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Political Wire logo Ron DeSantis’s (Almost) Impossible Task
Few GOP Lawmakers Willing to Commit to DeSantis
Trump Takes DeSantis Fight to Florida
House GOP May Not Have Votes on Border Security Bill
McCarthy Holds a Bad Hand on the Debt Limit
DeSantis Gets Lukewarm Welcome on Capitol Hill

DeSantis Is Making a Deal (or Two) with the Devil

When Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) began to maneuver in anticipation of a presidential bid, we wrote numerous times that many politicians who had much success in politics wilted once they got to the big leagues. And, of course, we wondered whether that fate would also befall the governor. After all, the road to the White House is littered with the carcasses of folks like Jeb Bush, Howard Dean, Rudy Giuliani and Jerry Brown.

As we wrote last week, the early returns are not good. DeSantis is trying to outflank Donald Trump from the right, and the further right the Governor goes, the further he sinks in the polls. DeSantis just got another terrible poll, one from, of all places, The Association for Canadian Studies. According to the 'Nades, Trump is up 30 points, 52% to 22%. Readers might be skeptical, for obvious reasons, but recall that this comports with other recent polls of the (shadow) race. FiveThirtyEight also just launched its national polling average tracker for 2024, and they have Trump up nearly 25 points, on average, 49.4% to 25.9%.

The purpose of running for president is well, to be elected president. Marianne Williamson, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) don't know this (and please don't tell them because it will ruin their day), but DeSantis does. That means you have to balance factors that will help you in the primary but could be fatal in the general election. Getting a major party nomination and then going down in flames in November doesn't hack it.

Nevertheless, DeSantis just made a deal with the devil. He signed a bill that will ban almost all abortions after a woman has been pregnant for 6 weeks. Of course, many women don't even know they are pregnant at 6 weeks. So de facto this will end most abortions in Florida. In the Republican primaries, pitching how aggressively pro-life he is might help DeSantis win over Trump supporters. However, the same action that could (possibly) help him in the primaries could be fatal if he makes it to the general election. Abortion was a key topic in the 2022 midterms. It also figured in six referendums and a recent Supreme Court election in Wisconsin. A record of strongly opposing abortion, which is what DeSantis now has, is going to be a big millstone around his neck in the general election, if he gets that far.

It would be ironic if the thing that gets him the nomination is the same thing that dooms him in the general election, but that could happen if Trump falters. Democrats fully understand this and going to make sure all the voters understand it as well. Jackson Peel, a spokesman for Florida House Democrats said: "I can't understand what DeSantis' political calculus is here. Once this ball started rolling, he couldn't stop it. He either loses the primary or he loses the general over this issue."

Groups like Planned Parenthood are making concrete plans to knock on doors, run digital ads, and register voters to make sure everyone knows where DeSantis stands. They are especially focused on the bellwether states any Republican must win in the general election. Some Republican candidates, like Scott, can try to deflect and hide from the issue, but DeSantis signature on the Florida bill makes that completely impossible. A situation where the thing that could get him the nomination is the same thing that could destroy him in the general election is truly a deal with the devil.

It isn't that Republicans as a whole aren't aware of the problem abortion is going to cause them. They know very well, but also know that not being gung ho enough will be fatal with their base while being so is fatal with independents they need to win general elections. Basically, they are scared and the more it is in the news, the worse it gets. Heaven forbid that the Supreme Court upholds (part of) the decision by Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk. That would fire up Democrats and Independents to new heights and put all Republicans in a terrible bind, just like DeSantis: Please the base and lose the general election or antagonize the base and maybe lose the nomination. It's going to be tough.

And recall, we didn't write that it's just one deal with the devil... it's potentially two. DeSantis backs Florida HB 1617, which is currently winding its way through the state legislature. It's an anti-immigration bill, one that includes some of the standard anti-immigrant stuff, like forcing hospitals to collect information on patients' immigration status (with an eye toward denying them healthcare), and denying DACA recipients the right to obtain law licenses. But the "highlight" of the bill is verbiage that makes guilty of a felony anyone who "Conceals, harbors, or shields from detection, or attempts to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, in any place within this state, including any temporary or permanent structure or any means of transportation, an individual whom the person knows, or reasonably should know, has entered the United States in violation of law." The bill also criminalizes the knowing and willful transport of undocumented immigrants. The maximum penalty is five years in prison, five more years' probation and a $5,000 fine for each offense.

If the law was written to apply to problematic situations, like sex trafficking, or perhaps the "coyotes" who make their living sneaking people across the border (often in dangerous fashion), then one might be able to defend the bill. But as constituted, the legislation would make felons out of a lot of immigrant families. If dad, for example, is undocumented, then sleeping in the same house with him and driving him to work the next day would be a potential 10-years-in-prison crime. This kind of arrangement is quite common in many southwestern states.

