Plus, some reader feedback and a belated correction.
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
Today's read: 11 minutes.
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I just got back from my week-long trip to Bolivia and feel more appreciative of this community than ever before. Thank you for all the kind words and encouragement about taking some time off. There was so much wisdom and encouragement in the notes I got, and I'm looking forward to writing about the trip for this week's members-only Friday edition!
Some reader feedback.
- "The Friday independent, non-partisan issue would have been a good fit for Fox News and there is no need for more negative anti-Biden(s) 'news' masquerading as unbiased reporting."
- "Your defense of the Biden presidency, and that's what it was, goes against the reality of the absolute disaster he's been while in office, from Afghanistan to gas prices to crime (he's pro law enforcement. Really?), to gaffs on the international stage, how he's handled the Middle East, to appointing absolute incompetents to positions within the government, illegal immigration, and something in my own wheelhouse; one of the most corrupt DOJ's I can remember in my 30 years in law enforcement... Sorry but you've lost all credibility with me. I'm moving on."
- "With your podcast on Biden's accomplishments coupled with the podcast on Trump's accomplishments you provided a huge service to the voting community. No where else can you find a non-biased assessment. You resisted identifying their failures which could easily slip into opinion rather than fact. Please continue along these lines to inform the public so we aren't limited to 'why you shouldn't vote for the other guy.'"
We belatedly caught an error from our December 14th newsletter in which we said "the Supreme Court granted Special Counsel Jack Smith's request to bring before the court the question of whether Trump can be tried on criminal charges that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election." In fact, at publication time, the court had only set a deadline for Trump's team to respond to the petition, and it ultimately declined to fast-track the case as Smith had hoped. The language was a bit squishy here, but a correction was deserved!
This is our 99th correction in Tangle's 232-week history and our first correction since January 11th. We track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.
- Two Navy SEALs who went missing at sea during a mission to seize Iranian weapons bound for Yemen are now presumed dead. (The declaration)
- The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says more than 25,000 Palestinians have now been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza. (The numbers) U.S. officials estimate 20-30% of Hamas's 25,000-35,000 fighters have been killed. (The estimate) Separately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a hostage deal that included a full withdrawal from Gaza and would have left Hamas in power. (The offer)
- Iraqi and U.S. troops were wounded and one Iraqi was killed when members of the Iran-backed Islamic Resistance fired at an airbase in western Iraq. Airstrikes in Lebanon killed a Hezbollah member and strikes in Syria killed five members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Israel said it was responsible for the strikes in Lebanon but has not confirmed its involvement in the Syrian strikes. (The fighting)
- 27 people were killed and dozens were wounded by a missile strike in the Russian-held city of Donetsk in Ukraine. Russia blamed Ukraine for the strike, but the responsible party is not yet clear. (The strike)
- On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Biden announced new steps to expand protections for contraception, abortion medication, and emergency abortions at hospitals. (The changes)
Ron DeSantis. On Sunday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced he was dropping out of the 2024 presidential race, just two days before the New Hampshire primary. In his announcement, DeSantis endorsed former President Donald Trump as the 2024 nominee.
"It’s clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance... Trump is superior to the current incumbent, Joe Biden," DeSantis said in a video posted on X. "That is clear. I signed a pledge to support the Republican nominee, and I will honor that pledge. He has my endorsement because we can’t go back to the old Republican guard of yesteryear.”
The move came as a surprise to most political strategists who thought DeSantis would wait to see how he performed in New Hampshire, a critical early primary state, before determining his future in the race. Once considered the biggest threat to Donald Trump as the GOP standard bearer, DeSantis was marred by his campaign’s internal dysfunction and an inability to translate his success in Florida to the national stage. Over the past year, DeSantis’s polling numbers fell by roughly 68%.
DeSantis had a well funded operation that pulled in tens of millions of dollars from donors but sputtered from the start, as his campaign launch in an announcement on X/Twitter was beset by technical issues and widely ridiculed online. His team oscillated between mass layoffs and controversies, including a campaign video that featured a Nazi symbol. DeSantis was also mocked regularly by Trump and his rivals, who criticized everything from his appearance to his awkward attempts to connect with voters at in-person events.
On Saturday night, Trump was already talking about DeSantis as if his campaign had ended. “May he rest in peace,” Trump said of DeSantis at a campaign rally.
By Sunday, though, Trump's campaign said it was honored by the endorsement and encouraged Republicans to come together and "rally behind President Trump."
DeSantis finished second in the Iowa caucuses but trailed Trump by 30 points. In New Hampshire he was polling near 6%, behind both Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, now the lone Republican challenger.
Analysis done by FiveThirtyEight of GOP primary voters who participated in polls in November and December found that Trump was the second choice of 48% of DeSantis voters, compared to just 27% who said their vote would go to Haley.
DeSantis still has two years left in his term as Florida governor and has previously said he would not accept a position as Trump's vice president.
Today, we're going to take a look at some perspectives from the right and left about DeSantis dropping out, then my take.
What the left is saying.
- The left believes DeSantis staked his campaign on flawed premises and wishful thinking that ultimately led to his downfall.
- Some criticize his endorsement of Trump as contradictory to what his campaign was supposed to stand for.
- Others say his campaign was doomed from the start, and he never should have run against Trump.
In Vox, Zack Beauchamp argued “DeSantis got the Republican Party wrong.”
“There are many reasons DeSantis failed, ranging from the candidate’s awkward personality to his weirdly lavish spending on private flights. But there’s also a more fundamental explanation: Ron DeSantis and his backers completely misread what the GOP electorate wanted,” Beauchamp wrote. “By seeming more competent and organized, he could scan as palatable to the traditional establishment. Except it turned out that the kind of culture war politics DeSantis offered, an often-abstract assault on ‘wokeness,’ paled in comparison to what Trump served up.”
“That DeSantis felt boxed in like this reflects a fundamental flaw in his campaign’s premise. They assumed that Trump’s supporters believed that Trumpism, as a movement, could be separated from Trump the man. Focusing fire on the bugbears of conservative populist intellectuals — abstractions… like DEI, ESG, and, above all, ‘wokeness’ — would allow them to get at the base’s populist sentiments and steal Trump’s base out from under him. But the GOP faithful were not like DeSantis’s backers in the pundit and activist classes. For them, the cause of Trump is inseparable from the cause of the party.”
The Miami Herald editorial board said “DeSantis was supposed to save the GOP from Trump, not endorse him.”
“The Florida governor tried to sell voters the idea that he’s just like Trump, but more electable, more reasonable — but also more conservative. That didn’t work because, in the end, DeSantis’ brand wouldn’t exist without MAGA,” the board wrote. “It’s not just that he was steamrolled by Donald Trump. DeSantis never appeared to want to save the GOP. He was more interested in making it a more ravenous, angrier and intolerant party. That worked for Trump, but didn’t work for the governor with all the charisma of burned toast.”
“Glorified by the media as Trump’s heir apparent and buoyed by his legislative successes, DeSantis soon proved he wasn’t ready for prime time. He refused to engage with mainstream media, a strategy that worked for him as governor, until he felt forced to give more attention to outlets like CNN and network news. But that was too late,” the board said. “As he bows out, DeSantis leaves the Republican Party exactly as he found it, under Trump’s dominance.”
In The Daily Beast, Alexander Nazaryan wrote “DeSantis never should have run for president.”
“The conventional wisdom is that the dream of a DeSantis presidency has merely been deferred until 2028—maybe even preserved by his decision to forego weeks of humiliation that would have culminated in a Super Tuesday trouncing. But I am not so sure. After all, the factors that doomed DeSantis in 2024 will still be around in 2028,” Nazaryan said. “Primary among them is DeSantis himself. Anyone who followed him throughout his first term as governor could see that he was not made for politics any more significant than the House backbench.”
“He constantly spoke about freedom, even as he erected ever more limits on what people could say or do. And he did it all with grim, humorless diligence, as if checking off boxes on some political consultant’s presidential to-do list. It is difficult to come off as both persistent and inauthentic, but DeSantis managed to pull it off,” Nazaryan added. “DeSantis failed to capitalize on his standing as the post-Trump candidate many Republicans—and even some moderates—were yearning for in late 2022 and early 2023.”
What the right is saying.
- Supporters on the right are disappointed by DeSantis’s abrupt exit from the race after his campaign fell short of expectations.
- Others criticize his campaign decisions as poorly devised and badly executed.
- Some say DeSantis failed to offer a coherent message to GOP voters once Trump got in the race.
In National Review, Philip Klein suggested “the demand for what DeSantis was offering wasn’t there.”
“The most basic explanation of what happened to DeSantis is that, by the time his campaign got going in earnest, there was simply not much demand for the product he was selling,” Klein wrote. “The political stock of DeSantis rose considerably during the pandemic. He benefited from having recognized earlier than most that the massive restrictions imposed on society in the name of fighting Covid did more harm than good. His very public battles against Covid restrictions drew the ire of the Left and the media and made him one of the most popular Republicans in the country among conservatives… there was reason to believe that he was somebody who could cobble together a winning coalition in a Republican presidential primary.”
