar Conde, Phil Griffin, Greg Kordick, Joy Reid, Alex Wagner, Stephanie Ruhle, Lawrence O’Donnell, Trymaine Lee, Jacob Soboroff, Andrew Weissmann, Elie Mystal and Ben Smith.

TRANSITIONS — Building Back Together is announcing new staff moves: Ari Appel is now chief programming officer, Maired Cahill is now political director, and Olivia Eggers is now press secretary. … Declan McLoughlin is joining the Irish Embassy as research and administration officer for agriculture and justice. He previously was coordinator of government affairs at the Global Cold Chain Alliance.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) … NBC’s Chuck Todd … POLITICO’s Nicholas Wu, Christian Guirreri, Grant Verploeg and Corbin Hiar Mary Beth Cahill … former House Majority Leader Tom DeLaySeymour HershRobin Sproul of Javelin … Mike Leiter of Skadden Arps … NYT’s Dave Shaw … WaPo’s Zach GoldfarbJohn Williams of Level … Annie PalisiMike Cohen of the Cohen Research Group and Purple Strategies … Ro’s Meghan PiantaJim Garamone Jessica Nigro of Lucid Motor … Joel Rubin … Bullpen Strategy Group’s David CraneRaymond SillerMelissa Wagoner OlesenAaron KleinDan Gainor … NPR’s Emily Hamilton … DNC’s Brencia Berry Susan BrophyMaria Orilla … Gray TV’s Priscilla Huff

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

NBC “Meet the Press”: Justin Jones … Jim Trusty … Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). Panel: Brendan Buck, Laura Jarrett, Amna Nawaz and Symone Sanders-Townsend.

CNN “State of the Union”: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) … Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas). Panel: Faiz Shakir, Scott Brown, Daniella Gibbs Léger and Kristen Soltis Anderson.

FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) … Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) … Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel. Panel: Juan Williams, Josh Kraushaar, Morgan Ortagus and Marc Thiessen.

CBS “Face the Nation”: Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) … Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) … Barry Black. Panel: Doug Brinkley, Lindsay Chervinsky, Jon Meacham and Richard Norton Smith.

ABC “This Week”: Bill Barr … Jim Trusty … Rob Manfred. Panel: Chris Christie, Karen Finney, Rick Klein and Leigh Ann Caldwell.

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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