Aug 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: DeSantis team previews debate strategy for donors

Ron DeSantis, in a navy blue suit and light blue tie, sits in a chair, speaking into a microphone.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at an event hosted by Conservative radio host Erick Erickson on August 18, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R) new campaign manager previewed the candidate's strategy for the upcoming GOP debate to donors and top supporters Saturday in a memo obtained by Axios.

  • DeSantis' campaign manager James Uthmeier wrote that they expect the other candidates to attack the governor, but DeSantis will focus on outlining "his vision to beat Joe Biden, reverse American decline, and revive the American Dream."

Why it matters: The debate this upcoming Wednesday is critical for DeSantis to maintain his status as the main alternative to former President Donald Trump after his campaign's early struggles.

What they're saying: Expecting a pile-on from GOP rivals, Uthmeier wrote in a memo titled "Re: How Team RDFP is Preparing for the First Debate" that "we are fully prepared for Governor DeSantis to be the center of attacks and on the receiving end of false, desperate charges from other candidates and the legacy media."

  • Uthmeier added that "the first debate is their biggest chance yet to grab headlines by attacking the governor, so we know they will try their best."
  • "We all know why our competitors have to go down this road: because this is a two-man race for the Republican nomination between Governor DeSantis and Donald Trump," the memo said.

Uthmeier wrote that supporters should expect DeSantis to present a "contrast" rather than looking to get into a brawl with lower-polling candidates.

  • "Viewers at home will see the fighter who volunteered to serve our country and deployed to Iraq after 9/11, the father who wants to restore America's promise to future generations for his children and theirs, and the champion of freedom who stood up time and again as governor to defeat the left," he wrote.

The intrigue: The above-the-fray strategy laid out by Uthmeier is at odds with the combative approach advised by the pro-DeSantis Super PAC Never Back Down in a memo first reported this week by The New York Times.

  • In a memo dated August 15th, the Super PAC advised DeSantis to "take a sledgehammer" to rival Vivek Ramaswamy and suggested nicknames like "Fake Vivek" or "Vivek the Fake."
  • The memo also suggested hitting Chris Christie for appealing to Democrats if the former New Jersey governor attacks Trump, who is not expected to attend the debate.
  • The Super PAC memo was discreetly posted online along with many other documents because federal laws prevent the group from secretly strategizing with the campaign.
  • Asked about the memo by Fox News on Saturday, DeSantis said it was "not mine" and he hadn't read it. He added that responding to any attacks "means defending ourselves, but more importantly showing why we are the leader to get this country turned around."
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