Welcome to Trail Mix, a fun but nutritious snack for your election news diet. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at [email protected].
This week, we look at Ron DeSantis’ first seven days officially in the race and preview a pair of long awaited 2024 campaign entrants.
‘Are you blind?’
After suffering the self-inflicted wounds of a chaotically glitchy Twitter campaign launch, Ron DeSantis finally hit the trail as an official presidential candidate this week.
To get back on track, the Florida governor needed a big rebound, one to silence the doubters who questioned his team’s readiness for prime time and to sway Republicans who’d been turned off by his botched start.
While there have been bright spots for DeSantis—like an impressive post-launch fundraising haul—his maiden campaign voyage didn’t exactly shake up the narrative that the 2024 primary is Donald Trump’s to lose.
In his travels around Iowa and New Hampshire, DeSantis’ biggest viral moment came when he snapped at a reporter who questioned him over not taking voter questions. He gently turned up the volume on his Trump rhetoric, but some voters are already growing weary of his attacks, with one telling CBS News he’s “not a huge fan of the shade.”
Meanwhile, on the social media battle lines where DeSantis’ very online campaign lives, a top aide to the governor, Christina Pushaw, may have blown the cover of influential conservatives who attended a DeSantis retreat—all in hopes of dunking on an alleged leaker. Before that, Pushaw had drawn attention for arguing with a 16-year old Trump supporter on Twitter.
Amid it all, DeSantis has not gained much in primary polls—though he hasn’t cratered, either.
Over in Trumpworld, there remains a sense of almost uncomfortable sustained bemusement at how their top rival has handled the crucial early days of his campaign.
”I don’t know how this is possible, but Ron DeSantis’ official campaign is going worse than his shadow campaign,” a Trump-aligned GOP strategist told The Daily Beast.
To assess the performance, The Daily Beast checked back in with a top strategist from Trump’s 2016 campaign, who predicted last week that DeSantis needed a 10-point bump in the polls within 72 hours of his campaign launch or “he’s toast.”
The strategist, who is sitting out the 2024 cycle, actually gave DeSantis higher marks, mostly for finally sharpening his attacks toward the former president.
“I honestly think he’s hitting Trump hard,” the strategist, citing a brief moment in a voter handshake line in New Hampshire where DeSantis took a swipe at Trump for not delivering enough over four years in office.
The Florida governor will need more such reviews if he is to gain serious traction as a threat to Trump in an increasingly crowded GOP primary field.
It’s far from guaranteed. A moment from the trail earlier on Thursday morning showed DeSantis’ lingering shakiness in more intimate settings, when he snapped at an Associated Press reporter for asking why voters were not given the chance to ask questions at the end of his remarks.
“Stop coming up to me, talking to me,” DeSantis said after releasing himself from a smiling pose with a voter. “People are coming up to me, talking to me. What are you talking about? Are you blind? Are you blind? People are coming up to me, talking to me whatever they want to talk to me about.”
The video captured by NBC News reporter Jonathan Allen did not offer the most flattering picture for DeSantis, who had a separate Q&A session along with mini-press conferences after his events earlier in the week in Iowa.
“I saw a pic of him with Casey [DeSantis] on stage, but no video,” the Trump 2016 strategist said, when asked whether the DeSantis campaign produced any good visuals after a campaign launch that was defined by the absence of any journalists. “Which is why they need to let press in. Dumb for them not to.”
The DeSantis campaign told The Daily Beast they would not be accepting any more RSVPs for their events on Thursday.
The campaign’s troubles didn’t end on the trail. Amid a contentious primary war to win over conservative influencers and right-wing media figures, the DeSantis press team inadvertently outed Fox News fixtures Clay Travis and Buck Sexton as attendees of the exclusive post-launch donor event that DeSantis held in Miami last week.
Days later, Pushaw posted a front-facing photo of the crowd in an attempt to show how the campaign found the alleged leaker of audio from the retreat—which instantly put MAGA sleuths on the scent for any public figures who may not have wanted to advertise their presence at the DeSantis event.
Travis, who also appears for Fox Sports’ gambling coverage, claimed he was just there to kick the tires on DeSantis as someone who “regularly [attends] candidate events all over the country to hear from candidates in person.” Later, he alluded to backlash he received from Trump supporters calling into his radio show, and deflected criticism by encouraging more listeners to call in.
What hasn’t been previously reported, according to a short video clip obtained by The Daily Beast, is that Travis actually spoke to attendees at the soiree at the Four Seasons in Miami, though the substance of his remarks remains unclear.
Representatives for Travis and Sexton did not return a request for comment.
