Trump Will Spoil The Evening
The first Republican debate, sponsored by Fox in Milwaukee, is less than a week away. Trump hasn’t signed the pledge to support whomever wins the primary and he says he won’t because he opposes some of them. That hasn’t stopped Chris Christie, who would never vote for Trump, from signing it. [Wait! Christie and Pence haven’t signed it yet but both will.] Trump’s latest excuse though is that he doesn’t like the photos Fox & Friends uses of him because they make him look obese and orange.
The other candidates who claim they have qualified are DeSantis, Pence, Christie, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Ramaswamy and Burgum. Barred from the stage: Will Hurd, Asa Hutchinson, Larry Elder, that Perry guy from Michigan and, I think, Francis Suarez. The latest Real Clear Politics polling average:
Señor Trumpazee- 54.7%
Yesterday, CNN reported that Trump isn’t going and that he’s plotting counter-programming. Alayna Greene wrote that he’s “been proposing counterprogramming to the event… including sitting down with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson and calling into the different cable news shows. Conversations regarding a potential interview with Carlson have taken place with Trump’s team, but there is no definitive plan for him to do that as of now.” (UPDATE: Now there is.)
Representing Trump as surrogates in the spin room next week will be Kari Lake, Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz and other Republicans Congress-clowns. We want Marge! We want Marge! Maybe mud-wrestling Boebert? Former GOP operative Jonathan Last suggested yesterday that Trump may choose to surrender himself in Atlanta on August 23, the day before the deadline— and the day of the debate. “He’d then take over the entire news cycle that day with its wall-to-wall coverage of the fingerprinting and mugshot. And then Trump goes straight from the jail to a giant Trump rally that runs— and here I’m just spitballing— from 8-11 p.m. EDT. Fox will carry the debate and all of the other networks will carry his rally and you tell me which would get the bigger ratings numbers?”
Some of the candidates have been practicing debating with Trump and without Trump. Trump hasn’t been preparing at all. Yesterday a trio of NY Times reporters wrote that DeSantis’ advisors told him he needs to pulverize Ramaswamy and defend Trump from Christie. Jonathan Swan, Shane Goldmacher and Maffie Haberman: “DeSantis needs to ‘take a sledgehammer’ to Vivek Ramaswamy, the political newcomer who is rising in the polls. He should ‘defend Donald Trump’ when Chris Christie inevitably attacks the former president. And he needs to ‘attack Joe Biden and the media’ no less than three to five times. A firm associated with the super PAC that has effectively taken over DeSantis’ presidential campaign posted online hundreds of pages of blunt advice, research memos and internal polling in early nominating states to guide the Florida governor ahead of the high-stakes Republican presidential debate next Wednesday in Milwaukee.”
They recommend a Trump-style insult to use against Ramaswamy: “Fake Vivek” or “Vivek the Fake,” neither of which he’ll be able to use now because of The Times’ reporting. They also tell DeSantis why he can insist Ramaswamy is “an inauthentic conservative.”
Why Ramaswamy? “Internal polling contained in the trove of documents shows Ramaswamy surging in New Hampshire, which may have inspired the attack line. Ramaswamy was at 1 percent in New Hampshire in April but rose to 11 percent in an early August survey, according to the documents.”
The debate-prep memo also urges DeSantis to “defend Trump when Chris Christie attacks him,” with a specific suggestion for an attack line accusing Christie, the former New Jersey governor, of appealing mainly to Democrats: “Trump isn’t here, so let’s just leave him alone. He’s too weak to defend himself here. We’re all running against him. I don’t think we want to join forces with someone on this stage who’s auditioning for a show on MSNBC.”
The strategy memo also highlights one of DeSantis’ long-running political vulnerabilities, his reputation for awkwardness or aloofness on the campaign trail, by suggesting that he “invoke a personal anecdote story about family, kids, Casey, showing emotion.”
DeSantis is keenly aware of his vulnerability in this regard: Leaked videos of his preparation for a 2018 debate for governor, obtained by ABC News, included an adviser telling him that as a reminder to himself, he should write in capital letters at the top of his notepad: “LIKABLE.” DeSantis, then a congressman, nodded.
…The strategy memo provides DeSantis with an elaborate script with which to position himself in relation to Trump.
He could say that Trump was “a breath of fresh air and the first president to tell the elite where to shove it,” then add that the former president “was attacked all the time, provoked attacks all the time, and it was nonstop.”
DeSantis could then argue that Trump, who has now been indicted four times, faces “so many distractions that it’s almost impossible for him to focus on moving the country forward,” and that “this election is too important. We need someone that can fight for you instead of fighting for himself.”
DeSantis, the memo urges him to conclude, is the only candidate who can keep the Trump movement going.
…Ramaswamy, who has been creeping close to DeSantis in some public polling, is the only candidate about whom two separate documents described vulnerabilities that DeSantis could attack. One lays out Ramaswamy’s past statements about abortion, immigration policy and Covid masks, among a long list of subjects. The other is a lengthy opposition-research document on his positions and past actions.
Yesterday, Fox News released it’s own new national polling of registered voters which shows Biden beating any of the Republican candidates: