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‘Built On Muscle:’ The DeSantis Campaign’s Playbook to Beat Trump and Shock the Haters



‘Built On Muscle:’ The DeSantis Campaign’s Playbook to Beat Trump and Shock the Haters

Donuts for Iowa lawmakers. A 99-county pastor recruitment plan. An in-house marketing department outpacing competitors on Facebook.

Seven weeks after launch, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign is entering a new phase of its online outreach and ground game – all of it fueled by his $20 million fundraising quarter, the largest haul of any first-time Republican White House hopeful in more than a decade.

“We’re not built on sugar highs,” Generra Peck, DeSantis’s campaign manager, told The Messenger. “We’re built on muscle that remains even amid the inevitable ups and downs that happen in the course of the campaign.”

At its center: the campaign’s in-house marketing team that has created and algorithmically message-tested 14,000 ads and related variations on Facebook and other social media platforms to curry supporters and convert them into donors and voters. The operation displays a level of “sophistication” that other campaigns currently aren’t showing, one independent Republican digital guru told The Messenger.

DeSantis, who has so far limited most interviews to conservative press, is preparing for more sit-downs soon with more mainstream media outlets with which he has had a strained relationship. He’s also planning more policy proposals, including on the economy and inflation, a top concern of voters.

Krispy Kreme diplomacy

Starting Friday, DeSantis is intensifying his Iowa campaign with a packed calendar of eight events across the state. In his prior two visits as a presidential candidate, DeSantis made five total stops.

DeSantis now counts five paid Iowa staff and 39 Iowa legislative endorsements, including a state senator who flipped Thursday from frontrunner Donald Trump. In total, across the country, DeSantis has 261 endorsements from state legislators – and he has an army of support from the independent Never Back Down super PAC, which reported an additional $130 million fundraising quarter that ended June 30.

The Iowa blitz underscores the crucial importance of the state in the Republican primary calendar because of Trump’s strong position after his two criminal indictments. Of all the dozen Republican candidates, DeSantis is consistently in second place behind the former president, well ahead of the others who frequently poll in the single digits.

Early on, DeSantis’s team targeted Iowa as place where his organizational efforts and social conservatism would play well in the caucuses. But this week his campaign became more emboldened as Trump ratcheted up his criticisms of Iowa’s popular Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds because he felt she was too close to DeSantis.

“That was a dumb move. People are like, ‘what are you doing that for?’” said the Rev. Michael DeMastus, a pastor of Fort Des Moines Church of Christ who for now is neutral in the race. “To be blunt, most evangelicals see this as a two-man race between Trump and DeSantis.”

On Tuesday, Reynolds gaveled in a special session of the Iowa Legislature to pass legislation banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy – a policy she’s pursued for five years. DeSantis’s campaign showed up in the state Capitol and engaged in Krispy Kreme diplomacy by handing out donuts and coffee to lawmakers, underscoring DeSantis’s support for similar legislation he had signed. DeMastus noted that Trump bothered evangelical voters when, in a May 15 interview with The Messenger, he called a six-week abortion ban that DeSantis signed “too harsh.”

“That’s a law we support,” DeMastus said. “Trump met earlier with us pastors but then declared to the media that he has the evangelical support in Iowa. Frankly, it’s not a true statement. Just because you do a one-and-done check-the-box meeting with pastors doesn’t mean we all support you. It doesn’t work that way. In Iowa, retail politics – handshakes, looking us in the eye – matters. I’m not sure how much work Trump recognizes how much work he has to do here in Iowa, even though there is a support base of support for him.”

The polling

DeSantis plans to meet with a group of about 30 pastors and their wives in Indianola, Iowa this weekend during his visit to the state. His campaign wants to have a pastor-surrogate in each of the state’s 99 counties as well as a campaign chair in each. He plans to visit all 99 counties as part of what’s known as “the full Grassley,” named in honor of the state’s senior Republican senator, Chuck Grassley.

The DeSantis team acknowledges Trump is ahead in Iowa and the early states, even in its own internal surveys conducted by DeSantis’s chief pollster and adviser, Ryan Tyson.

In a survey of 500 likely Republican primary voters in Iowa completed this week, Trump leads DeSantis 37%-21%, with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott in third at 11%; all other candidates running well behind in Iowa. Trump’s internal polling showed him with a bigger lead last month.

In a head-to-head matchup, Trump and DeSantis are virtually tied at 43%-42% in the DeSantis campaign poll. His campaign says this shows that the numerous other candidates in the race have little shot of winning but a big role in sapping votes from DeSantis to help Trump win.

Polls of Iowa are scarce, despite the fact that it plays a crucial role in primary season. Most polling in the race is of national Republicans, even though there isn’t a national primary, and sample sizes are usually smaller than 500 people.

The only independent public pollster to survey the race in Iowa recently, Adam Geller, found DeSantis receiving the same number as Tyson’s poll earlier this month: 21%. But Geller found Trump increasing his ballot share in a month to 44%. So Trump had a 23 percentage point lead instead of 16 points in the DeSantis poll by Tyson.