There were signs in DeSantis’ first official spin as a candidate that his team is attempting to course-correct after months of scrutiny over his resistance to retail politics and engagement with the press.
In the campaign kickoff road tour, DeSantis was usually accompanied by his wife. Pitching questions to her husband and creating a softer contrast by talking about their three young children, the Florida first lady has long been expected by GOP campaign operatives to be an integral part of the campaign.
At one of the stops in New Hampshire on Thursday, she joked magic eraser can successfully remove crayon drawings from 18th century upholstery in the Florida governor’s mansion.
While DeSantis took questions from voters in Iowa, the New Hampshire visit was more of a mixed bag, with the governor avoiding a voter question portion entirely in Laconia and taking a handful of shouted questions later in the day.
“The real question is: Can Ron sell the voters?” the Trump 2016 strategist said, crediting the DeSantis communications team for being disciplined in their attacks on Trump’s record over the weekend.
In watching Trump on the trail, he appeared “rattled,” the former top adviser speculated.
Their hunch? The classified documents case led by Special Counsel Jack Smith.
“I think they’re shitting their pants over Jack Smith,” the former Trump adviser theorized. “I think Jack’s gonna fry his ass. God, he’s straight out of Tom Clancy.”
The Trump-aligned strategist also pointed to second place as being up for grabs among the rest of the field, something the former president will be watching closely.
“Because of Ron DeSantis’ failures, the race for second place is wide open,” the MAGA loyalist predicted.
Come on in, the water’s warm
Two key entrants in the Never Trump lane of the 2024 GOP primary are set to enter the race as soon as next week, adding a new edge to a field of challengers that have so far taken
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who declared himself “the Trump alternative” in an interview with The Daily Beast during a pre-campaign swing through New Hampshire in April, is expected to make it official at a town hall event in that state on Tuesday, according to Axios.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, will follow suit next Wednesday with an online video rollout and then a CNN town hall in Iowa later that night, according to ABC News.
The two entries, which have been long expected, seem to round out the GOP primary field—for now—at nine contenders.
That these two men are the field’s de facto Trump critics is deeply ironic—and could undercut their chances to gain traction. Christie, a vocal Trump critic during the 2016 campaign, became something of a Trump supplicant during his presidency before breaking with him again. Pence, of course, was the man’s No. 2, and has continued to defend his former boss in some respects even as he excoriates him over Jan. 6.
“I think maybe one of them could have a shot at it if they didn’t have the baggage with Trump,” a longtime New Hampshire Republican operative told The Daily Beast. “But aside from Christie’s potential to be a human torpedo on the debate stage, any success they might find early on will come at the expense of your Nikki Haleys, your Tim Scotts, and maybe even DeSantis.”
On that point, Scott’s entrance already appears to have taken away prospective supporters from Pence and Haley. Nevertheless, the long view of the early contest shows the same thing, best visualized by FiveThirtyEight’s tracker: stasis.
Trump is still polling at just shy of 34 points ahead of DeSantis on average, a much bigger mountain for the Florida governor to climb than the roughly 15-point gap he was facing in March.
From Harry Crane’s Desk
Outside spending is heating up, with a pro-Tim Scott PAC—TIM PAC, one of the more subtly-named out there—plunking down a $7.25 million ad buy through Labor Day in Iowa and New Hampshire, along with spots on national broadcasts and $1.25 million in online digital, according to Fox News.
The main ad’s title, “Believe,” has an upbeat message more fitting for an episode of “Ted Lasso” than in the highly charged and often apocalyptically negative GOP primary field.
You say DeSantis, I say DeSantis. Axios’ Alex Thomspon and Sophia Cai took a stab at explaining why DeSantis appears to pronounce his name with distinctly different vowels and consonants—not just now, but in the past few weeks, and at various points in his decade-long political career.
Stoneception. The Daily Beast’s Zachary Petrizzo obtained new footage from an upcoming documentary by Danish filmmakers showing Roger Stone bragging how easily he can manipulate Donald Trump.
‘A self-help guru who won’t get help.’ Trail Mix’s own Jake Lahut scooped a staff shakeup at Marianne Willaimson’s longshot campaign to primary President Biden, with the team losing 10 aides since launch just two months ago amid stories of the spiritual icon’s abysmal treatment of staff.
How Target ended up over the target. Semafor’s Dave Weigel zooms out on the latest GOP culture wars at the dawn of Pride Month, tracing back the early LGBT protests that led brands like Target to embrace it in the first place.
The post Ron DeSantis Tries to Reboot His Campaign After Botched Launch appeared first on The Daily Beast.