Axios Sneak Peek
December 01, 2023
Welcome back to Sneak. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,066 words ... 4 minutes.
1 big thing: The Vendetta in Alpharetta
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis faces a fraught challenge in tonight's showdown with California Gov. Gavin Newsom — one that's raised scrutiny over the strategic wisdom of debating an opponent who claims he has nothing to lose, Axios' Hans Nichols reports.
What we're watching: DeSantis must make an argument for his leadership that's less about Florida and more about the future, GOP strategists tell Axios. That's a tall order for a face-off billed as "The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate" — and for a governor plenty proud of his Florida story.
The big picture: DeSantis' unusual decision to debate Newsom, a skilled orator viewed as one of President Biden's top surrogates, is a risky gambit for the 45-year-old governor seeking to become the new face of the Republican Party.
- But whether it's a sideshow or a presidential preview, plenty of eyeballs are set to tune in to the live, 90-minute debate moderated by Fox News' Sean Hannity and kicking off at 9pm ET in Alpharetta, Georgia.
- And after a month of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley climbing in the polls and collecting donors who snubbed DeSantis, the former Yale baseball player needs a hit.
What they're saying: Call it "The Vendetta in Alpharetta." Team DeSantis is gleefully hyping the confrontation with "Tale of the Tape" graphics and paid ads on X.
- "Gavin Newsom's California is the model for American decline," Andrew Romeo, the campaign's communication director, said in talking points emailed to DeSantis surrogates.
The other side: Newsom is also spoiling for the limelight — and a fight.
- "I have nothing to lose. I'm not running for president. Period. Full stop. He is. He has a lot to lose. And even if he wins, he loses," Newsom told Axios' Alex Thompson ahead of the GOP debate in California.
- Newsom's natural disdain for DeSantis will be difficult to hide: "He's unserious, he's so easily distracted," the California governor said. "It's so easy to get under his skin."
Zoom out: Look past the canned and planned one-liners of a primary debate. Ignore the personal animosity and personal insults ("You're just scum," Haley jabbed at Vivek Ramaswamy earlier this month.)
- On the actual issues, the policy differences on any primary stage are quite small. Candidates tend to echo each other.
- In a general election debate — especially one where neither side is trying to appeal to centrist voters weeks before election day — it's an entirely different dynamic.
- Tonight's contest will be short on "yes, but" answers. Instead, it will be defined by "No. Wrong. No."
- And for DeSantis, he'll receive roughly 50% of the time, instead of waiting for the likes of Ramaswamy or Haley to finish talking.
Be smart: The Fox face-off will resemble every other debate this cycle in one obvious way: Both sides will claim victory.
2. 🇺🇸 White House treads careful line on Kissinger
The death of former Secretary State Henry Kissinger — arguably America's most famous and divisive diplomat — has triggered an outpouring of remembrance, respect and revulsion from current and former U.S. officials.
State of play: Nearly 24 hours after news of Kissinger's death broke, President Biden put out a statement this evening praising Kissinger's "fierce intellect" but noting that "we often disagreed. And often strongly."
- Biden said he'd never forget receiving his first briefing from Kissinger as a young senator. Some members of Biden's administration, including Secretary of State Tony Blinken, continued to seek out Kissinger's counsel.
- But Kissinger told the New York Post last year that Biden was the only president — dating back to his time as Richard Nixon's national security adviser — who had not invited him to the White House.
What they're saying: Historians, progressives and representatives of countries who suffered from the consequences of Kissinger's policies — including U.S.-backed coups and bombing campaigns — did not mince words about his death.
- For "huge swaths of the world, [Kissinger's] mind-set carried a brutal message that America has often conveyed to its own marginalized populations: We care about democracy for us, not for them," former Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes wrote in the New York Times.
- "A man has died whose historical brilliance never managed to conceal his profound moral misery," tweeted Chile's ambassador to the U.S. Juan Gabriel Valdés.
- There are "few people who have had a hand in as much death and destruction, as much human suffering, in so many places around the world as Henry Kissinger," veteran war crimes prosecutor Reed Brody told The Intercept.
3. 💥 Santos set to leave with a bang
Today may have marked the final full day in Congress for Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who faces an expulsion vote tomorrow widely expected to succeed.
Driving the news: The serial fabulist began the day by unveiling his own resolution to expel Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who pleaded guilty last month to pulling a fire alarm in a House office building.
- Santos will not be able to offer the privileged resolution on the House floor in two days' time if he's no longer a member.
- Later in the day, Santos sat down with reporters for a Q&A session, during which he admitted to using "cosmetic Botox and fillers," said he plans to write a book, and left the door open to participating in reality TV shows like "Dancing with the Stars" in the future.
On the House floor, Santos once again aggressively defended himself — saying he has been "been convicted of no crimes" and alleging a "smear campaign."
- Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) also defended him, pointing out that the only five members ever to be expelled from Congress were either convicted of crimes or participated in the Civil War.
- House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) are among those who said today they will not vote to expel Santos.
4. 🍽️ Paul saves Ernst
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ophthalmologist, used the Heimlich maneuver on Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) when she began choking at a Senate lunch today.
- "Can't help but choke on the woke policies Dems are forcing down our throats. Thanks, Dr. @RandPaul!" Ernst tweeted after the episode.
- "God bless Rand Paul," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters. "I never thought I'd say that."
Flashback: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) performed the Heimlich maneuver on then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) at a Senate lunch in 2018, breaking her rib in the process.
📬 Thanks for reading this week. This newsletter was edited by Carlos Cunha.