Home Playbook: Trump debates the debate

Playbook: Trump debates the debate

Playbook: Trump debates the debate

Presented by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce


With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross


BUCKEYE BLOWOUT — “Ohio voters reject State Issue 1, defeating hurdle for abortion-rights vote in November,” by the Plain Dealer’s Andrew J. Tobias and Jake Zuckerman: “With 2.7 million votes counted and 87% of precincts reporting, Issue 1 trailed 57% to 43%. … The result was a rare rebuke of Republican power in Ohio reminiscent of the 2011 vote to repeal Senate Bill 5, a bill that scaled back collective-bargaining rights for government employees.”

“The move is a lightning-rod moment for abortion rights, even if the issue wasn’t directly on the ballot,” Madison Fernandez, Alice Miranda Ollstein and Zach Montellaro write in their wrapup. Their takeaways: “Abortion still a serious turnout driver” … “Anti-abortion messaging isn’t evolving, or resonating” … “The fight drags on.”

— What SHERROD BROWN is saying: “By rejecting State Issue 1, Ohioans rejected special interests and demanded that democracy remain where it belongs — in the hands of voters, not the rich and powerful,” said the in-cycle Democratic senator.

— What FRANK LaROSE is saying: “I’ve said for months now that there’s an assault coming on our constitution, and that hasn’t changed. I’m just getting started in the fight to protect Ohio’s values,” said the Republican secretary of state and Senate candidate.

THE GOP DEBATE TAKES SHAPE — We’re two weeks out from the first Republican presidential debate, and we’re starting to get a sense of how the Aug. 23 shindig in Milwaukee will go down. So far, eight candidates have met the RNC’s donor and polling thresholds — though it’s unclear, of course, if DONALD TRUMP will show up. (More on that in a moment.)

Host network Fox News yesterday gave the campaigns an outline of the two-hour event, which will be hosted by MARTHA MacCALLUM and BRET BAIER starting at 9 p.m.

The details … “There will be no opening statements.” … “Candidates will have 1 minute for answers; :30 for follow-ups; :45 for a closing statement.” … “Candidates can expect some questions to involve sound or video, including pre-taped questions submitted by students via partner YAF.” More from Semafor’s Shelby Talcott, who scooped the news

WHO’S IN: So far RON DeSANTIS, VIVEK RAMASWAMY, MIKE PENCE, NIKKI HALEY, TIM SCOTT, CHRIS CHRISTIE, DOUG BURGUM and Trump have each met the RNC’s qualifications. Each will also have to pledge that they’ll support the eventual GOP nominee.

WaPo’s Michael Scherer got his hands on the text of the pledge, which reads: “I affirm that if I do not win the 2024 Republican nomination for President of the United States, I will honor the will of the primary voters and support the Republican presidential nominee in order to save our country and beat JOE BIDEN.” (Ramaswamy was the first to sign, Scherer reports.)

How the pledge will be enforced is another question, however. Trump foe Christie, for one, has indicated that he’d sign the pledge but treat it “as seriously as Donald Trump took it in 2016.” Will that fly with the RNC?

WHO’S OUT: Our colleague Steven Shepard has been obsessively tracking the qualification process and gave Playbook a thorough download this morning. Long story short, odds are the candidates listed above will be the only ones on the debate stage.

Former Arkansas Gov. ASA HUTCHINSON has met the polling threshold, but he said last week he still needs to garner contributions from 20,000 more Americans before the Aug. 21 deadline. Miami Mayor FRANCIS SUAREZ and businessman PERRY JOHNSON, meanwhile, claim to have hit the donor requirement. But neither man is close to the polling mark — and they have been hampered by the fact that some pollsters don’t even include them in their surveys.

THE TRUMP FACTOR: The biggest question, of course, centers on Trump, who relishes keeping people on the edge of their seats. As the clear frontrunner, the former president has publicly poo-pooed suggestions that he participate — for instance, telling Breitbart last weekend that his attendance would be “stupid.”

And there are plenty of voices who agree. His entire inner campaign circle is skeptical, we’re told, and this morning our columnist Jack Shafer sums up the political logic impeccably in arguing that Trump should sit it out: “A person shouldn’t eat when he’s not hungry, drink when he’s not thirsty or debate when he’s already won.”

But, but, but … Some who have Trump’s ear are telling him that he’ll be a punching bag whether he’s there or not, so he might as well show up and parry the blows himself. They’re also arguing that a no-show could give his rivals a chance to create a viral moment and gain momentum against him. And several have also pointed out that after he skipped the last debate before primary voting began in 2016, he ended up losing Iowa to TED CRUZ.

