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Youngkin’s Jeff Roe Rebound

Glenn Youngkin hasn’t given up on the dream of running, and has signaled that Jeff Roe’s semi-betrayal has not impacted his thinking.
Glenn Youngkin hasn’t given up on the dream of running, and has signaled that Jeff Roe’s semi-betrayal has not impacted his thinking. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Tara Palmeri
March 30, 2023

The biggest political news of the past fortnight, at least to insiders, wasn’t Donald Trump’s alleged pre-arrest S.O.S. on Truth Social or the latest debt ruminations. Instead, it may very well have been the announcement that Jeff Roe, the mega-consultant who has been openly and actively pining for a ’24 campaign to run since before the midterms, would be taking his talents to Ron DeSantis’ soon-to-be-official PAC, Never Back Down. Roe’s decision to go all-in on DeSantis was also an effective Dear John letter to Glenn Youngkin, whom he had lifted from well-heeled obscurity to the Virginia statehouse two years ago. Youngkin’s hopes of a long-shot ’24 bid now seemed dashed.

And yet, I’ve since learned, Youngkin hasn’t given up on the dream of running and has signaled to top supporters and donors that Roe’s semi-betrayal has not impacted his thinking. In fact, in the love-hate relationship between the two men, it was Youngkin who told Roe to go, rather than commit to running on Roe’s timeline. As I have reported before, the former co-C.E.O. of Carlyle wants to preserve his optionality, as they say in finance, and he believes his best strategy is a late entry into the race, after either: 1) DeSantis fizzles, or 2) Trump and DeSantis effectively mutilate one another so thoroughly that they create a lane for a third option.

In the meantime, Youngkin has told people close to him that he needs a success story to tell on the stump from his brief two-year career in politics. In addition to heralding his C.R.T.-piñata-ing and soccer-mom-scaring keep-it-out-of-the-classroom schtick, in which he turned non-issues into made-for-the-right wedges, Younkgin wants to truly turn Virginia red by flipping the state legislature during the midterms this November. By then, of course, he’ll have missed various deadlines to get on state primary ballots. Some say by delaying his decision, he’s already made it. 

Youngkin, who made his fortune through risk calculation, seems to have gamed out a subtle sea change in the looming election. The handful of top donors, who have already publicly supported and donated to DeSantis, like Ken Griffin and Steve Schwarzman, aren’t exactly loyal to him. In fact, I’ve heard from sources close to both men that they fully accept that they may have to back another horse later on if DeSantis doesn’t make it through the race. For them, this is all about getting a candidate who is not Trump, no matter how much it costs. Griffin, who has already dropped $5 million on DeSantis, told Politico back in November that he’s not even sure if DeSantis is running, but made it clear that he’s tired of Trump. A Youngkin spokesperson declined to comment.

These same donors are also starting to worry not only about DeSantis’ softening poll numbers (a new Quinnipiac poll shows Trump leading him by 14 points), but also his oscillation on Ukraine and general insincerity. There’s another concern, too: the notion that DeSantis, in an effort to out-MAGA Trump, is going to pull too far to the right in the primary and suffer the consequences in the general election. To wit, many in the consultant-donor class are scratching their heads about DeSantis’ support for a law making abortion illegal in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy. Donors fear that passing this bill is a gift to Democrats, who will be sure to make 2024 another referendum on Roe, a strategy that proved powerful during the midterms. This would provide Democrats a key advantage in courting a demographic that helps decide national elections: college educated, swing-voting, suburban women. 

Rick Scott, DeSantis’s predecessor and rival, also saw this as political suicide and came out against the bill. I’m on a reporting trip in Florida right now, and I’ve been checking the temperatures of the state’s top G.O.P. leaders on the issue. There are a few schools of thought. One suggests that DeSantis just has to do whatever is possible to close the gap with Trump in the primary and then operate as necessary in the general. And that this maneuver will further endear him to evangelicals who have turned on Trump after he blamed them (among many others) for losing the midterms. There’s also a hope that any mistakes made over the abortion issue will be papered over by DeSantis’s culture warrior, parental-rights jihad, which is intended to assuage the fears of Republican soccer moms. 

