The DeSantis campaign’s mission: Survive

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Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1992, President George H.W. Bush ordered an emergency airlift of food to Somalia, where the lives of at least 1.5 million people were at risk from starvation.

The DeSantis campaign’s mission: Survive

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) joked in a late July interview that Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida — a distant second in the fight for the Republican nomination in 2024 — would need to get indicted to close former president Donald Trump’s commanding double-digit lead.

“We got to find some judge in Florida that’ll indict DeSantis quick, to close this indictment gap,” Massie, who has endorsed DeSantis, quipped to Alex Roarty of McClatchy. “It’s a truism that anytime someone is being persecuted, their camp rallies to their defense.”

It was a good line: Funny and aimed right at the challenge would-be Trump rivals face as he faces three indictments (possibly soon four) that have shored up rather than eroded his standing with Republican primary voters. Total headline material. 

But tucked away, a little later in the interview, came a very interesting Massie observation about DeSantis’s best path to change the direction of a race that has seen Trump’s lead grow, not diminish, while the governor has retooled, rebooted, reorganized, reloaded — pick your favorite word — a campaign written off as dead or dying by some pundits and outlets.

“I think the DeSantis approach to this, a methodical approach to this, making sure that you have enough money to get through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina is a good one,” the congressman told Roarty.

In other words, survive. “Get through” and “win” aren’t synonyms.

It’s early, so early, how could it be too late?

The Daily 202 has taken the position that it’s too early to write the political obituary of DeSantis ‘24 — 10 days before the first GOP debate, months before the Iowa caucuses — even though the candidate once heralded as Trump’s Most Serious Rival (™) is in undeniable political danger.

My colleague Dan Balz took a long look over the weekend at the governor’s assets and liabilities and found plenty of trouble but also “reminders of why the Florida governor, though distinctly trailing, remains Trump’s principal rival for the nomination.”

“The narrative that has enveloped the presidential campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is now almost uniformly negative: He’s described as a candidate who lacks people skills. His campaign operation has been messy. He’s fallen from the heights at which he began the year,” Dan wrote.

Much of the piece focused on how hard DeSantis is betting on a strong showing in Iowa.

  • He “got the endorsement from conservative radio talk show host Steve Deace, an influential figure on the right of the Republican Party.”
  • Some strategists say he’s slowly but surely winning over evangelical voters, a force in Iowa.
  • Trump’s attacks on Gov. Kim Reynolds, the most popular Republican in Iowa, have gone down poorly with many GOP voters.

Florida man takes home-state heat

But my colleague Josh Dawsey has a tough write-up of criticisms from Florida, where some Republicans say DeSantis comes face to face with his campaign’s biggest liability when he shaves and combs his hair in the morning.

“Interviews with more than 30 people in Florida and Washington who worked closely with DeSantis — many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe their interactions with him — indicate expectations were lower among some who knew him closely in Tallahassee — and that they always expected the candidate to be the challenge,” Josh reported.

It’s far from entirely negative. Josh quotes officials praising the way DeSantis has handled covid, signed a ban on abortions after six weeks, signed measures expanding access to guns, people moving to Florida by the thousands, etc.

And some of the complaints are, frankly, petty, such as a gripe the governor would leave “food wrappers and other items in the back of the state car.”

But if the road to the White House requires retail politicking in Iowa and New Hampshire — shaking hands and kissing babies, not the reverse — Josh’s reporting hints at the challenges DeSantis faces.

  • “[I]n interviews, Florida Republicans described an aloof governor who believed in ‘sticks and no carrots,’ according to a senior Florida official, and whose idea of negotiating was ‘my way or the highway,’ in the words of another.”
  • “An insular governor who infrequently talked to some senior members in his own Cabinet, including his top law enforcement officials or leading Republicans.”
  • “A congressman who seemed to avoid any opportunity to make friends with others in the delegation.
  • “A politician who often eschewed trying to connect with donors and supporters and seemed to not enjoy being around crowds or attending events. A governor who sometimes declined to do a lot of the customary niceties in politics, such as thank you notes and calls to donors.”

Those aren’t necessarily reasons not to vote for him. But they underline a key question for DeSantis: Survive … and then what?

See an important political story that doesn’t quite fit traditional politics coverage? Flag it for us here.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers insist part of his deal still stands

“Lawyers for President Biden’s son Hunter Biden argue in a new court filing that part of their failed plea deal with federal prosecutors should still stand, because a judge’s approval was never needed to handle a gun possession charge through a diversion program,” Devlin Barrett reports.

Officials ask for patience as Maui residents question response

With the death toll from the Maui wildfires at 93 and expected to rise, search crews continued to scour the scorched ruins Sunday and officials pleaded for patience as they struggle to recover human remains from ashy wreckage that disintegrates when stepped on or touched,” Tom Hays, Karin Brulliard, Kelly Kasulis Cho and Annabelle Timsit report.

More: Maui wildfires death toll at 96; smoldering heat hampers search efforts

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Revealing the Smithsonian’s ‘racial brain collection’

“On the day Mary Sara died of tuberculosis in a Seattle sanitarium, the doctor caring for the 18-year-old offered her brain to one of the most revered museums in the world,” Nicole Dungca and Claire Healy report.

  • “The young woman — whose family was Sami, or indigenous to areas that include northern Scandinavia — had traveled with her mother by ship from her Alaska hometown at the invitation of physician Charles Firestone, who had offered to treat the older woman for cataracts. Now, Firestone sought to take advantage of Sara’s death for a ‘racial brain collection’ at the Smithsonian Institution. He contacted a museum official in May 1933 by telegram.”
  • “Nearly 100 years later, Sara’s brain is still housed by the institution, wrapped in muslin and immersed in preservatives in a large metal container. It is stored in a museum facility in Maryland with 254 other brains, amassed mostly in the first half of the 20th century. Almost all of them were gathered at the behest of [Ales Hrdlicka], a prominent anthropologist who believed that White people were superior and collected body parts to further now-debunked theories about anatomical differences between races.”

What the 2024 candidate appearances looked like at the Iowa State Fair

“Former president Donald Trump reasserted his dominance in the GOP race and trolled Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running a distant second. DeSantis toured the fairgrounds with his family and was interrupted by protesters. Longer-shot candidates try to leave an impression, including entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who did his own rendition of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself,’” Marianne LeVine, Dylan Wells and Hannah Knowles report.

Yes, inflation is down. No, the Inflation Reduction Act doesn’t deserve the credit.

“Even President Joe Biden has some regrets about the name of the Inflation Reduction Act: As the giant law turns 1 on Wednesday, it’s increasingly clear that immediately curbing prices wasn’t the point,” the Associated Press’s Josh Boak and Paul Wiseman report. 

  • “While price increases have cooled over the past year — the inflation rate has dropped from 9% to 3.2% — most economists say little to none of the drop came from the law.

Trump’s ‘co-conspirators’ are already starting to turn on each other

“Attorneys for veterans of Trump’s post-election activities like Rudy Giuliani and Kenneth Chesebro — both of whom have been identified as among the six unnamed ‘co-conspirators’ in the most recent federal indictment of Trump — are now casting blame towards others on the campaign’s legal team or people close to the then-president,” Rolling Stone’s Adam Rawnsley and Asawin Suebsaeng report.

  • Giuliani and his lawyer are now openly trashing and blaming the ‘crackpot’ alleged activities of Sidney Powell, another lawyer who worked on Trump’s post-election efforts. On top of that, Chesebro, the key architect of Trump’s fake-electors ploy, is now trying to downplay his involvement in the effort, spreading the possible blame and criminal exposure elsewhere.”

Biden’s first Camp David summit looks to align allies facing China threat

Countering China and North Korea is the main aim of the three-way meeting, which is marked by a pair of firsts. It is the first time Biden is greeting foreign leaders at the presidential retreat in rural Maryland, and the first time leaders of the three countries have held a stand-alone summit, instead of gathering at another event,” the Wall Street Journal’s Alastair Gale and Timothy W. Martin report.

  • “The three leaders are set to announce that their countries will hold joint military exercises every year across a range of forces, and they also plan to make their summit an annual event, officials said.”

Collapse of Hunter Biden plea deal could complicate president’s campaign

The upshot: President Biden faces the prospect that his reelection campaign will unfold at the same time his son faces trial, possibly in a federal courthouse a few blocks from the White House. The legal proceedings could weigh on the president politically, and the fact that the case involves his surviving son — one with a history of drug and alcohol addiction, one he speaks with almost every day, one most of his advisers avoid discussing with him — is also likely to weigh on him personally,” Matt Viser reports.

Biden wants rich companies to pay higher taxes. Some are fighting back.

“Nearly a year after its enactment, the U.S. government still has not yet fully implemented the new corporate alternative minimum tax, as the Biden administration races to finalize a complex and critical element of Democrats’ broader economic agenda. Its fate rests in the hands of the Treasury Department, whose forthcoming rules will determine if Biden can achieve his promises to lower the federal deficit and force businesses to pay their fair share,” Tony Romm reports.

Where Sen. Tommy Tuberville is blocking military promotions, visualized

Data obtained and verified by The Washington Post reveals that, as of Aug. 12, 301 high-level positions were ensnared in Tuberville’s hold. That number is expected to more than double by the end of the year, officials say, unless the impasse, which stems from the Pentagon’s abortion policy, is resolved. By year’s end, the Pentagon estimates that about three-quarters of the generals and admirals in the Defense Department — 650 of 852 — will be affected by Tuberville’s hold,” Dan Lamothe and Hannah Dormido report.

Georgia prosecutor to begin presenting 2020 election case this week to grand jury

Fulton County, Ga. prosecutor Fani Willis is expected to begin presenting her case against former president Donald Trump and his associates. (Video: Peter Stevenson, JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

“An Atlanta-area prosecutor investigating whether former president Donald Trump and his associates broke the law when they sought to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia is expected to begin presenting her case before a grand jury early [this] week,” Holly Bailey reports.

  • Geoff Duncan, the former lieutenant governor of Georgia who was subpoenaed as a potential witness, confirmed Saturday that he will give closed-door testimony to a grand jury after he was subpoenaed to testify at the Fulton County Courthouse on Tuesday.”

Republicans who demanded special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden aren’t satisfied

“For months, many Republicans called for a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden. But now that the Department of Justice has designated U.S. Attorney David Weiss of Delaware to the role, several conservatives are complaining about the appointment,” Maegan Vazquez reports.

  • “House Republicans are accusing [Attorney General Merrick Garland] of trying to thwart congressional investigations into the Biden family and say that Weiss isn’t the right person to serve as special counsel.”

At 1 p.m., Biden and Vice President Harris will have lunch.

99 million people in the U.S. may be exposed to dangerous heat today

For much of the United States, it’s going to be a hot one — again. Click through to look up whether dangerous heat will hit your city this week.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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