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GOP primary promises to become an all-out brawl

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.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump in Canal Point, Fla., on March 29, 2019.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump in Canal Point, Fla., in 2019.Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

If it’s WEDNESDAY… Ron DeSantis launches presidential bid during discussion with Twitter’s Elon Musk at 6:00 pm ET… Donald Trump’s lawyers seek meeting with Attorney General Merrick Garland… Tim Scott campaigns in Iowa, while Nikki Haley stumps in New Hampshire… Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., declines to answer question about when she’ll make up her mind about 2024 re-election plans, per NBC’s Julie Tsirkin and Liz Brown-Kaiser… And President Biden marks the one-year anniversary of the Uvalde, Texas school shooting with remarks at 3:30 pm ET.

But FIRST… Welcome to Thunderdome.

In one corner, you have a former president, Donald Trump, armed with his own social-media platform, plus a super PAC that’s already spent almost $13 million in ads (and it’s still just May of 2023).

In the other corner, you have Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who’s launching his campaign with Twitter’s Elon Musk (who has previously said he’d support DeSantis for president, though Musk said Tuesday he’s not formally endorsing any candidate yet) and who has his own allied super PAC that’s spent nearly $11 million over the airwaves.

Add them all up — the billionaires, the social-media platforms, the attack ads — and they promise to make the race for the 2024 Republican nomination look more like a demolition derby than a political campaign.

DeSantis launching his presidential campaign via Musk and Twitter is definitely a way to troll Trump, who once dominated the platform before the previous management kicked him off it after Jan. 6.

(It’s also a way — playing to both DeSantis’ and Musk’s brands — of “owning the libs,” who have fumed at Twitter’s rightward turn.)

Trump World has eagerly punched back. “Announcing on Twitter is perfect for Ron DeSantis,” a Trump adviser told NBC News in a text message. “This way he doesn’t have to interact with people and the media can’t ask him any questions.”

It will be fascinating to see what the all-but-certain Trump vs. DeSantis melee means for the rest of the GOP field. (Indeed, it’s striking to compare Tim Scott’s traditional launch Monday with DeSantis’ takeoff via Twitter and Musk. And Nikki Haley’s camp has a video referring to DeSantis as a “echo” of Trump.)

The all-out fight is certain to be welcomed by the Biden White House. (Incumbent presidents who don’t face a real primary challenge usually get a boost when the other party is beating itself up.)

And it’s destined to leave an impression on an American public that’s already fed up with the state of American politics and that isn’t eager to see a Biden vs. Trump rematch.

Graphic of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 28%

That’s how many U.S. adults said they have a Twitter account, per NBC News polling from late October 2021. NBC News reported Tuesday that DeSantis will announce his presidential bid on the platform Wednesday evening. 

Pew Research Center report from 2020 found that twice as many Democrats said they used the platform, but the analysis suggests that while Democratic users are more liberal than those who don’t use the platform, a similar share of Republicans call themselves conservative whether or not they use the platform. 

All this data comes from surveys that took place before billionaire businessman Elon Musk bought the platform, which could have shifted some of the composition of the users on the platform (many prominent Democrats have been vocal critics of Musk, who has made his conservative leanings clear). 

But it’s all worth considering as DeSantis takes his big news to the platform. 

Other numbers to know

60%: The portion of Americans who say Congress shouldn’t raise the debt ceiling unless they first cut federal spending, according to a new CNN poll. 

40%: The share of Americans who approve of President Biden’s job in that same CNN poll.

45%: The share of Americans who approve of Biden’s job, per a new NPR/PBS/Marist poll.

56%: The portion of gun-related bills that have been passed since last year’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that expanded access to firearms or benefitted the firearm industry, Axios reports.

3: The number of months that a Russian court extended the pretrial detention of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter who has been detained since March on espionage charges.

6: The number of weeks after which abortion would be banned in South Carolina, per a new bill that the state Senate passed on Tuesday, sending it to GOP Gov. Henry McMaster’s desk for final signature.

1,997: The number of children who were abused by Catholic clergy in Illinois from 1950 to 2019, according to a new report from the state attorney general.

3,400: The number of buildings in San Francisco that might be at severe risk of collapse in a major earthquake. 

Eyes on 2024: GOP primary heats up over the airwaves

The GOP presidential primary is also heating up on the airwaves, with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., launching his first TV ads of the race on Tuesday. 

The 60-second spot echoes messages from Scott’s campaign launch speech, with Scott saying in the ad, “To the radical left that says we’re an evil, declining country, I say the truth of my life disproves your lie.”

Scott’s campaign has also released this 30-second ad.

Scott’s initial $6 million ad buy in Iowa and New Hampshire underscores his strong financial position in the race as a prolific fundraiser. The Wall Street Journal reported that Scott’s campaign raised $2 million in the first 24 hours, bringing its cash-on-hand total to $24 million. 

Republican groups and candidates have spent a combined $29.1 million so far on ads in the presidential race, with most of that spending coming from outside groups, per AdImpact. 

The pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc. has spent more than $12.8 million on ads so far, according to AdImpact, while the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down has spent nearly $10.8 million. 

In other campaign news…

A pre-announcement tease: Florida’s first lady, Casey DeSantis, tweeted a video teasing her husband, Gov. DeSantis’ presidential launch. 

DeSantis’ dollars: CNBC’s Brian Schwartz dives into the Florida governor’s top fundraisers and the business leaders who will help bundle cash for his nascent campaign. And the New York Times reports that the pro-DeSantis super PAC is “expected to have an overall budget of at least $200 million, including more than $80 million to be transferred from an old DeSantis state political account.” 

Super Tuesday, then a trial: Former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial for falsifying business records will start March 25, 2024, well into the GOP presidential nominating calendar. 

Pence’s thoughts: Former Vice President Mike Pence sat down with Scripps News for a wide-ranging interview, and said he does not support allowing transgender soldiers to serve in the military, calling them “a distraction.” 

Biden’s digital spending haul: President Joe Biden has spent more on digital ads this year than 11 top Republican candidates or possible presidential candidates combined, per a new analysis from the FWIW newsletter reported on by Axios

Biotech blunder: Politico reports on how Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy worked for a hedge fund that invested in the infamous “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli’s business

Florida man: The Miami Herald reports that Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who is weighing a presidential run, received payments up to at least $170,000 from a developer “to help cut through red tape and secure critical permits for his stalled real estate project.” 

A new gig? Delaware Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester told NBC News she’s “interested” in potentially running for Senate now that Democratic Sen. Tom Carper is retiring.

Santos special? Jewish Insider reports that top New York Democrats have spoken to former Rep. Tom Suozzi about mounting a comeback bid if a special election for embattled Republican Rep. George Santos’ seat occurs. 

A different choice: reports that Republican Rep. Jim Jordan is backing state Rep. Craig Riedel’s congressional bid (Riedel lost the primary to J.R. Majewski in 2022, who went on to lose to Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur). 

Jersey swap: Former New Jersey Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski won’t run for a rematch against GOP Rep. Tom Kean, Jr., who defeated him in 2022, per the New Jersey Globe

California love: CHC Bold PAC, which is aligned with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is backing California Democrats Tim Sanchez and Kim Nguyen in House races for the state’s 12th and 45th Districts, respectively. 

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world:

Former President Jimmy Carter is spending time with family, reading tributes and eating ice cream, his grandson told the Associated Press, three months after Carter entered hospice.

Billionaire Harlan Crow, who has been accused of funding trips and gifts to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that Thomas didn’t properly disclose, declined to answer senators’ questions about his friendship with Thomas.