But general fears persist that the current Florida legislative session, which was intended to be DeSantis’ springboard toward ’24, is just going to be one big complexifier. There’s another permitless open-carry bill that’s coming down the pike of Florida’s red-meat MAGA legislature. That too would not play well with women in a general election. 

This internal debate is all unfolding while DeSantis continues to drop in the polls while being roughed up by Trump. There’s a question about whether he can truly wait until June to announce his candidacy if he’s not able to actually hit back at Trump effectively from his perch in Tallahassee, even if he has seven media markets covering his every move. How many more weeks can DeSantis dodge and deflect?

In the meantime, top G.O.P. officials in Florida are sweating over who to support: Trump or DeSantis. I get the feeling that their heart says DeSantis, but their gut says he won’t survive against Trump. Lucky for them, they’ll have a few more weeks to make their calculation. But the whisper campaign that DeSantis should stand down until 2028 is already starting to grow louder. Things are frantic in Tallahassee. One example: after DeSantis blew off Megyn Kelly, there are even quiet conversations in the concentric circles around him wondering whether he needs to open himself more to national media. It’s one of many questions that Roe, and the many other highly-compensated consultants circling the putative candidate, are being paid handsomely to consider.

D.N.C. Convention Games: The Toilets

You know that the D.N.C.’s selection process for a 2024 convention site is dragging on too long when the shit-talking takes memo form. The latest concerns Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who would be chairman of the convention if it landed in Chicago, one of four cities in contention. Apparently, the line from ax-grinders with incentives to place the convention elsewhere is that Pritzker is basically a liberal Trump—a born-on-third-base billionaire with blind trusts and offshore accounts, and a similarly Trumpian history of tax dodginess, specifically his 2018 “toilet-gate” scandal, in which he was accused of designing a house with less than five toilets so that it would be deemed “uninhabitable” and avoid $330,000 in property taxes. (Pritzker was never charged.) Typical rich guy behavior: genius, hilarious, and plenty sick.

Is this sort of toilet-mandering really the message we want for the Democratic party?, these people ask? Well, I’m not sure that anyone outside of Washington really cares about, or even remembers, anything or anyone at these conventions other than the keynote speaker and the nominee. But, at the very least, these sharp knives suggest that Chicago must really be leading the race. And the longer that Biden waits to make a decision, the more mudslinging will ensue. 

But what’s the rush? Perhaps Biden and the other shadow 2024 hopefuls don’t mind a little shivving of Pritzker, who has been looking at a presidential run himself, if Biden steps down. 

Pompeo’s Eat-Pray-Love Adventure

Earlier this week, I noted that Mike Pompeo has been conspicuously quiet during several prime opportunities to weigh in on his various pet national security issues, like banning TikTok (Pompeo first suggested one in 2020) and China’s persecution of the Uyghurs, the subject of a recent select committee hearing (he previously likened Xi to a Nazi). He’s a Fox News contributor but wasn’t on the airwaves, and didn’t send out a single tweet!

Well, it turns out Pompeo was in his ancestral homeland of Pacentro, in Abruzzo, Italy—a place he frequented while serving as Secretary of State for “times of reflection,” aides tell me. (Apparently, Madonna is also from this region.) He seems to have been reflecting on his presidential odds, too. A few sources close to Pompeo have been telling me that he’s no longer inclined to seek the Oval. He’s even been conveying that he’s worried about his security—that perhaps the Iranians could somehow take him out while he’s counting calories at the Iowa State Fair—but all this seems a little far-fetched. More likely he’s fretting about his single-digit polling, and the fact that the hawkish lane is being hogged up by Nikki Haley and also maybe Mike Pence. It surely doesn’t help that his book tour was a bust. 

However, I did hear from someone this week familiar with Pompeo’s thinking that he hasn’t completely made up his mind, and that he’s been interviewing potential field staff in Iowa and New Hampshire. We’ll soon find out when Pompeo emerges from his soul searching and decides to throw his hat in the ring.