TL(PM) DIGEST: Ron DeSantis has entered the chat
Plus the new battlefield back-and-forth in Ukraine and Russia, selfish extremists in charge of Congress, and what happens when kiwi diplomacy goes wrong
1. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis set to enter U.S. presidential race
What happened? Florida Governor Ron DeSantis plans to announce his campaign for president tonight in a Twitter conversation with Elon Musk.
Why does it matter? Former president Donald Trump remains the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination but faces a formidable challenge from the conservative governor of the third most populous state in the country.
TLP’s take: DeSantis has as good a shot as anyone else in the primaries to take on Trump, but he first needs to clear the rest of the Republican field and set up a sharp head-to-head contest with Trump. So far, though, we haven’t heard many concrete arguments for why DeSantis is better than anyone else at beating Trump—or better positioned than Trump himself to take on Biden in a general election fight where the culture war distractions that dominate Florida politics won’t work in key battleground states that are far more moderate than the Sunshine State.
2. Moscow destroys Bakhmut in order to take it; anti-Putin militias raid Russian territory
What happened? After a months-long slog that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of paramilitaries from the state-sponsored Wagner Group mercenary organization, Russia has claimed control over the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Meanwhile, a small group of anti-Kremlin fighters called the “Free Russian Legion” mounted a still-ongoing raid into undisputed Russian region of Belgorod.
Why does it matter? Ukraine’s military bled Russian forces in Bakhmut while it trained new units on U.S. and allied provided equipment for its own forthcoming counteroffensive. It remains to be seen whether Kyiv’s strategy will pay off, but the success of irregular anti-Kremlin militias in penetrating Russian territory suggests certain Russian military weaknesses.
TLP’s take: It’s undoubtedly a setback to lose a heavily contested city like Bakhmut, but Ukrainian troops made Russia pay a high price for meager gains even as they prepare for their own counteroffensive. At the same time, the penetration of Belgorod provides further evidence that the Kremlin won’t automatically escalate to the highest levels when faced with battlefield setbacks—even on its own undisputed territory.
3. Congress is run by selfish extremists
What happened? Far-right House member Matt Gaetz spelled out congressional Republicans' debt ceiling intentions yesterday: “My conservative colleagues for the most part support Limit, Save, Grow, and they don’t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage.”
Why does it matter? House Speaker Kevin McCarthy clearly doesn’t control his caucus—people like Gaetz control him. Their extremist plan to impose irrational cuts only to domestic spending in exchange for “letting the hostage live”—i.e. the well-being of the American people and the national economy—makes a mockery of their solemn oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
TLP’s take: You really must be a person of low moral standards to think it’s clever or funny to tank the entire U.S. economy just because you can—and for what, to make low-income people fill out more paperwork to get health care and other benefits? President Biden and congressional Democrats will have to do the honorable and necessary thing to pass some compromise plan to avoid government default, but even that may prove impossible given the selfish extremists like Gaetz running Congress.
American voters should remember these House Republican debt ceiling shenanigans come the next election.
4. Miami kiwi cuddling incident causes row with New Zealand
What happened? Video of Miami zoo visitors petting a kiwi under fluorescent lights caused a diplomatic incident as New Zealand’s prime minister weighed in on what his citizens viewed as the poor treatment of his country’s national symbol. Zoo Miami apologized for the incident and said it would no longer allow visitors to pet the nocturnal flightless bird.
Why does it matter? “Kiwi diplomacy” has been a way for New Zealand to build ties with other nations while helping conserve the species. It’s extremely unlikely that this episode will dent bilateral relations between the United States and New Zealand, but it shows how seemingly benign diplomacy can go wrong—and for trivial reasons.
TLP’s take: Relatively silly incidents like this shouldn’t derail ties between two countries, but they can and do more often than one might think. That won’t happen with this particular kerfuffle, but it’s important to remember keep in mind that international relations are driven as much by emotion and pride as by calculations of power and interest.
Just one more thing…
Parry this, you filthy casual: medieval armored combat has apparently become a competitive spectator sport across Europe and America.