However, “once it became clear that the demand for what DeSantis was offering wasn’t there, no amount of campaign reshuffles or message retoolings were going to make a difference,” Klein said. “Coming off his gubernatorial-reelection victory, DeSantis’s star was probably as high as it would be. If his Covid record didn’t resonate during this election cycle, just a few years removed from the pandemic, it’s hard to imagine who would care four years from now — or what other issues and conservative leaders would gain traction in the intervening period.”
In RedState, Jennifer Oliver O'Connell said DeSantis’s candidacy “offers lessons on how not to run a campaign.”
“From the lackluster start to the campaign to his initial lack of fight toward all his opponents, [DeSantis’s campaign] reflected a man whose heart really wasn't in it. Monied donors and well-meaning friends pushed him in that direction, and with the Trump indictments looming it seemed a credible possibility, until it wasn't. That's not a dig; it's reality. In a presidential campaign, you cannot build to energy, it has to be both feet, all in, and energy in spades—especially since your main competitor is the picture of energy, drive, and charisma,” O’Connell wrote.
“Much like Donald Trump, DeSantis is at his best when sparring with the legacy media. He not only exposed their hypocrisy but better illuminated his policies and showed what he stood for. By embargoing legacy media and isolating himself only to conservative outlets, DeSantis neutered any opportunities for him to promote what his candidacy was about. He blunted what made him shine. DeSantis did not speak with or sit down with legacy media outlets until well into his campaign, but it was too late to right this serious error,” O’Connell said. “Had DeSantis had this revelation back in June 2023, we could be looking at a more competitive primary season.”
In Reason, Eric Boehm questioned why DeSantis eschewed “a compelling campaign about the value of freedom.”
“It's been impossible to escape the feeling that DeSantis' notion of freedom extended only as far as the preferences of his political tribe,” Boehm wrote. “As a backbench congressman during the Obama years, DeSantis was part of the so-called ‘tea party’ movement that pushed for smaller government, less spending, and, yes, more freedom… As governor of Florida, he was relatively restrained in imposing COVID controls—and stood by that approach when large swaths of the media denounced him for it. But as governor, DeSantis also earned a reputation for tax-funded political stunts and for expanding government with little regard for civil liberties.”
“The older version of DeSantis might have offered an actual vision for the future: one that revived a small-government Republicanism as a necessary contrast to Trumpism. All of the strongest arguments for DeSantis as an alternative to Trump lined up along that axis,” Boehm wrote. “In short, rather than trying to out-flank Trump with the too-online fringe of the GOP, DeSantis could have courted the much larger segment of Republicans who were disgruntled by the government's handling of the pandemic, unsettled by inflation (which was triggered in part by overspending), and unsure about Trump's ability to overcome all that baggage.”
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- It’s hard to tell if this is DeSantis making a play for the vice presidency or re-tooling for 2028.
- It’s also hard to tell if this is good news or bad news for Nikki Haley.
- Either way his dropping out took me by surprise; it shows just how badly DeSantis’s campaign went and just how well Trump’s has been going.
My first thought when I read the news was this was a play for the vice presidency.
On the one hand, the idea seems unlikely. DeSantis has two years left as Florida governor and can look ahead to a wide open GOP race in 2028. If he wants to be president, a smart play might be to simply keep pushing his agenda in Florida, rack up as many electoral and legislative wins as possible, and then run again in four years as the presumptive favorite. With this strategy, dropping out now is more about reckoning with the reality that he was about to come in third in New Hampshire behind Nikki Haley and had no shot of beating Trump this year.
On the other hand, dropping out now could be the beginning of a new play. Trump's comments about DeSantis went from full-on mockery Saturday night to warm and fuzzy Sunday, with the Trump team saying they were honored to have his endorsement and looking forward to bringing the party together. If you are DeSantis, you just realized that you can't be the GOP nominee without the Republican base, which is now mostly made up of Trump supporters. And what could solve that problem more quickly than a stamp of approval from Trump as his pick for vice president? Maybe pledging loyalty now is the way to get there.
I honestly don't know which is more likely. He’s said he wouldn’t take the number two position, but hasn’t reaffirmed that stance in weeks. Either way, dropping out after Iowa represents a massive failure for DeSantis and his team. It's hard to remember now, but after the 2022 midterms and DeSantis's strong night in Florida, it seemed like he could enter the Republican primary as the favorite. His national rise was meteoric and he was quickly branded the "Trump who got things done." But nearly everything about his campaign — from start to finish — has been a mess. By the time he showed any willingness to stand up to Trump and go after him it was basically over, and the criticisms DeSantis levied against Trump will now forever be used against him.