Who knows if the Florida law will pass, or how it will be enforced if it does. But, in many ways, the damage has already been done. We suspect that the Governor thinks he "understands" Latino voters, because he's done so well with Cubans in Florida. But Cubans, on the whole, were welcomed to the U.S. with open arms because they were fleeing a hated communist regime. They are generally somewhat conservative on immigration policy, as a result. By contrast, the Mexicans who predominate in the Southwest had a very different experience. And for many of them, a bill like this is a dealbreaker. It largely doesn't even matter if it passes; the mere fact that DeSantis would support such measures is all it takes. And you can bet that, like the Planned Parenthood folks, the activists with organizations like Mi Familia Vota and Voto Latino will make certain everyone knows where the governor stands.

The upshot here is that DeSantis is taking an extreme position on abortion, which is going to be deeply problematic for him in the Upper Midwest/Rust Belt area. And he's taking an extreme position on immigration, which is going to deeply problematic for him in the Southwest. And you know what the Midwest/Rust Belt/Southwest contain? Virtually all of the swing states (except Georgia). And these positions aren't just extreme (as compared to the national electorate), they are what might be called "unforgivable." That is to say, a candidate might, over the course of 12-14 months, pivot away from an extreme position on, say, fossil fuel extraction or tariffs on China. But the relevant voters do not forgive and do not forget extreme positions on abortion and immigration.

And compare that to Donald Trump. Yes, he talked about building the wall that never got built, and he rounded up immigrant families and put them in cages. That did not play well with many Latino voters. But he never backed policies that could have turned immigrants who can actually vote into felons. Similarly, he has led, for something like 6 years, a party whose core issue is restricting abortion. And yet, does anyone really know what his position on abortion is? Yes, he's appointed anti-abortion judges, but that's another case of him reaping the benefits of something, while shifting the blame to someone else. The former president has, by hook or by crook, largely danced around this politically tricky issue.

In any case, DeSantis' unimpressive entry onto the national stage is already having consequences for him. Thomas Peterffy, who was one of those billionaires willing to give DeSantis' PAC a blank check, has announced that he's no longer backing the Governor. While Peterffy appreciates the war against Disney, he otherwise thinks DeSantis has veered too far right, between the abortion ban and the book bans.

Meanwhile, more and more Republican officeholders are lining up behind Trump. Yesterday, five more members of Congress gave their support to the former president. The five are the two Tennessee senators (Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, both R), and three representatives (Greg Steube, R-FL, and John Rose and Diana Harshbarger, both R-TN). Overall, here's a tally of the endorsements that Trump and DeSantis have landed:

Type Donald Trump Ron DeSantis
U.S. Senators 9 0
U.S. Representatives 48 8
U.S. Representatives from Florida 8 1
Governors 2 0

The only place where DeSantis is doing better than Trump, endorsement-wise, is among state legislators. And that's only because pretty much the entire Utah legislature has backed him.

DeSantis may be a clumsy presidential candidate, at least judging by the results so far, but he's certainly savvy enough to know he's got trouble. So, according to The Wall Street Journal, he's rebooting his presidential campaign. That's a pretty remarkable thing for a campaign that does not technically exist, as yet, and where the actual election is 18 months away. Note, however, that the plan for the reboot is to tack even further right; signing the abortion bill was, in effect, the starting point for DeSantis 2024 v2.0. There is no way that getting even more extreme is going to work for him, so we are looking forward to DeSantis 2024 v3.0. Maybe it will come with signs that say "Ron!" (V & Z)

DeSantis vs. The Mouse, Round 3

Perhaps you are left with the impression that we are underwhelmed with Ron DeSantis as a presidential candidate. If so, good, it means we are communicating effectively. Part of it is the strategizing we describe above, which is both transparent and transparently unworkable. And another part of it is his fight with Disney; although the governor is allegedly smarter and less impulsive from Trump, that certainly hasn't been the case with DeSantis' fight against the Mouse. It sure looks like he shot from the hip, and did not think about consequences or counter-moves at all.

See, (Z) has lectured many times on Disney and also grew up in the shadow of Disneyland. And if there is one thing that you learn very quickly, it's that the Disney Corporation has the best group of corporate lawyers in the world. This makes sense; Disney's cash flow depends on its ability to maintain its intellectual property and its ability to maintain its favored-nations tax and infrastructure status. Both of those things require lots and lots of top-notch lawyers.

