Donald Trump has reportedly decided that he won’t be attending the first Republican debate next Wednesday and will counter-program by sitting down for an interview with Tucker Carlson. (The choice is a double middle-finger: one from Trump to the RNC, another from Carlson to his former network.) In the end, the question of whether Trump would show up or not became a fairly low-stakes question. A candidate with a lead as large as his just doesn’t need to sweat decisions like this all that much.
Talk of Trump being seen as running scared if he doesn’t show up in Milwaukee next week doesn’t have the same bite to it when he is forty points clear of the field. “Let them debate so I can see who I MIGHT consider for vice president,” said Trump last month in a social media post that encapsulates the power dynamics of the primary so far. And while it is possible that deciding to take part in the debate risks some embarrassing exchange, it’s hard to see how the event could give any other candidate more than a sliver of an opening.
As Trump mulled what to do, others were stuck preparing for two very different scenarios. “I have two stacks of questions,” said Bret Baier, who will be hosting the event alongside Fox News colleague Martha MacCallum, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Although, Baier adds that Trump will be a major theme whether or not he’s in the room.
If Baier’s debate prep speaks to the extent to which Trump remains the focal point of Republican Party politics, a leaked debate prep memo from a DeSantis PAC underscores the Florida governor’s pitiful performance in the primary so far. Delivered to the public via the New York Times, the note offers DeSantis, or “GRD,” a five-point plan for the debate: “1. Attack Joe Biden and the media 3-5 times. 2. State GRD’s positive vision 2-3 times. 3. Hammer Vivek Ramaswamy in a response. 4. Defend Donald Trump in absentia in response to a Chris Christie attack.”
My colleague Ben Domenech calls this “blatant telegraphing of plans… bizarre and unwise, like giving away the script of your team’s opening play series” in his excellent election newsletter Thunderdome (subscribe here!). Whatever the wisdom of the move, it reveals how badly things have gone for DeSantis as compared to outsider Ramaswamy. An also-ran when he first announced his candidacy, the millennial entrepreneur has forced others to take him seriously with a relentless media strategy and relatively buoyant poll numbers.
From the DeSantis PAC’s acknowledgement of their candidate’s diminished position to the naivety of Asa Hutchinson: “I think it’d be a fantastic debate,” said Hutchinson of the idea of a Trump-free debate at the Iowa State Fair last week. “It would be a much more serious debate about policy. You’re not going to have Trump sucking the energy out of the room and four indictments that he’s facing.”
Nice thought, Governor. But Trump is sure to be the dominant theme of the debate he has chosen to skip. And yet his absence is fitting. For the most pressing question in the primary at present is who, if anyone, will emerge as the clear alternative candidate to Trump.
On our radar
DC ENFORCES CURFEW In the latest example of DC leaders finally taking seriously the city’s growing violent crime problem, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Thursday the enforcement of a late-night juvenile curfew in problem areas around the city. “This is a targeted approach to deal with very specific areas of concern,” she said.
BIDEN’S VOTERS-OF-COLOR PROBLEM A focus group observed by Politico reporters makes clear the scale of Biden’s failure of economic messaging with voters of color. Some choice words: “Discouraged.” “Pathetic.” “Pessimistic.”
Hunter’s White House stay and Biden’s empty diary
The Washington Post reports that Hunter Biden and his family moved into the White House for a two-week stay the day after his tentative plea deal with the Justice Department was reached. The story is maddeningly framed as, first and foremost, the story of a loyal father. But a striking detail stands out:
On July 26, the day that Hunter was set to enter the plea deal in a Delaware courtroom, White House aides intentionally left space in the president’s schedule so he could monitor the case, and some worried about exposing him to the press while the hearing unfolded, according to two people familiar with internal deliberations. The president made no public appearances that day, and aides privately expressed relief that Biden’s schedule was kept open because the plea deal collapsed, prolonging Hunter’s legal issues. There was particular concern in the West Wing that day because first lady Jill Biden was traveling out of the country, leaving the president without his primary source of support.
The Democratic Party goes alpha
Is the Democratic Party trying to be more masculine? An eagle-eyed political observer pointed out recently that the DNC’s official logo has mysteriously changed color without any public fanfare. The logo, which features a “D” inside of a circle, used to be a sky blue. At some point in 2022, the “D” went quite a few shades darker to a royal blue.
A graphic design expert tells Cockburn that the change might have been an attempt to make the party’s colors better match its newfound lip service to the working class under Biden. Alternatively, they may be trying to cash in on those “dark Brandon” memes!
From the site
PRESIDENT BIDEN JOB APPROVAL
Approve 40.9% | Disapprove 54.5% | Net Approval -13.6
THE IMPACT OF THE SUBSTANCE ABUSE CRISIS
Percentage of Americans who say they or someone in their family has been addicted to opioids
Percentage of Americans who say they or a family member have been addicted to alcohol or drugs, experienced homelessness due to addiction, or experienced a drug overdose
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