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In today’s Principals, former Trump officials are worried his campaign has already gone off the rail͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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December 8, 2022


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Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Can Republicans and Democrats do anything together? I’m asked this question frequently around the country because on the surface, most Americans don’t see much mutual good will. But yesterday I went to the Army Reserve retirement ceremony of Colonel Brad Wenstrup, a doctor who served in Iraq and who is also a GOP Congressman from Ohio. Republican Minority Whip Steve Scalise was there, whom Wenstrup had helped save after Scalise was struck by an attacker’s bullet at a Congressional baseball practice, as well as Democratic Reps. Raul Ruiz, Jason Crowe, and Seth Moulton among others.

The Trump campaign is having some real problems according to riveting inside reporting from our own Shelby Talcott. One person called it an “unmitigated disaster.” Also in a scoop, Morgan Chalfant reports that the Biden administration is increasingly concerned about Russia’s alleged deployment of sexual violence as a military strategy in Ukraine, meeting with a key Ukrainian official on how to hold Russia legally accountable.

PLUS: Did you know Xi Jinping is in Saudi Arabia? It’s a really big deal and might be a sign of deterioration in US-Saudi relations. I will be writing more about Saudi’s China option later today. Also, One Good Text with Rep. Seth Moulton on how America abandoning those who stood by us in Afghanistan will affect us in the future.


White House: Biden is trying a new economic messaging strategy: Sharing voices of Americans positively impacted by his agenda. This week, the White House distributed short videos on social media of an Arizona business owner and a Phoenix woman who joined the semiconductor industry to coincide with Biden’s speech at the TSMC chip plant. Expect more of these, a White House official said, as the administration plans to lean on the tactic going forward.

Chuck Schumer: The Senate majority leader took a victory lap following the Georgia Senate win, noting the additional seat would make it easier for Democrats to confirm Biden nominees. “The practical effects of the 51-seat majority: It’s big. It’s significant. We can breathe a sigh of relief,” Schumer said.

Mitch McConnell: The minority leader cheered the release of the NDAA, which had been delayed as lawmakers worked out disagreements on what amendments to add. Meanwhile, there’s still not an agreement on an omnibus.

Nancy Pelosi: The House will vote today on codifying the right to same-sex marriage, one of the last major bills to pass under her leadership.

Kevin McCarthy: The GOP leader may be down another critical vote in his quest to become speaker. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont. wrote in an op-ed that if McCarthy “couldn’t lead in the minority, he doesn’t have the ability to serve as speaker of the House.”

Need To Know

During oral arguments in a major election law case on Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s swing justices seemed hesitant to embrace the controversial “independent state legislature” theory, which would hand state lawmakers much more unchecked power to draw congressional maps and set voting laws. Chief Justice John Roberts in particular “showed hostility” to the idea, Politico wrote.

Former President Trump’s lawyers found at least two more items labeled classified after searching a storage unit near his Mar-a-Lago beach club, the Washington Post reported, noting that the material was given to the FBI.

Top Biden administration officials gave a classified briefing on Ukraine to senators yesterday as part of its push for an additional $38 billion in aid to the country. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he left the meeting “strongly convinced of the ongoing strong support that we’re getting on a bipartisan basis.” He said officials would brief House lawmakers today.

Lee Zeldin isn’t running for RNC chair, but he didn’t hold back in criticizing current chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. Another person calling for change: Fox News host Laura Ingraham, who hosted RNC candidate Harmeet Dhillon on her show.

Morgan Chalfant

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: McCarthy is “leaning toward” delaying the election for contested committee chairs until next month, in an effort to avoid disruptions to his already tenuous speaker bid.

Playbook: With House Republicans preparing a barrage of White House investigations next year, Democrats are jockeying for their party’s top spot on the House Oversight Committee, where they’ll get to play high-profile foil to the GOP. The top contenders are Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. and Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

The Early 202: Over in the Senate, Democrats are also strategizing about what investigations they’ll be able to run in 2023, now that they’ll have greater subpoena power thanks to their new 51-seat majority. Some committees are discussing whether to carry on House inquiries into Donald Trump that are set to end under GOP control.

Shelby Talcott

‘Unmitigated Disaster’: How Donald Trump’s campaign failed to launch

Former U.S. President Donald Trump departs Trump Tower for a deposition two days after FBI agents raided his Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach home, in New York City, U.S., August 10, 2022.
REUTERS/David 'Dee' Delgado


Donald Trump launched his candidacy three weeks ago, but you’d barely know it from watching his campaign. There’s been little sign of activity as the candidate heads off nonstop scandals and Trump veterans say they’re unsure who, if anyone, is in charge.

“Where are the events? Where are the rallies? Where’s the staff?” one former Trump campaign official said. “I don’t know. I don’t understand the plan there. I don’t think there is a plan.”

Trump has primarily communicated through Truth Social since his launch, with video appearances at a Republican Jewish Coalition conference and an event advocating for supporters imprisoned for attacking the Capitol on January 6th.


Interviews with eight figures close to Trump world, from former 2020 campaign officials to current allies, revealed broad concerns that things have reached a crisis point.

“It’s been an unmitigated disaster,” a former 2020 campaign senior advisor told Semafor. “Low-energy speech followed by dinner with a neo-Nazi, impending indictment from a special counsel, and now this thing about terminating the Constitution. It’s just inept, and his rollout accomplished nothing.”

A Trump campaign spokesman disputed that their operation was in disarray, and said they were already building teams in early primary states.

“This is a marathon and our game plan is being implemented even though the presidential calendar hasn’t been set yet and the 2022 midterm cycle just ended,” they said. “We’re focused on building out the operation and putting in place a foundation to wage an overwhelming campaign that’s never been seen before.”

Hiring could be a challenge. Staffers from his prior campaigns say they and many of their former colleagues are staying away this time, turned off by an unorganized operation and, above all, the president’s unyielding focus on his election loss to President Joe Biden.

“I don’t know anyone working on it,” one 2020 campaign staffer said. “And I know a lot of the people who I worked with, and really respected, on the 2020 campaign also have no interest in joining.”

“They don’t want to touch this reincarnation of the campaign with a 10 foot pole,” another former re-election official said.

It’s been a difficult recent stretch for the former president, including personal and professional legal woes, criticism over his candidate endorsements in the midterms, and ongoing fallout from his dinner with rapper Ye and white supremacist Nick Fuentes that he has done little to mitigate, despite pleas from allies.

But as Trump supporters look for guidance on where to relay their concerns and how to publicly respond, it remains unclear who, exactly, is running the show.

“Nobody really has clarity on who’s calling the shots,” one person close to Trump world said. “When you ask them, they just say ‘Trump, he’s calling all the shots.’”

Trump has yet to name a campaign manager, instead recruiting top advisors to serve within a loose structure without official titles for now.

Republican strategist Chris LaCivita as well as top advisors Susie Wiles and Brian Jack are playing a role, according to previous reports confirmed by Semafor. As the campaign continues to take shape, a second person close to Trump world told Semafor that LaCivita is likely to serve as a sort of campaign manager and Wiles will be a general consultant.

Boris Epshteyn remains at the top levels of Trump’s legal battles and is a senior member of the team. Others, like former spokesman Taylor Budowich and pollster Tony Fabrizio, are working with MAGA Inc, a super PAC that cannot coordinate with the campaign.

Vince Haley and Ross Worthington, two people told Semafor, crafted the former president’s 2024 announcement speech. Jason Miller, who remains focused on his social media platform GETTR, attended the speech-prep and aided the launch in an unofficial capacity, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Some are concerned that the former president has welcomed more fringe figures into the mix. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone were seen at Trump’s 2024 presidential announcement, and while it’s unclear what sort of a role they might play going forward, sources believe they have Trump’s ear.

“When you bring those people into your orbit, the donors and those independents…they run away and screech their tires peeling out of the parking lot,” one person close to Trump world said. “They just want no part of it.”


Some allies say the former president, who faced similar criticism during his successful 2016 run, shouldn’t be judged by traditional standards of what a campaign looks like.

“Nobody has ever announced and sustained a two year presidential campaign in the history of the United States,” another person close to Trump said. “So how is this supposed to be done? That is being written by Donald Trump, not by critics who think that he should be acting like it’s 2023.”

Foreign Influence

The Biden administration met with a Ukrainian official earlier this week to discuss holding Russian invasion forces accountable for committing acts of sexual violence against women and children, Semafor has learned.

Kateryna Levchenko, Ukraine’s commissioner for gender equality, huddled with White House Gender Policy Council Director Jennifer Klein to talk about the issue, which has been a subject of international outrage. In October, a United Nations envoy accused Vladimir Putin’s soldiers of using rape as a “military strategy” in Ukraine.

“It was a very important meeting to establish direct contact and relationship,” Levchenko told Semafor.

A White House spokesman confirmed that the two officials discussed how to hold Russia accountable for “crimes they have committed against the Ukrainian people,” as well as Biden’s recent executive order directing the government to do more in response to sexual violence in war zones, including in Ukraine.

Levchenko was among a group of women honored by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton at Georgetown University earlier in the week for their work advocating for women’s rights.

Morgan Chalfant


One good text with ... Rep. Seth Moulton


WHAT THE LEFT ISN’T READING: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee; the subject of the probe is unknown, though some are guessing it may involve complaints related to her attending last year’s Met Gala.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: The Florida lawmaker who sponsored the state’s law limiting discussion of gender and sexuality in the classroom, which critics dubbed a “don’t say gay” bill, was indicted on charges of defrauding a federal pandemic loan program.

Staff Picks

How do you explain a person like Marjorie Taylor Greene? The Atlantic takes a shot at it this week in a long, writerly profile. It’s the story of how a woman living an ordinary, affluent life tinged with suburban ennui and disappointment became enraptured with Donald Trump, then fully found her political identity and audience by posting in the most conspiratorial corners of the Internet — a trajectory that’s made her a perfect (and now powerful) embodiment of MAGA America.

No Labels, the advocacy group devoted to encouraging bipartisanship in Washington, has apparently spent $70 million trying to set the stage for a third-party “unity” ticket to run in 2024. But as Politico explains, the effort has been hampered by a dysfunctional organizational culture that has led to accusations of racial insensitivity and tension over the group’s attitude toward sexual harassment. The most eye-popping part: No Labels paid former journalist Mark Halperin, who got booted from his job thanks to multiple sexual misconduct allegations, more than $260,000 last year to be comms consultant.

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— Steve Clemons