DeSantis vs. Newsom underscores 2024 as a status-quo election

Happening this Friday: Israel resumes military operations as truce with Hamas ends… Biden administration faces growing internal dissent over the war, NBC’s Abigail Williams and Dan De Luce report… House expected to expel indicted Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y.… DeSantis campaigns in South Carolina; Vivek Ramaswamy is in Iowa; and Chris Christie stumps in New Hampshire… And on Saturday, both DeSantis and Donald Trump hit Iowa. 

But FIRST… Even when you swap out 2024’s front-running candidates, you wind up with pretty much the same overall race.

That’s our takeaway from last night’s debate between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, which featured disagreements on abortion, crime, taxes and — of course — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. 

“What California represents is the Biden-Harris agenda on steroids,” DeSantis said at the debate.

Newsom later shot back, “I know Nikki Haley’s campaign is asking: When are you going to drop out and at least give Nikki Haley a shot to take down Donald Trump in this nomination?”

Earlier this week, our colleague Chuck Todd wrote about how American voters are screaming for change — but are instead getting what looks to be a rematch between Biden and Trump. 

Call it “the status-quo election,” in which neither of the front-runners is offering real change from either 2021-2023 or from 2017-2020.  

And the status quo was evident at last night’s DeSantis vs. Newsom debate, too.  

In fact, it seemed more like a 2024 surrogate debate than a showdown of 2028’s possible presidential election.

 “I will tell you why I’m here. I’m here to tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record — and also compare and contrast Ron DeSantis’ record and the Republican Party’s record as a point of contrast,” Newsom said. 

“Joe Biden is in the pocket of the teachers’ union, and so is Kamala Harris,” DeSantis said. 

“It’s Kamala Harris, Ron,” Newsom interjected, correcting DeSantis’ pronunciation of the vice president’s first name. “It’s Kamala Harris, Madam Vice President to you.”

Headline of the day

The number of the day is … 5

That’s how many members of the U.S. House have previously been expelled, and embattled Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., could become the sixth Friday. 

Santos, who is under federal indictment for a slew of crimes including identity theft and wire fraud, is expected to be ousted during Friday’s vote, which could begin around 10:30 am ET, per NBC’s Scott Wong, Dareh Gregorian, Kate Santaliz and Kyle Stewart. 

The push to expel Santos gained momentum, and more Republican support, after the Ethics Committee released a scathing report detailing his misuse of campaign funds. Santos has been defiant ahead of the vote, refusing to resign and accusing those trying to expel him of “bullying.” 

For more on what to expect from the expulsion vote, and what comes next, check out this explainer from Stewart. 

Eyes on 2024: GOP hopefuls hit the airwaves, but outside groups still dominate

Two GOP presidential candidates launched new TV ads Thursday, but candidates are largely still depending on outside groups to shoulder the bulk of the ad spending. 

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley launched her first TV ad of the 2024 race, calling for “a new generation of conservative leadership.” 

Haley does not name former Trump or Biden in the spot, but she makes a veiled reference to them by saying, “We have to leave behind the chaos and drama of the past and strengthen our country, our pride, and our purpose,” per NBC’s Greg Hyatt. 

Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy also launched a new TV ad Thursday in Iowa and New, per the ad tracking firm AdImpact. The 30-second spot features his former piano teacher, who said she taught him about the Constitution after his lessons, and likened Ramaswamy to Trump and former President Ronald Reagan. 

Even as candidates ramp up their own ad spending, outside groups continue to dominate the airwaves, with Haley and DeSantis particularly relying on outside groups as they take on Trump, per The Associated Press.

In other campaign news …

West campaign still growing: In an interview with NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald and Alex Tabet, independent presidential candidate Cornel West acknowledged that his campaign is “still in the embryonic stage,” noting he doesn’t want the campaign to “peak too soon.”

DeSantis’ struggles: The Washington Post details DeSantis’ campaign challenges, including internal drama and a struggle to win over Trump supporters who are still enthusiastic about the former president. 

Ramaswamy lashes out: NBC’s Alex Tabet and Jillian Frankel detail Ramaswamy’s recent attacks on Iowa GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds and New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, the governors of the two first states in the GOP presidential nominating process.

Debatable: The Republican National Committee is weighing allowing presidential candidates to participate in “unsanctioned” debates, per The Washington Post. 

No Democratic primary in the Sunshine State: Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., who is mounting a longshot primary bid against Biden, was “enraged” Thursday after Florida Democrats only submitted Biden’s name as a candidate for nomination, effectively canceling the Democratic presidential primary there, Politico reports.

Speaking of Phillips: The Trump campaign believes the pro-Philips super PAC’s ads knocking Biden could give Trump a boost in New Hampshire since the ads note Trump’s strength against Biden in a general election, per Politico. 

Trump talk: In Trump’s $250 million civil fraud trial, an appeals court on Thursday reinstated a gag order preventing him and his attorneys from publicly talking about court staff. And, in the same trial, a financial watchdog informed the court that the defendants had violated a requirement to report any cash transfers amounting to more than $5 million.

No Labels, no in-person convention: No Labels, a group weighing a third-party presidential bid next year, will no longer host an in-person nominating convention in Dallas next year, opting instead for a virtual convention, Axios reports.

Party problems: Florida Republican Party Chairman Christian Ziegler is under criminal investigation for allegations related to sexual battery, NBC’s Matt Dixon reports.

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world 

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to subpoena GOP megadonor Harlan Crow and conservative judicial activist Leonard Leo as part of a probe into Supreme Court ethics.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., on Thursday told reporters that he may drop some of his holds on military promotions “in the very near future.”