Those trying to change Trump’s mind include Fox News President JAY WALLACE and CEO SUZANNE SCOTT, who lobbied Trump over dinner at his resort in Bedminster, N.J., as the NYT first reported last week. The pair, we’re told, suggested DeSantis — whom Trump despises — could end up stealing the show. RNC Chair RONNA McDANIEL and DAVID BOSSIE, a longtime Trump ally who now heads the party’s debate committee, have also pressed Trump to attend — not to mention the campaign rivals who are trying to goad him onstage.

So where does that leave things? A Trump campaign official said this: “He’s unlikely to attend the debate, but he hasn’t said 100 percent definitively.” On the other hand, we hear, he told the Fox and RNC execs he just might do it.

Some close to Trump are no longer predicting what he’ll do and are even warning reporters against making definitive statements either way. But if you can bank on anything, it’s this: Trump will find a way to keep himself at the center of attention until the very last moment.

A few other debate-related tidbits we picked up last night …

The RNC has communicated to Trump world that he needs to make a final decision at least 48 hours in advance if he wants a place on stage — for security and logistics reasons, it’s not as simple as adding a podium at the last minute.Trump has suggested to at least two people that he might attend and sit in the audience to “troll” the candidates, though those people didn’t believe he was serious. One well-placed GOP source who has communicated with the Trump team said there is “real concern that he could put himself in more legal jeopardy by going to the debate and getting goaded into saying something dumb.” A person close to the Trump campaign told us none of his attorneys have warned Trump away from attending. “And if they did, they wouldn’t like the response,” the person said.The RNC is also trying to sell Trump on attending the yet-to-be-announced third debate, we’re told. No one is under the impression that he’ll attend the second debate in Simi Valley, Calif., on Sept. 27 because he loathes its host, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, and its chair, former Washington Post publisher FRED RYAN.Speaking of the second debate, Alex Isenstadt scoops this morning that it will be broadcast on Fox Business in partnership with Univision and Rumble — another coup for RUPERT MURDOCH.

Good Wednesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.



2024 WATCH

CASH DASH — “Larry Ellison’s Eight-Figure Anti-Trump Dowry,” by Puck’s Teddy Schleifer: LARRY ELLISON has already decided to make a massive donation to [Sen. TIM] SCOTT’s super PAC, which should be wired soon if it hasn’t landed in his account already. … Who knows if money means anything anymore, but Scott has never had more of an opportunity than he does right now.”

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM — “Democrats name Minyon Moore convention chair,” by Shia Kapos in Chicago: “The selection of [MINYON] MOORE, a Chicago native and confidante of HILLARY CLINTON, reflects the significance Biden continues to place on Black women voters in the Democratic Party.” Also named to key roles: ALEX HORNBROOK, LOUISA TERRELL and ROGER LAU.

CLIPPING THE WAR EAGLE’S WINGS — NIKKI HALEY yesterday offered some measured criticism of Sen. TOMMY TUBERVILLE’s (R-Ala.) Pentagon nomination blockade, even as she told Hugh Hewitt that she agreed with his criticism of the DOD abortion policy. “Have we gotten so low that this is how we have to go about stopping it?” Haley said. “I just think it shouldn’t get to this point.”

THE POLICY PRIMARY — “Mike Pence rolls out plan to make the U.S. the world’s top energy producer by 2040,” by the Des Moines Register’s Stephen Gruber-Miller

STICKS AND STONES — “Trump, Christie feast on insults in New Hampshire,” by Lisa Kashinsky: “The former called the latter a ‘fat pig.’ The latter retorted by mocking the former’s preference for overdone meat.”


HEADACHES FOR THE NRSC — A lot has broken establishment Republicans’ way thus far this cycle in Senate primaries, but two far-right insurgents could make things difficult in a pair of key races:

Rep. MATT ROSENDALE (R-Mont.) is undeterred by attempts to dissuade him from entering the race against Democratic Sen. JON TESTER, and he’s taking new steps toward running, Ally Mutnick reports. “Of course he’s running,” says JIM DeMINT. CAROLINE WREN is coming aboard to help Rosendale with fundraising. And despite Republicans’ all-out press to clear the path for TIM SHEEHY, Rosendale is getting backup from House Freedom Caucus members, Senate Conservatives Fund and Sens. MIKE LEE (R-Utah) and RAND PAUL (R-Ky.).

In Arizona, meanwhile, KARI LAKE is also moving closer than ever to a Senate run, working to staff up with interviews planned for September, Axios’ Juliegrace Brufke and Hans Nichols report. Lake is eyeing October for a likely campaign launch, which would make the controversial failed gubernatorial candidate the instant GOP frontrunner in the Senate primary. Where it goes from there in a potential three-way race against independent Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA and Democratic Rep. RUBEN GALLEGO is anyone’s guess.

