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DeSantis group’s memo reveals possible debate strategy

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Florida Governor and 2024 Republican Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis speaks with voters and residents in border-adjacent communities during a campaign event in Eagle Pass, Texas, on June 26, 2023.

Suzanne Cordeiro | AFP | Getty Images

The main super PAC backing Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign posted, and then removed, a memo outlining a four-pronged strategy the Florida governor might take in next week’s Republican primary debate, The New York Times first reported Thursday.

The document, which was also reported by NBC News, recommended that DeSantis defend former President Donald Trump from one of his opponent’s attacks — assuming Trump decides to skip the Milwaukee debate.

DeSantis should also attack President Joe Biden and the media up to five times, “hammer” GOP contender Vivek Ramaswamy and state his “positive vision” two or three times, according to the memo, which called those goals “must-dos.”

The two-page memo was one of a slew of records posted publicly this week by Axiom Strategies, a firm headed by Jeff Roe, a top advisor for the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down. After the Times asked about the debate-strategy memo, the group deleted it from Axiom’s website, according to the newspaper.

But other campaign research documents remain on Axiom’s site. Those documents include opposition research on Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur and crusader against “woke” issues who has made an outsized impression on the campaign trail, as well as pages on how each of DeSantis’ rivals could attack him in a debate.

CNBC Politics

Read more of CNBC’s politics coverage:

A 10-page memo on former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a major critic of both Trump and DeSantis who has hyped his skills as a debater, notes that he may attack DeSantis “for not being as openly hostile to Trump.”

The now-deleted memo summarizing DeSantis’ debate goals advised him to “defend Donald Trump in absentia in response to a Chris Christie attack.”

The memo even offered a pre-written retort for DeSantis to fire at Christie. “Trump isn’t here so let’s just leave him alone. He’s too weak to defend himself here. We’re all running against him,” the memo said.

“I don’t think we want to join forces with someone on this stage who’s auditioning for a show on MSNBC,” the memo suggested DeSantis could say.

A spokeswoman for the super PAC did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The memo underscores the fine line DeSantis is attempting to walk as he seeks to defeat Trump in the Republican primary without alienating the former president’s loyal base. While Trump regularly rails against DeSantis at every available opportunity, the Florida governor has been far less willing to respond in kind.

U.S. President Donald Trump greets Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as he arrives at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida, May 8, 2019.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

That strategy has yet to yield an uptick in the polls for DeSantis, who has seen his support erode in recent national surveys of the primary race. Trump holds a commanding lead over the field, even as he grapples with a combined 91 felony counts in four active criminal cases.

Trump has suggested he will not attend the first primary debate, which is set for Wednesday evening in Milwaukee. “Why would you let somebody that’s at zero, or one or two or three [in the polls] be popping you with questions?” he said recently.

Trump has also said he would not sign the Republican National Committee’s pledge to support the eventual party nominee, which is a debate requirement.

Read the full report from The New York Times.



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