Playbook: The NRSC attempts to engineer an Arizona split

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With help from Eli Okun, Garrett Ross and Bethany Irvine

GET TO KNOW THIS NAME — “Fiery right-wing populist Javier Milei wins Argentina’s presidency and promises ‘drastic’ changes,” by AP’s Daniel Politi and David Biller in Buenos Aires: “Populist JAVIER MILEI resoundingly won Argentina’s presidential election Sunday, swinging the country to the right following a fiercely polarized campaign in which he promised a dramatic shake-up to the state to deal with soaring inflation and rising poverty. …

“[T]he self-described anarcho-capitalist who has been compared to former U.S. President DONALD TRUMP [said] the ‘reconstruction of Argentina begins today.’ ‘Argentina’s situation is critical. The changes our country needs are drastic. There is no room for gradualism, no room for lukewarm measures,’ Milei told supporters.”

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: NRSC BOOSTS SINEMA, BLASTS GALLEGO — Senate Republicans are rolling out a provocative new strategy this morning as they try to boost the GOP’s chances in Arizona next year: propping up incumbent Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA.

NRSC operatives have been fretting about polls that have shown Sinema, an independent, pulling in nearly twice as many Republican voters as Democrats in a three-way race. So in a bid to keep GOP voters behind the GOP nominee while splitting the Democratic vote, they’re going live with a new digital ad today boosting Sinema’s liberal bona fides while hammering Rep. RUBEN GALLEGO, the likely Democratic nominee.

The new ad, titled “A Choice,” paints Sinema as being firmly behind President JOE BIDEN and his legislative agenda, voting with the president “100%” of the time and backing his climate initiatives in the Inflation Reduction Act. Not mentioned are the multitude of headaches and setbacks she dealt to Biden as she successfully worked to trim the IRA’s ambitions and preserve the Senate filibuster. Watch the ad

Conversely, the ad slams Gallego — whom the NRSC has nicknamed “Rotten Ruben” — in intensely personal terms. The spot points out that Gallego divorced his ex-wife, Phoenix Mayor KATE GALLEGO, in 2016 just a few weeks before she gave birth to their first child, then blasts him for marrying a lobbyist, SYDNEY BARRON, several years later. The ad closes by calling him a “deadbeat dad,” without evidence to support the claim.

Gallego declined to comment on the attack — one that suggests that Republicans are intensely worried about the early strength of his candidacy in a three-way race. The attack is risky — a Marine veteran of the Iraq War, Gallego has long been forthright about his struggles with PTSD and “survivor’s guilt,” which he blamed in his memoir for the unraveling of his first marriage.

A person close to Gallego also noted that he and his ex-wife remain “good friends” and share custody of his now 6-year-old son, who is often spotted at his side on the House floor and on the campaign trail — including in this NYT picture last month. It’s not hard to imagine the personal attack backfiring.

Casting Sinema as a “liberal Democrat,” meanwhile, might generate chuckles here in Washington, where she’s seen as a centrist spoiler. But it makes good political sense back in Arizona, where she has carefully built an aisle-crossing image — and used it to pick up support from traditional GOP voters who have been alienated by far-right candidates like KARI LAKE, the bombastic former gubernatorial nominee who’s expected to win next year’s GOP Senate primary.

Sinema, we should note, has yet to even announce a 2024 run. But Republicans are preparing as if she will appear on the ballot. One GOP strategist told Playbook that the party’s mission is straightforward: Make any three-way race into a Republican-vs.-two-Democrats battle rather than Democrat-vs.-two-Republicans one.

Speaking of the battle for the Senate …

PRESSURE MOUNTS ON BROWN AND TESTER — With Sen. JOE MANCHIN’s West Virginia seat all but gone for Democrats following his retirement, it’s now up to two red-state Democratic senators if the party wants any hope of keeping its majority: Montana’s JON TESTER and Ohio’s SHERROD BROWN.

Sure, Democrats have dreams of making Florida and Texas competitive, eyeing GOP Sens. RICK SCOTT and TED CRUZ, respectively — but our colleague Burgess Everett reports this morning that Democratic leaders know that their “hopes of clinging to the Senate next fall now rest almost entirely” on Brown and Tester’s shoulders.

The arithmetic is simple — and brutal — for Democrats. Assuming West Virginia goes red, Democrats need to reelect all of their other incumbents and hope Biden keeps the White House to maintain control of the chamber. And none of those incumbents have a taller task than these two.

The good news for both men? They’re battle-tested.

Both have proven track records of persuading ticket-splitters to back them. They both won second terms when BARACK OBAMA was reelected — Tester in a state Obama lost by 13 points — and again in 2018 despite Trump having easily carried both Ohio and Montana two years prior.

They’re also strong fundraisers and have been showing independence from Biden on issues such as foreign policy and the southern border. And, remember, Democrats defied the odds last year, reelecting every one of their incumbents and flipping a Pennsylvania seat blue.

The bad news for Brown and Tester? A smaller battlefield. In 2018, five Democratic senators were in-cycle in states Trump won in the prior election; now it’s only two. That means Republicans will consolidate their resources and train them on those two states.