BATTLE FOR THE HOUSE — House Republicans see Biden-won states as essential to holding their majority next year, Congressional Leadership Fund President DAN CONSTON writes in a new strategy memo, per CNBC’s Brian Schwartz. The KEVIN McCARTHY-aligned super PAC may spend over $100 million on the “Blue State Project,” which aims to bolster GOP infrastructure in states where it’s historically been less robust than in perennial battlegrounds. Conston’s memo eyes the seats of Reps. MATT CARTWRIGHT (D-Pa.), ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-Mich.) and SUSAN WILD (D-Pa.) as potential pickups.

DEMOCRACY WATCH — The American Bar Association is launching a new Task Force for American Democracy, which will examine how to improve civic understanding of and trust in election administration to bolster an essential, flagging element of democracy’s infrastructure. J. MICHAEL LUTTIG and JEH JOHNSON will co-chair the task force, whose members also include everyone from DICK GEPHARDT to BILL KRISTOL to HEATHER COX RICHARDSON. The full list of membersThe mission statement


VP ON THE ROAD — “Vice President Kamala Harris came to Philadelphia to announce pay increases for construction workers,” by the Philly Inquirer’s Punya Bhasin: “Harris … defended [acting Labor Secretary JULIE] SU on Tuesday and referred to her as the labor secretary. ‘I don’t use the word “acting,”’ Harris said at the Building Trades Institute.”


SHUTDOWN SHOWDOWN — “Border Security Floated as Way to Avoid Government Shutdown,” by WSJ’s Siobhan Hughes: “On Tuesday, Rep. CHIP ROY (R., Texas) — a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus — circulated a letter seeking to build support for a strategy of withholding money for one of the bills, dealing with Department of Homeland Security funding, unless Congress also takes tougher action to secure the southern border.”

THE BRAVE NEW WORLD — “AI Influencers Pound Capitol Hill Hallways to Shape Legislation,” by Bloomberg Government’s Oma Seddiq and Elizabeth Kim


THE PLOT TO SUBVERT THE ELECTION — “Previously Secret Memo Laid Out Strategy for Trump to Overturn Biden’s Win,” by NYT’s Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Luke Broadwater: “The existence of the Dec. 6, 2020, memo came to light in last week’s indictment of Mr. Trump, though its details remained unclear. But a copy obtained by The New York Times shows for the first time that the lawyer, KENNETH CHESEBRO, acknowledged from the start that he was proposing ‘a bold, controversial strategy’ that the Supreme Court ‘likely’ would reject in the end. … The memo had been a missing piece in the public record of how Mr. Trump’s allies developed their strategy to overturn Mr. Biden’s victory.”

I FOUGHT THE LAW — Trump continued speaking out vociferously yesterday against special counsel JACK SMITH’s efforts to limit what he can say about the pending criminal case against him, NBC’s Jonathan Allen and Jake Traylor report from Windham, N.H. Trump said Biden “wants the thug prosecutor, this deranged guy, to file a court order taking away my First Amendment rights so that I can’t speak,” referring to prosecutors’ proposal for a protective order. (Biden has insisted DOJ is operating independently.)

The matter will come to a head Friday at 10 a.m. That’s when the judge, TANYA CHUTKAN, scheduled a hearing on the protective order’s scope — her first public moment in the case so far. Trump’s lawyers had asked to push it to next week. More from CNN

The hits keep coming: Fulton County, Ga., DA FANI WILLIS is “likely” to present her case for an indictment in a separate probe into 2020 election subversion next week, ABC’s Olivia Rubin reports.


GHOST IN THE MACHINE — In a provisional win for the Biden administration, the Supreme Court yesterday decided 5-4 to allow a regulation against “ghost guns” to continue while the case moves through the legal system. Chief Justice JOHN ROBERTS and Justice AMY CONEY BARRETT joined with the court’s three liberals to overturn a lower court order that had blocked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives rule. (That doesn’t mean they’d necessarily allow the reg to stand in a full hearing.) The other four conservative justices noted their dissent. More from CBS


MARC SHORT HAS RECEIPTS — Former Pence national security adviser KEITH KELLOGG endorsed Trump’s campaign yesterday and was instantly punished with a striking public reveal on CNN: Short read Kellogg’s Jan. 6, 2021, emails aloud to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, in which Kellogg urged Pence to “finish the Electoral College issue TONIGHT” and certify the election. That, of course, ran contrary to the plans of some Trump allies who were trying to postpone the certification.


UNINSURED RATES SET TO JUMP — The mass pruning of state Medicaid rolls now underway in the wake of the Covid pandemic amount to a major setback for Americans’ health care coverage — arriving at a very politically inopportune moment for the Biden reelect, Adam Cancryn and Megan Messerly report this morning. 15 million people — or more, some experts now warn — could lose their insurance by next year, and “allies increasingly worry the drumbeat of coverage losses will undercut his core message,” they write.

