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DeSantis puts political capital on the line in RNC chair contest

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Ron DeSantis at a press conference in Miami
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference in Miami, on Dec. 1, 2022. Ronen Tivony / Sipa via AP file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday ... Republican National Committee members, in California, hold their election for RNC chair, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard and Allan Smith. ... The National Archives asks all former U.S. presidents and VPs to check for classified documents. ... Democrat Adam Schiff announces a bid for California Senate. ... And Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Marianne Williamson (remember her?) both eye 2024 presidential bids.

But first: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sure made today’s election for RNC chair more interesting when he called for “change” and “new blood” in the national party in an interview Thursday.

“I think we need a change,” DeSantis said. “I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC. I like what Harmeet Dhillon has said about getting the RNC out of D.C.," he added. "We need some fresh thinking.”

Now DeSantis’ comments weren’t a formal endorsement of Dhillon, who’s challenging current RNC chair Ronna McDaniel (whom Donald Trump originally selected for the position when he became president), but they do shake up a race in which McDaniel is the big frontrunner.

McDaniel, according to NBC’s count, holds pledges from more than 100 of the RNC’s 168 voting members — more than 85 needed to win on a first ballot — compared with at least 32 public pledges for Dhillon.

What’s striking about DeSantis’ call for new blood at RNC is that, since becoming Florida governor, he’s rarely picked fights he can’t win.

A Dhillon upset — after DeSantis’ nudging — would definitely produce some additional 2024 buzz for the Florida governor, especially after Trump said “I like them both” last month.

A McDaniel win now would be noteworthy, too.

A few other important points about today’s RNC chair election, per NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard and Allan Smith:

The vote is a secret ballot (Dhillon’s team hopes this provides cover for members who intend to quietly flip from McDaniel to Dhillon).

A third candidate, MyPillow’s Mike Lindell, has failed to cobble together support and is not a real factor in this chair race.

There is anti-McDaniel fervor among some RNC members over the party’s spending practices and, as one member put it to Hillyard and Smith, a rather transparent lack of neutrality ahead of the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination process.

One final point from us: These races for RNC/DNC chair usually come after presidential loss, not right before a new presidential cycle is set to begin. Yet because of the 2020 election denying and Jan. 6, we never really saw a real GOP debate after its presidential defeat.

And we’re getting one now after an out-of-power party’s first disappointing midterm in 20 years.

Headline of the day 

Data Download: The number of the day is … 85

That’s how many votes it takes to clinch the RNC chair vote today — a majority of the 168 members (made up of three from each state and territory in the RNC). 

Way back at the start of her re-election bid, McDaniel rolled out the support of more than 100 members of the committee, more than enough to cruise to victory. But while Dhillon’s team came into this week’s Winter Meeting with about 30 supporters, she’s hoping they can pick up steam this week and on a secret ballot, where supposed McDaniel supporters aren’t bound to their picks.

For more on everything you need to know about how today’s RNC vote works, check out the Meet the Press Blog.

Other numbers to know 

5: How many former Memphis police officers were indicted on multiple charges, including second-degree murder, in the killing of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop. 

At least 11: How many people were killed in Ukraine as Russia attacked roughly a dozen provinces. 

77: The number of Democratic members of Congress who signed a letter criticizing President Joe Biden’s asylum policies for migrants.  

15 billion: That’s how many political texts were sent in 2022 according to a call-blocking service, NBC News’ Alex Ford reports. 

$100 million: How much the ransomware group Hive received through extortion payments. The FBI infiltrated and disrupted the notorious group, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday. 

3: The number of bills restricting abortion rights that state Democrats in Virginia voted down in a Senate committee Thursday. 

0: The number of original Biden Cabinet secretaries who have left their post, although Reuters is reporting that EPA Administrator Michael Regan is considering doing so soon.

$7.4 billion: The estimated lost revenue for Asian restaurants in 2020 as the Covid pandemic fueled anti-Asian racism. 

Eyes on 2024: A granite-cold reception for Trump?

Former President Donald Trump heads to South Carolina and New Hampshire on Saturday, and NBC News’ Natasha Korecki reports that some Granite State Republicans are not excited about his candidacy, especially after Trump-aligned candidates lost both House seats and the state’s Senate race last year. 

GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, who is weighing a presidential run himself, criticized Trump as unelectable, telling Korecki, “I’m not pro-Trump. I’m not anti-Trump. I’m just moving on.” He also criticized Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, suggesting he is Trump “2.0.” 

Trump’s visit to New Hampshire also comes as a new University of New Hampshire Granite State poll found him trailing DeSantis among likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters, with 42% backing DeSantis and 30% backing Trump. None of the other potential GOP contenders, including Sununu, were in the double digits. And DeSantis will have some reinforcements in New Hampshire this weekend too — The Hill reports that the Ron to the Rescue super PAC, which is not affiliated with the Republican, will have a booth at the state’s GOP meeting this weekend. 

Meanwhile, two South Carolina Republicans are weighing runs of their own as Trump travels to their state. 

Former Gov. Nikki Haley, who also served as ambassador to the United Nations during Trump’s administration, is hiring staff and reaching out to donors ahead of a potential run, per CNBC. And McClatchy explores the conundrum facing GOP Sen. Tim Scott as he weighs whether to take on Trump or wait for another chance to run.  

In other campaign news: 

Schiff’s run and some confusion: Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff launched a run for Senate in California, setting up a crowded and expensive race between high-profile progressives. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has yet to announce her plans, but she told Raw Story that she’d do so next year. Her office then refuted the report, saying that Feinstein “speaking about the timing of the election, not her announcement,” adding that “she still intends to announce her decision in the coming months.”

Thinking about it: Author and spiritual advisor Marianne Williamson is considering running for president again, she told NBC News’ Micki Fahner. And former Arkansas GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson tells NBC News’ Allan Smith that he is “absolutely” considering a run for president

Trump goes back to school: Former President Trump released a video outlining his presidential campaign’s education plan, NBC News’ Olympia Sonnier reports, which includes cutting federal funding for schools that teach “critical race theory, gender ideology or other inappropriate racial sexual or political content,” launching a civil rights investigation into discrimination against Asian-American students and creating a credentialing body for to “ certify teachers who embrace patriotic values support our way of life and understand that their job is not to indoctrinate children.”

Democratic governors take on DeSantis: The Democratic governors of California and Illinois — Govs. Gavin Newsom and J.B. Pritzker — are pushing back on Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis’ opposition to an AP African American studies class.

Progressive problems: Politico delves into how Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego’s Senate bid could divide Senate progressives if independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema runs for re-election. Sinema hasn’t made her plans clear, but she tweeted on Thursday, “Arizona just got through a brutal election season — I think we all could use a break,” and went on to list her priorities in Congress. Gallego responded on Twitter, writing, “I know it was. I traveled the state to help! I didn’t see you at one event the whole time.”

Slotkin’s meeting: Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin met Thursday with retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow as she openly weighs a run for the retiring senator’s seat, NBC News’ Julie Tsirkin reports.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world:

President Biden is considering a trip to Europe to show support for Ukraine one year after the country’s war with Russia began. 

Sen. John Cornyn, a top Republican in the Senate, told NBC News it’s unlikely that there will be new gun legislation in the wake of a string of mass shootings this month.

The New York Times profiles former Attorney General Bill Barr and former special counsel John Durham, diving into how their investigation into the Russia probe unraveled

A former employee of Fox News is suing the company and a former network executive, alleging that long time chairman and CEO Roger Ailes sexually abused her for years.