August 17th, 2023

by Cami Mondeaux

Top Republican leaders and key Trump allies are hitting out against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) after his debate prep notes were published online, criticizing the presidential candidate for committing malpractice ahead of the first high-stakes GOP debate next week.

House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY) denounced the move in a statement on Thursday, calling it an “obvious rule of debate prep” not to leak one’s strategy heading into a crucial election cycle. The comments come just hours after it was reported that a firm associated with DeSantis’s super PAC published his debate advice and research memos online showcasing the Florida governor’s game plan when he hits the stage in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

“This is absolute malpractice,” Stefanik said. “And as I have said from the very beginning, President Trump is going to steamroll the entire field. There is no real primary and we need to focus on defeating Joe Biden to save America.”

Trump has not yet announced whether he plans to participate in the highly anticipated debate next week, where a handful of candidates are expected to face off for the first time as they attempt to make headway in the polls against the former president. Trump is reportedly considering hosting a counterprogram during the debate, sources told CNN, but noted it’s possible he may still choose to join at the last minute.

Even if Trump isn’t present onstage, the former president is likely to be the main focus of the debate as he continues to dominate polling despite facing several criminal indictments. Several candidates are expected to use those charges as fodder against Trump as they pitch themselves as his best replacement — while others are planning to remain silent to remain in the former president’s good graces.

DeSantis, on the other hand, has a different strategy in mind.

While some candidates, such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, are expected to attack Trump relentlessly, DeSantis is poised to defend the former president in his expected absence, according to the leaked memos detailing his game plan.

“Trump isn’t here, so let’s just leave him alone. He’s too weak to defend himself here,” DeSantis is advised to say, according to the documents. “We’re all running against him. I don’t think we want to join forces with someone on this stage who’s auditioning for a show on MSNBC.”

Instead, DeSantis is expected to turn his attention to entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who has seen a recent rise in the polls, making him a growing threat to the Florida governor as he seeks to overcome a bumpy start to his campaign.

“Take a sledgehammer to Vivek Ramaswamy: ‘Fake Vivek’ Or ‘Vivek the Fake,’” the memo reads.

Meanwhile, Ramaswamy has remained confident in his own debate prep, brushing off DeSantis’s strategy to target him on the stage.

“Another boring, establishment attack from Super PAC-creation ‘Robot Ron’ who is literally taking lame, pre-programmed attack lines against me for next week’s debate,” he said on Thursday.

Five candidates so far have qualified for the first debate and signed the Republican National Committee candidate pledge to appear onstage next week: DeSantis, Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Doug Burgum, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC).

Three others — Trump, Christie, and former Vice President Mike Pence — have also qualified but have not yet signed the pledge, which is a requirement to participate. Pence and Christie have signaled they will sign it before the event takes place, while Trump has outright refused.

See the full story from the Washington Examiner here.