CLIMATE FILES — “Biden’s carbon proposal is unworkable, U.S. power sector warns,” by Reuters’ Nichola Groom and Valerie Volcovici: “Resistance from the [Edison Electric Institute] and other energy-related groups poses a potentially big challenge to the administration’s climate agenda.”

LISTEN NOW — Biden authorized $52 billion to rebuild the U.S. semiconductor industry one year ago today. MIKE SCHMIDT is the guy charged with doling out the money. As director of the Commerce Department’s CHIPS Program Office, he manages the national security and finance experts picking the projects that will get a boost from taxpayers. On today’s POLITICO Tech podcast, Schmidt lays out the agency’s vetting process — even as some questions remain unanswered, like how the U.S. and its allies will prevent a subsidies war. Listen here

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: The administration’s ADRIENNE ELROD is out with a new memo for the anniversary today running down all the progress CHIPS for America has made in turning the CHIPS and Science Act’s investments into reality. Read it here


REALITY CHECK — “Western allies receive increasingly ‘sobering’ updates on Ukraine’s counteroffensive: ‘This is the most difficult time of the war,’” by CNN’s Jim Sciutto: “‘They’re still going to see, for the next couple of weeks, if there is a chance of making some progress. But for them to really make progress that would change the balance of this conflict, I think, it’s extremely, highly unlikely,’ a senior western diplomat told CNN.”


PAGING MIKE GALLAGHER — “U.S. Set to Limit Scope of China Investment Ban With Revenue Rule,” by Bloomberg’s Anna Edgerton and Eric Martin: “A U.S. plan to restrict investment in China is likely to apply only to Chinese companies that get at least half of their revenue from cutting-edge sectors such as quantum computing and artificial intelligence.”

JACK THE DRIPPER — “FBI accuses indicted Air National Guardsman of sharing classified information with someone living in a foreign country,” by CNN’s Haley Britzky: “If [JACK TEIXEIRA] is found to have done so, it could open him up to more serious charges.”


NOT JUST A RIVER IN EGYPT — “Phoenix Is Hotter Than Ever. Republicans Don’t Want to Hear It,” by Hank Stephenson in Phoenix for POLITICO Magazine: “With extreme and growing heat waves almost certainly fueled by climate change, Arizona might, in theory, be the kind of place where lawmakers grapple with this new reality. But the politics of climate change are just as paralyzed here as the rest of the country. Or perhaps it’s even worse.”

THE MIGRANT SQUEEZE — As New York struggles to provide for a surge of migrants arriving, Rep. JAMAAL BOWMAN (D-N.Y.) warned that national and state Democrats need to do more to address the issue — or risk failing to retake the House. “Democrats are looking bad right now in New York state,” he said.


Frank Lucas is on the mend after hip surgery following a ranch accident.

Julie Banderas’ husband was found not guilty of criminal charges amid a divorce dispute.

MEDIA MOVE — Nomaan Merchant is moving up to be U.S. politics editor for the AP. He most recently covered intelligence and national security.

TRANSITION — Rachel Huxley-Cohen will be comms director for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). She currently is deputy comms director for Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

FOR YOUR RADAR — Sixteen former senior Twitter executives have launched Blue Owl Group, a new global advisory firm focused on public policy and comms leadership.

ENGAGED — David Weissman, senior manager of government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Elizabeth Oien, digital comms and content specialist at the House Appropriations Committee, got engaged Saturday at the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels, Md. They met on Martha McSally’s 2014 House campaign. PicAnother pic

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Agustina Pardal, operations coordinator at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Anthony Pardal, VP at the American Bankers Association, welcomed Isabela Josefina Pardal on Sunday. She joins big brother Benjamin and big sister Emilia. Pic

BIRTHWEEK (was yesterday): Locust Street Group’s Dave Herrero

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) … NYT’s Julian Barnes and Ken VogelAnn Selzer of Selzer & Co. … Kathleen MatthewsHeidi ElswickMichael Fletcher … Lockheed Martin’s Marcel Lettre … SmartPower’s Brian F. KeaneTim TagarisBill Burton Sharon WagenerBrian Hart Kerry Troup … POLITICO’s Jordan Hoshko … BBC’s John SimpsonDavid SoursFred Brown of Dezenhall Resources … Courtney Bradway of Cornerstone … former Reps. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.) and Charles Djou (R-Hawaii) … Mike Mears William Smith Gable BradyRhonda Bentz BozzellaKate LeoneLindsay Singleton of Rokk Solutions … Ann E.W. StoneChris SautterVirginia Pancoe … New Deal Strategies’ Rebecca Kirszner KatzAmy Rutkin … Mercury’s Dan Bank Ted Thompson of the Michael J. Fox Foundation … Chris Cuomo … Oracle’s Joel Hinzman Hoda Kotb

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