Another challenge: Just how red are these states? Pretty damn red. As NRSC Chair STEVE DAINES (R-Mont.) pointed out to Burgess, “Ohio and Montana are states where every elected statewide official is a Republican.”

That’s why Tester is already up on TV, running ads in Montana, while back in Washington, one political strategist predicted that the two races combined will reach more than $500 million in total spending.

Related read: “A Montana farmer with a flattop and ample lobbyist cash stands between GOP and Senate control,” by AP’s Matthew Brown in Bigfork, Mont.

Good Monday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Got any news this holiday week? Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

REMEMBERING ROSALYNN CARTER — The former first lady died yesterday at 96, just a couple of days after entering hospice care. The “Steel Magnolia,” the “first thoroughly modern first lady” and “the most politically active first lady since ELEANOR ROOSEVELT,” as various obituaries recounted, Carter’s life was woven with that of former President JIMMY CARTER for almost every day of their nearly century-long lives. As first lady, Carter championed mental health; helped bring the women’s movement and the “New South” to government; and was an active participant in political, policy and diplomatic matters in her husband’s White House. Read the full obit from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Jill Vejnoska

Then there was the Carters’ legendarily robust post-presidency, in which the couple got their hands dirty for Habitat for Humanity and — though returning to their native Plains, Ga. — promoted democracy and human rights around the globe. Their charitable work also included the establishment of the Carter Center in Atlanta. And the couple remained a symbol of enduring love in the political sphere, becoming the longest-married presidential couple of all time.

CBS rounds up the many tributes to Carter from across the political spectrum. “Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” Jimmy Carter said in a statement. “Rosalynn did so much to address many of society’s greatest needs,” Biden and first lady JILL BIDEN said in a joint statement.

THE (QUIET?) WEEK AHEAD — Today: Campaign finance reports for parties and PACs due at midnight. … Tomorrow: Fed releases interest rate meeting minutes. The Bidens travel to Nantucket for Thanksgiving. … Wednesday: 60th anniversary of President JOHN F. KENNEDY’s assassination. … Thursday: Thanksgiving. … Friday: Black Friday.

On the Hill

The House and the Senate are out.

What we’re watching … It’s a quiet week back at home for both chambers, which means members are going to have a lot of time to think about their futures as candidate filing deadlines start sneaking up. Usually that means a spate of retirement announcements shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday, but we’ve seen quite a number of retirement announcements already. One muller we know about: Rep. BILL JOHNSON (R-Ohio) will be chewing on the presidency of Youngstown State University along with his Thanksgiving turkey.

At the White House

Biden will pardon the national Thanksgiving turkey on the South Lawn at 11:15 a.m.

VP KAMALA HARRIS will speak at a campaign reception in LA at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time.


MUSK READ — As near-daily ELON MUSK controversies continue, condemnations from the White House belie an inconvenient reality: The U.S. government is increasingly reliant on Musk, NYT’s David Sanger and Eric Lipton report. The Pentagon is leaning on his SpaceX rocket launches and new Starshield system, building on Starlink, which will play an important role in China deterrence. Musk is at the same essential level as massive defense contractors in some of these arenas, posing an unusual conundrum for Biden officials: “Rarely has the U.S. government so depended on the technology provided by a single, if petulant, technologist with views that it has so publicly declared repugnant.”

Those views continued to cause trouble for Musk yesterday, with ongoing recriminations from his support for an antisemitic conspiracy theory. WaPo’s Elizabeth Dwoskin, Taylor Lorenz, Naomi Nix and Joseph Menn report that Musk’s purchase of X — and loosening of content moderation — has “supercharged” antisemitism online to “unprecedented levels,” along with the Israel-Hamas war. CEO LINDA YACCARINO is coming under growing (but thus far unsuccessful) pressure to resign, Forbes’ John Paczkowski and David Jeans report. And as X keeps bleeding advertisers, Yaccarino is dispatching her son, MATT MADRAZO, to try to lure Republican political advertising to the platform, Semafor’s Max Tani reports.

The latest from Musk: After Media Matters for America reported about how advertisements often run alongside pro-Nazi posts on X, Musk has been on the warpath against MMFA. When JACK POSOBIEC promoted allegations yesterday that Media Matters was trying to game the site to get more impressions, STEPHEN MILLER and Musk dangled the prospect of criminal prosecution — and Missouri AG ANDREW BAILEY jumped on board, saying his office was investigating.

WILD WEEKEND — “Sam Altman to Join Microsoft Following OpenAI Ouster,” WSJ: “The developments ended a dizzying weekend of uncertainty but left other questions unanswered about the company, which has been at the center of the artificial intelligence boom after it launched its viral chatbot ChatGPT almost exactly a year ago.”

2024 WATCH

SURPRISING DYNAMIC — “The incredible shrinking GOP presidential field,” by Axios’ Hans Nichols and Stef Kight: “The Republican presidential field is smaller and shrinking faster than eight years ago, raising the chances former President Trump finds himself in a head-to-head contest in some early primary states. … The GOP consolidation is happening faster than anyone anticipated, multiple people involved in the campaigns tell Axios.”

