Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is prepared to be “the center of attacks” next week at the GOP’s first debate in the 2024 presidential race, according to a campaign memo obtained by CNN that lays out how DeSantis is preparing for the debate stage.
The memo, sent by new campaign manager James Uthmeier to donors and supporters, argues the Republican primary is a “two-man race” between DeSantis and former President Donald Trump, who is not expected to participate in the debate.
The campaign is “fully prepared” to be “on the receiving end of false, desperate charges from other candidates and the legacy media,” the memo states. Uthmeier writes that the first debate, which will take place in Milwaukee, is other candidates’ “biggest chance yet to grab headlines by attacking the governor, so we know they will try their best.”
The memo, first reported by Axios, follows an apparent attempt by a super PAC supporting DeSantis to float debate strategies to the Republican’s presidential campaign earlier this week.
In the talking points from the super PAC Never Back Down, first reported by The New York Times, DeSantis is advised to “hammer” entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and defend Trump if he is attacked by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. It also included tips for how many times to attack President Joe Biden and the media.
One source close to DeSantis’ political operation was surprised a person at Never Back Down would even write a memo or think it was appropriate to give the campaign advice just a week out from the debate.
DeSantis told Fox News on Saturday that he hasn’t read the debate strategy put out by Never Back Down and that it’s “something we have put off to the side.” He told reporters in New Hampshire later Saturday that the super PAC talking points are “not going to influence what I do. We’re gonna go, and we’re gonna speak the truth and we’re looking forward to getting the job done.”
In contrast to the super PAC-floated talking points, DeSantis’ campaign memo states his objective on the debate stage “will be to lay out his vision to beat Joe Biden, reverse American decline, and revive the American Dream.”
“Viewers at home will see the fighter who volunteered to serve our country and deployed to Iraq after 9/11, the father who wants to restore America’s promise to future generations for his children and theirs, and the champion of freedom who stood up time and again as governor to defeat the left,” the memo states.
DeSantis told CNN Saturday that “you got to be ready for everything” on the debate stage. “I mean, people have already said, you know, I’m going to be the guy that’s taking most of the incoming,” he said, calling the attacks on him “a sign of strength.”
As the debate draws closer, many of the Republican White House hopefuls have been busy studying the records of their rivals – particularly how DeSantis has governed in Florida and voted in Congress – as they prepare to draw contrasts in hopes of finding a breakout moment next week.
Some candidates who have struggled to gain attention are practicing lines of attack against their better-positioned contenders, strategists tell CNN, even as the overarching goal for many is simply to introduce themselves to a larger television audience.
This story has been updated with additional information.