And so, if one is considering taking on the Empire of Walt, one should make very certain that one has also retained some very, very good lawyers and has worked through all the possible permutations. It is clear that DeSantis did not do that; he obviously did not foresee that the Disney-controlled board members of the Reedy Creek Improvement District would cede virtually all of its powers back to Disney before vacating their seats in favor of DeSantis' handpicked cronies. If the Governor had foreseen this, he surely would have implemented at least some proactive defensive measures, right? Or, at very least, he wouldn't have sputtered like a teapot when he found out what Disney had done.

Now, after dealing Disney a glancing blow (Round 1), and then getting punched squarely in the mouth (Round 2), DeSantis has decided he's hungry for more. So yesterday, he decreed that he will take his revenge. Among the ideas he's bandying about:

  • Increase taxes on Disney World
  • Open up a prison next to Disney World
  • Open up a state-run theme park next to Disney World

It would truly be a gift to the universe of snark if DeSantis pursued the theme park option. Our suggestion? "Disneyland 1955." Get rid of "It's a Small World" and any other rides that have a diverse cast of characters. Let the "Pirates of the Caribbean" go back to sexually harassing their female conquests. Restore the rifles with live ammunition to the Main Street shooting gallery (true fact!) and sell a title sponsorship to the NRA. Get rid of the "Princess and the Pea" stuff at Splash Mountain, and bring back the "Song of the South" stuff, perhaps even adding an Uncle Remus statue. Have the "Jungle Cruise" guides talk about how "civilizing the natives" is tough work, but that's the White Man's Burden. Put the redface characters back in "Peter Pan." Switch "Autopia" from electrical cars back to gasoline-powered. It would be an anti-woke paradise!

If DeSantis is actually as smart as he's supposed to be, he'll do a bit more bloviating, then have a sit-down with Disney CEO Bob Iger and work out some sort of "truce." If not, well, we're not crackerjack corporate lawyers, but we know that Team Disney outdueled DeSantis the first time out without breaking a sweat. So, our money would be on them. Their worst case scenario is that they pull a Trump, tie up anything DeSantis tries to do in court for the next 5 years, and then work with the next Florida governor. (Z)

New York Waste of Time, Part I: Jordan Hits the Road

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) brought his Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government to New York City yesterday, with the idea that he and his fellow Republicans could score some meme-worthy soundbites at the expense of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg and the supposedly out-of-control crime that he's personally responsible for (well, him and George Soros, according to Committee member Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-FL).

The stunt appears to have bombed. It's true that the editorial board of The New York Post shed tears of joy, but they hate Bragg, and the hearings were only 3 miles from their main office. Otherwise, even the right-wing media, which is who the performance was staged for, seem to have responded with a collective yawn. Here, for example, is Fox's website last night:

There is no story anywhere about Jordan

As you can see, there's no main page story, there's no mini-link at the top, there's nothing.

Meanwhile, the witness who is getting most of the attention is someone who was not exactly on board with Jordan, messaging-wise. That would be Jim Kessler, the executive vice president for policy at the think tank Third Way, which describes itself as "modern center-left." Instead of railing against the hellscape that is NYC, Kessler said:

New York City is safer than most of the states of the members sitting on the dais on the majority side. In 2020, for example, New York City's murder rate was 18% below the national average for the entire United States. Mr. Chairman, Ohio's murder rate was 59% higher than New York City's...

A hearing about the ravages of crime could be in Alabama with its towering homicide rate and a mass killing that just happened yesterday, or Louisville, where five people were murdered in the blink of an eye at a downtown bank. Or the murder capital of California, which is not Los Angeles or San Francisco or Oakland, but in Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy's district of Kern County with its county seat of Bakersfield. And it has been the murder capital of California for six years running.

Kessler also mentioned Texas, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana, and Arizona as high-crime states. And in response to his remarks, several Democratic members of Jordan's committee made motions to adjourn and reconvene in Ohio.

In other words: Oops! It's an early-in-the-week helping of schadenfreude. While we are not attorneys, we are familiar with the adage that you don't put someone on the stand unless you know exactly what they are going to say. We would assume that Jordan, who actually is an attorney, has heard that. We also assume it applies to Congressional hearings that are being held for benefit of the cameras. Certainly, the 1/6 Committee knew what their witnesses were going to say.

And there's the rub. Jordan has failed, once again, to make the sort of impression that the 1/6 Committee made over and over. Maybe he's just not as good at this as Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney were. Or, just maybe, there's no substance here, and so he's got nothing but smoke and mirrors to work with. (Z)

New York Waste of Time, Part II: "George DeSantos" Is Running for Reelection

Rep. "George Santos" (R-NY) if nothing if not shameless. He's resisted calls to resign, even from senior members of the Congressional Republican Conference. And now, just over 100 days into his term, he's announced his reelection bid. Speaking of gifts to the world of snark.

