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Koch network draws early battle lines against Trump in 2024

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.
President Trump Returns To White House After Weekend Campaigning
Then-President Donald Trump returns to the White House, on Oct. 19, 2020. Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Monday ... Republicans criticize President Biden’s handling of Chinese spy balloon. ... “The president taking it down over the Atlantic is sort of like tackling the quarterback after the game is over,” House Intel Committee Chair Mike Turner says on “Meet the Press.” ... Massive earthquakes rock Turkey and Syria, killing more than 1,000. ... Democratic insiders go all-in on Biden ahead of State of the Union and likely 2024 re-election launch, NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald writes. ... And Democrats pencil in S.C. at top of presidential primary calendar.

But first: Americans For Prosperity, the conservative political network founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has already picked a side in the very early 2024 Republican presidential race.

It will support a GOP candidate other than Donald Trump.

In a memo released Sunday, Americans For Prosperity said it plans on endorsing more candidates after the party’s disappointing performance in the 2022 midterms.

“The Republican Party is nominating bad candidates who are advocating for things that go against core American principles. And the American people are rejecting them,” CEO Emily Seidel said in the memo.

And that includes endorsing in the 2024 presidential race.

“So the best thing for the country would be to have a president in 2025 who represents a new chapter. The American people have shown that they’re ready to move on, and so AFP will help them do that.” 

Translation: “a new chapter” and “move on” isn’t supporting Trump.

Now this AFP opposition to Trump — despite the network’s money and organization — could backfire, giving Trump a boogeyman he can campaign against. (In fact, we can already envision the former president railing against the “special interests” and “establishment” opposing him.)

But it does signal that that the 2024 GOP battle lines are already being drawn — in Feb. 2023.

And don’t forget that we saw Trump-vs.-AFP primaries play out in 2022.

In the Nebraska governor's race, Trump-backed Charles Herbster faced off against AFP-backed Jim Pillen (Pillen won and is now Nebraska’s new governor).

In Michigan-03, where AFP backed then-incumbent Rep. Peter Meijer but Trump supported John Gibbs (Gibbs won the primary, but lost this swing district in the general).

And in S.C.-01, where AFP stood behind Rep. Nancy Mace while Trump endorsed challenger Katie Arrington (Mace won the primary and the general).

Quote of the day

“I don’t really know that you could do a one-to-one comparison with the last Cold War, but certainly you see this great power competition, and we’re seeing it a lot.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaking about U.S.-China relations on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

Data Download: The number of the day is … $7.5 million

That’s how much money House and Senate campaigns spent on security— including on security guards, digital security and residential security —in the 2022 election cycle. This number is up from $1.3 million in the 2020 campaign cycle, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The bulk of this $7.5 million was spent on “security services,” with Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock spending over $1 million on security alone.

There are a few reasons why this number could have risen so dramatically from 2020 to 2022. First, the Covid-19 pandemic led to fewer events in 2020, which required less security. And second, Capitol Police have reported an increased number of threats against lawmakers in recent years, leading to a more urgent need for security. 

Read more on the Meet the Press Blog

Other numbers to know:

At least 3: The number of times Chinese spy balloons flew across America during the Trump administration, according to U.S. officials.

7.8: The magnitude of an earthquake that hit Turkey, killing more than 1,300 people in the country and Syria. A second 7.5-magnitude earthquake hit the country a few hours later on Monday.  

$16 billion: The value of earmarks in the December spending bill, which included funding for over 7,200 projects. 

2: How many voting rights cases the North Carolina Supreme Court decided to revisit, including one case on voter-identification requirements and another on the state Senate map. 

$5.6 million: How much revenue the Trump NFTs have generated per a CryptoSlam analysis conducted for the New York Times. 

-108 degrees Fahrenheit: The record-setting wind chill on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire over the weekend as frigid temperatures hit the Northeast.  

$136.8 billion: How much money states are estimated to have in reserves, which could help the country navigate a potential recession, per the Wall Street Journal. 

32: How many career Grammy awards Beyoncé has won after the Sunday-night award ceremony, the most of any artist.

95: The age of Texas attorney Harry Whittington who died on Saturday. Whittington is the man whom former Vice President Dick Cheney shot during a 2006 hunting trip.   

Eyes on 2024: Democrats pencil in S.C. at top of primary calendar

Mark your calendars (with pencil rather than pen) — the Democratic National Committee voted to move South Carolina into the first presidential nominating slot, ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire.

If all goes according to Democrats’ plan, South Carolina’s primary will be on Feb. 3, 2024; Nevada and New Hampshire will go on Feb. 6; Georgia will follow on Feb. 13; and Michigan’s primary will be on Feb. 27. 

That calendar, however, isn’t set in stone — Georgia and New Hampshire will need the cooperation of Republican lawmakers in their states to approve those changes, and New Hampshire Democrats are warning they may still hold an unsanctioned primary at the top of the calendar and risk being stripped of their delegates later. 

But Democrats remain poised to overhaul their nominating calendar as President Biden readies his re-election bid, beginning to make the case for another term at Tuesday’s State of the Union. While the president is facing lackluster poll numbers, a classified document investigation and the reality that he’s 80 years old, party insiders are increasingly getting on board as the specter of former President Donald Trump winning the GOP nomination looms large. 

In other campaign news:

Trump talk: Former President Donald Trump’s campaign is planning to pitch himself “as an anti-war dove amongst the hawks,” Politico reports. Meanwhile, his 2016 campaign voided non-disclosure agreements for campaign workers and volunteers from his 2016 campaign as part of a $450,000 settlement in a class-action lawsuit by a former campaign worker.

And on Friday, Trump posted on social media that he “totally” disagreed with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who said the Capitol Police officer who shot and killed a woman attempting to enter the House chamber on Jan. 6, 2021 “did his job.”  

DeSantis watch: Florida legislators are planning to consider a proposal expanding GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis’ program sending migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. 

Harris hand wringing: The New York Times explores how Vice President Kamala Harris has “struggled to define her role,” fueling a “quiet panic” among Democrats worried that she could not win the White House if Biden won’t run for re-election.   

Hooiser future former congresswoman: Indiana Republican Rep. Victoria Spartz will not seek any office in 2024, the first House member to announce their retirement this cycle. 

How one mega-donor couple embodies the GOP split: Politico reports on how Liz and Dick Uihlein, two of the Republican Party’s biggest donors, have taken opposing sides in past intra-party battles, including most recently the election to lead the Republican National Committee. 

Santos accused of sexual harassment: A former volunteer for Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., has accused Santos of groping him in new allegations to the House Ethics Committee.  

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

All senators will receive a briefing about the Chinese surveillance balloon on Feb. 15, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The White House is also offering top congressional leaders a briefing on the classified documents obtained from President Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, issued subpoenas to Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, inquiring about documents related to school board meetings.