Obviously, the biggest implication here is that the Republican primary just became a one-on-one race. A lot of people have interpreted DeSantis's move as bad for Haley, since polling shows a good chunk of his support is going to go to Trump in New Hampshire. Honestly, that conclusion is hard to argue. But a head-to-head race was always the only chance never-Trump Republicans had to stop him, and now they have it. I wouldn't be totally shocked if Haley were to hold on for another few weeks and give us at least a few more interesting moments.
The GOP primary is over. After looking deep into every poll I find, I simply haven’t found any data to suggest that anyone other than Trump will be the Republican nominee in 2024, and the press seems largely unprepared and unwilling to accept this reality.
Much of the country has spent the last six months pretending the inevitable wasn't happening, and now Haley is the final domino yet to fall. Of course, all the typical caveats apply: Trump is facing serious legal threats and he could end up ineligible for the ballot or pleading out of running for a variety of charges. He is also 77, and just as with Biden, there is always a chance he suffers some health issue. Notably, Haley has started to roll out some competence-related attacks, calling out Trump for claiming Biden was going to get us into World War II, for saying he ran against Obama, and for repeatedly mixing Haley up with Nancy Pelosi.
But the most likely outcome is the same as it was on August 1st: Trump will be the Republican nominee in 2024, facing President Joe Biden. His challengers didn't just lose in Iowa, they got steamrolled, causing the second- and fourth-closest competitors to drop out and the race never really appearing competitive at any point. The reality for anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats is that Trumpism is both enduring and resonant, and the failure to reckon with why is going to continue to result in him being the leader of the party.
Your questions, answered.
We're skipping the reader question today to give our main story some extra space. Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.
Under the radar.
The IRS says it is inundated with bogus claims from the pandemic-era employee-retention tax credit, which has limited its ability to refund valid claims from employers who actually need the money. The agency is sifting through more than a million requests from employers around the country in hopes of keeping government aid from going to the wrong people. “The legitimate claims are surrounded in our inventory by a lot of illegitimate claims, and it’s taking us a long time to sort this through,” IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel told The Wall Street Journal. The program, designed by Congress to encourage employers not to lay off employees during the pandemic, has already cost $230 billion — far more than initial projections. The Wall Street Journal has the story (paywall).
- 34.9%. Ron DeSantis’s polling average in Republican presidential primary polls on January 22, 2023, the highest at any point in his campaign.
- 11.1%. DeSantis’s polling average in national primary polls on January 21, 2024, when he exited the Republican primary.
- 5.8%. DeSantis’s polling average in the New Hampshire primaries on January 21, 2024.
- $31 million. The amount spent by three super PACs supporting DeSantis on advertising in Iowa prior to last week’s caucuses.
- $200 million. The estimated budget of Never Back Down, a super PAC supporting DeSantis, at the start of his campaign in May 2023.
- $100 million. The approximate amount spent by the DeSantis campaign and super PACs supporting it over the course of his candidacy.
- 117. The number of days DeSantis spent traveling outside of Florida for political purposes between April 2023 and January 2024.
- One year ago today we had just published our review of Biden’s first year in office.
- The most clicked link in our last standard newsletter on Wednesday was again the picture of the moon, a mountain, and a basilica.
- Split ticket: 740 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking who they thought will be Donald Trump’s running mate, and for the first time ever we got an exact tie. 20% (148 people) voted for Vivek Ramaswamy and 20% (148 people) voted for Gov. Kristi Noem (SD). 19% were unsure or had no opinion, 18% said Sen. Tim Scott (SC), 9% said Rep. Elise Stefanik (NY), and 14% said someone else. The most common write-ins were Nikki Haley (who is now Trump’s only competition in the primary) and Kari Lake (who is running for Senate). 1 person wrote in Ron DeSantis.
- Nothing to do with politics: Which baby names are trending, and which are going out of style?
- Take the poll. What do you think of Ron DeSantis’s decision to drop out? Let us know!
Have a nice day.
Sickle cell is a heritable blood disorder caused by a genetic mutation that affects over 100,000 Americans and 20 million people worldwide. Other than a childhood vaccine that prevents pneumococcal disease, treatment options are difficult or expensive. But in December, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) delivered some good news: the agency approved two gene therapies — one by Bluebird Bio, the other by Vertex Pharmaceuticals — for sickle cell disease. The Vertex treatment, called exa-cel, is also the first approved therapy in the United States that uses the gene editing tool CRISPR (though the drug had already been approved in the United Kingdom and Bahrain). While exa-cel is not a cure, as NPR reports, it is designed to be “a one-time treatment that will alleviate symptoms for a lifetime.” The first gene therapy treatment approved was by the FDA in 2017, and since then 14 others have been greenlit, meaning that treatments like these could be getting much more common. The Progress Network has the story.
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