We are hardly in tune with the dynamics of NY-03, but we do know it's D+2, and that "Santos" won election the first time by a whisker. And this time, he's already got a Republican challenger (Air Force veteran Kellen Curry) as well as a Democratic challenger for the general election (politician and Ph.D. candidate Josh Lafazan). Oh, and the local GOP organ has already said it will not support "Santos" under any circumstance. Oh, and he might well end up in legal trouble that causes him to get tossed out of Congress. Oh, and he's refunding more donations than he's bringing in. Still, it's not like he has anything better to do than run for reelection. After all, nearly all the good drag shows in Washington run only on the weekends.

Despite the Democratic lean of his district, "Santos" is all-in on running the Trumpiest campaign he can, and that includes both the substance (such as it is) and the style. This weekend, the Representative channelled his inner Donald for a Twitter flame war with Lafazan, who looks like this:

Josh Lafazan, who has a very
recessed chin, such that he barely appears to have a chin at all.

Here is the exchange:

Lafazan: Unlike @Santos4Congress, I didn't have to lie to get elected. My credentials are clean, I'm actually Jewish, & unlike yours, my diploma from Harvard is real

"Santos": Real like your chin?

Lafazan: Corrective jaw surgery helped me breathe normally & saved my life. My insurance covered it, & it's why I'm fighting so hard for universal health care.

You are beneath the office you hold. And I can't wait to replace you in Congress, in 2024 or sooner.

Send postcards from jail.

Looks like game, set and match to Lafazan from where we sit. In any case, if the race is already this nasty, it's going to supply a year's worth of headlines for The New York Post.

Senate Republicans to Senate Democrats: Buzz Off

We did not actually believe that Senate Republicans would play nice, and allow the Democrats to (temporarily) replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the Senate Judiciary Committee. First, the Senate is not a particularly collegial place these days, and the Republican Conference includes the chamber's most aggressive practitioners of obnoxiousness (Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Rand Paul, etc.). Further, even if they were inclined to play nice, the Republicans' base would not be happy about anything that makes it easier for the Democrats to approve judges. After all, imagine if the Democrats allowed a temporary replacement for, say, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), which in turn made it easy to confirm a judge like Matthew Kacsmaryk. The Democratic base would be hopping mad.

Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) & Co. made it official and said they are not interested in helping the blue team. For example, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) announced: "I support having Sen. Feinstein come back as soon as she can. But this effort to confirm controversial and in many instances largely unqualified nominees, I don't think you can expect any Republican cooperation." It's rich that he can carp about unqualified nominees, particularly in the same month that the headlines are being dominated by Kacsmaryk. As a reminder, the Judge was rated "qualified" by the ABA when he was nominated to the bench, which means he barely cleared their bar (no pun intended), and that he was not "highly qualified."

Now, the ball is in Feinstein's court. Can she make it back to Washington soon, for at least part-time work? Or, is she willing to throw in the towel and allow a replacement to be appointed? If the answer to either of those questions is "yes," then the Democrats don't have a problem here. If the answer to both is "no," however, then Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is going to earn his paycheck as he figures out how to proceed. (Z)

Fox-Dominion Case Is a Go

Yesterday, the start of the civil case that Dominion Voting System filed against Fox was delayed so the two sides could talk settlement. Who knows if they were serious about trying to hammer something out, or they were just humoring Judge Eric Davis, who strongly suggested they endeavor to avoid a trial. For our part, we just don't see how there's a middle ground available; Dominion wants blood and Fox wants to be exonerated.

It is no surprise, then, that the settlement talks were unproductive, which means the trial is set to commence today. Most or all of the day will be spent on jury selection, so there is not likely to be much in the way of important news tomorrow. But much has already been decided by the judge, such that the case shouldn't take all that long to adjudicate. There's talk of 3-4 weeks; if they time it right, they can bring the trial to a close on National Senior Fraud Awareness Day (May 15), which would certainly be apropos given Fox's business model. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr17 Alito Freezes the Abortion Pill Decisions for 5 Days
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Apr16 Pompeo Is Out
Apr16 Let the Politicking Begin
Apr16 Trump Is Deposed Again
Apr16 Glenn Youngkin Is Probably Not Running for President in 2024
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Apr11 Today's Republican Party, Part I: Discovering the "F" and "U" in "T-E-N-N-E-S-S-E-E"
Apr11 Today's Republican Party, Part II: Broadway-Bound
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