TOP-ED — “Armenia: The Forgotten Conflict,” by VIVEK RAMASWAMY in The American Conservative: “Azerbaijan is doing in the Artsakh region what Russia is doing to Ukraine — but the U.S. and Europe are looking the other way.”


IT’S TRUMP’S WORLD — “Vulgarities, insults, baseless attacks: Trump backers follow his lead,” by WaPo’s Hannah Knowles in Des Moines: “Within the GOP … it has spread, with others down the ballot and even some of his rivals looking to replicate his shock tactics. Saturday afternoon’s event in Fort Dodge served as a stark illustration of the crudeness, meanness and unfounded accusations that he has helped normalize in politics.”

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS — “Heading into a pivotal 2024 election, California Democrats divided on Israel and Senate candidates,” by the L.A. Times’ Benjamin Oreskes in Sacramento: “The California Democratic Party Convention provided an opportunity for delegates and activists to project unity heading into a high-stakes election year. The weekend-long gathering proved to be anything but that.”

Related read: “California Democrats say pro-Palestinian protesters who broke rules will be ‘held accountable,’” by Jeremy B. White


HAPPENING TODAY — The fight over the Trump gag order in his federal election subversion case will go before a D.C. appeals court at 9:30 a.m., WaPo’s Perry Stein and Devlin Barrett preview.


DEBT REALITY CHECK — Significantly higher interest rates from the Fed have raised the stakes for the nation’s more than $26 trillion in debt, forcing the government to pay more and potentially hastening the day when spending demands lead to a fiscal crisis. But there appears little chance of Washington actually acting to rein in deficits, Eleanor Mueller and Victoria Guida report this morning, despite growing concern from the GOP and Wall Street. Republicans aren’t unified on what to do; Democrats aren’t even unified on whether the debt is a problem; and few leaders are touching entitlements, one of the biggest drivers, or tax hikes.

So despite the fact that it’s now “a paramount economic issue for the first time in nearly a decade,” don’t expect much from Congress, including a prospective House GOP fiscal commission. “You need revenue, you need to deal with spending, you need to deal with entitlements — and you need to wonder whether democracy is capable of doing any of that,” warns Rep. BRAD SHERMAN (D-Calif.).


WAR REPORT — In wildlife-filled national parks across West Africa, the bloody fight against al Qaeda and the Islamic State has taken on more troublesome dimensions for the U.S., WSJ’s Michael Phillips reports from Kaobagou, Benin. “Washington is increasingly worried the Islamist insurgency that has engulfed Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger will undermine Benin and other relatively prosperous, pro-Western states along the Gulf of Guinea. U.S. Special Forces are stationed in Benin to gather intelligence and advise the local military on counterinsurgency operations. U.S. concerns are geopolitical … as well as environmental.”

TRADE WARS — “U.S. Subsidies Fuel Boom in Global Auto Trade,” by WSJ’s Jason Douglas


BIG ELI SASLOW STORY — “A Jan. 6 Defendant Pleads His Case to the Son Who Turned Him In,” NYT: “The Capitol attacks ruptured their mutual trust. In the weeks before BRIAN MOCK’s sentencing, could he mend the divide with his son A.J.?”

Greg Abbott officially endorsed Donald Trump.

Marjorie Taylor Greene called for a new Jan. 6 select committee.

Joe Biden and Trump each spent time with U.S. service members yesterday.

Joe and Jill Biden also got a sneak preview of “Wonka.”

IN MEMORIAM — “Rick Ahearn, savvy advance man of Republican presidents, dies at 74,” by WaPo’s Emily Langer: “He spent half a century behind the scenes on campaigns and in the White House and was by President Ronald Reagan’s side during the 1981 assassination attempt.”

OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED celebrating Olivia Julianna’s 21st birthday at Clyde’s in Chinatown on Friday night: Santiago Mayer, Eve Levenson, Aaron Parnas and Sam Weinberg.

TRANSITION — Taylor Haulsee is now deputy comms director for media relations for Speaker Mike Johnson. He most recently was at Plus Communications and previously worked for Johnson in the 117th Congress.

WEEKEND WEDDING — Natalie Morgan, press secretary for Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Hunter Ihrman, director of policy comms at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, got married Saturday in Bristow, Va. They met their freshman year at George Washington University and were friends for years, but didn’t start dating until after attending Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 inauguration. PicAnother pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: President Joe Biden … Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) … POLITICO’s Sushant Sagar, Dan Goldberg, Jing Sun and Mayo Rives … Law360’s Caitlin Wolper … Bloomberg’s Ian Kullgren … CNN’s Ryan StruykJudy Woodruff Ron Suskind … Google’s Courtney CorbisieroCharlie Cook of The Cook Political Report … John BoltonRobert Edmonson of Rep. Robert Garcia’s (D-Calif.) office … Beverly Hallberg of District Media Group … SKDK’s Cecelia PrewettJayne Sandman of the Brand Guild … Aaron HarisonPhil Ewing Sarah Geary

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