“The difference between 16 and 23 is close enough, depending on sample sizes, questions, dates, everything. I mean, that’s polling,” Geller said. “Sure, it’s early. But for DeSantis, he’s running out of time because in my polling, he’s losing to Trump among voters who like him. How do you win if the people who like you are voting for the other guy?”

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung mocked the DeSantis campaign’s internal polling by issuing a written statement that also intentionally misspelled the Florida governor’s name, which Trump insists on doing.

“So the DeSanctus campaign is pushing internal polling from unbelievable pollsters— the most favorable and most biased polling they have— showing them DOWN 16 points,” he said. “How moronic can this campaign be? At this point, anything their campaign does should be considered an in-kind contribution to us.”

The debate debate

According to the DeSantis campaign’s surveys, though, the tide could be turning against Trump in Iowa now that 50% of Republicans in the state say Trump shouldn’t be reelected; 40% say he should. In mid-May, the sentiments were flipped: 46% said he should be reelected and 43% said he shouldn’t.

In the DeSantis campaign’s research, and in the telling of early state Republicans operatives who aren’t tied to any of the campaigns, there’s still time because a majority of likely voters aren’t tuned in.

“They’re just not paying attention to this race as much as you think. And the reason the ballot looks like the way that it is, is because Trump’s the only thing that they see,” Tyson said.

“Most voters you talk to would like to see some debates. The debates are going to matter. They always have,” he said. “That’s where Donald Trump actually became a big thing, if you recall, back in 2015. That’s where we’re going to have our chance to do the same thing.”

Trump has indicated he might skip the first debate next month, and the DeSantis campaign is expecting the governor will be a prime target of the other candidates on stage.

DeSantis’s campaign manager, Peck, said the campaign’s polling and publicly available surveys as well demonstrate how resilient DeSantis’s favorability ratings have been amid daily attacks from Trump, more than $22 million in negative advertising from Trump’s super PAC and a constant slew of negative headlines in the mainstream media. The latter includes his glitchy campaign launch on Twitter Spaces to questions about big donors to pundits asking about his struggles in the polls.

Though Republican voters generally know who DeSantis is, she said, they don’t know much about him. But not for long.

“His substance and his character’s only beginning to be known in those early states. And what they know about him, they like,” she said. “What we know from our research that they don’t yet know and is going to appeal to them: Dad, veteran, effective governor, strong conservative leader. Those things are going to be difference-makers.” 

Trump for months has cast doubt on DeSantis’s ability to improve his standing, pointing out that the governor’s ballot share in polls has declined since he officially announced his campaign. It’s a sign, critics on the left and right have said, that the more DeSantis campaigns, the less voters like him.

The digital lab

While DeSantis plans to broaden his message in the coming weeks, he has stuck with culture war-related messages because it has been tied to his political brand. And his campaign’s data and research teams show they resonate with supporters and donors online.

In the past month, Facebook’s ad library shows DeSantis and his campaign have posted 2,323 separate creative items. In a distant second are two primary rivals, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (who has 602 pieces up) and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (561). Trump is in eighth in terms of creative pieces on Facebook, with 189.

Eric Wilson, a top Republican digital strategist who isn’t allied with any of the candidates or campaigns, said he was impressed with the “sophistication” of the DeSantis campaign’s research and data, which appeared to be a successor to Trump’s cutting edge 2016 efforts on Facebook that he has since let go.

“They’re doing more ad testing than any other campaign and they’re going to get smarter quicker. It’s impressive that they can generate all this creative [work],” Wilson said. “What it tells me is that their heads are down and they’re working hard and learning and focusing on what matters most and not on the silly season. What we’re judging the campaign on right now is vibes on Twitter.”

Albeit, sometimes those vibes can be problematic, as when the DeSantis campaign shared a bizarre web video on Twitter that was made by another account and that was simultaneously criticized as being both homoerotic and homophobic.

The DeSantis campaign’s paid work on Facebook is more sophisticated and targeted.

The campaign creates multiple online ads simultaneously and uploads all of them to social media platforms, monitoring their engagement and tweaking the colors, pictures and texts of ads. The algorithms of the ads’ platforms automatically promote those that drive the most interactions – especially donations. These posts get prioritized, and the others are discontinued.

True believers

The campaign’s ads seek to recruit, retain or excite supporters – and preferably get them to donate as well, knowing that even small-dollar donors are highly likely to vote for the candidate. The posts ask viewers to take surveys – concerning the U.S.-Mexico border, for instance – or asks them to “contribute” before the June 30 deadline, to “Protect Women’s Sports” from transgender athletes or asks “Should We Ban China From Buying Land in America?”

The China land-buying issue, a law DeSantis passed and that has been challenged in court in Florida, had eight separate creative variations targeted to various select audiences, creating nearly 130 unique data points the campaign studied. In the seven weeks since launch, the campaign says it has run nearly 30 separate creative “programs” like this with 256 separate creative variations, and 424 separate pieces of ad copy sent to people in 65 unique communities or audiences.

In fundraising solicitations, the DeSantis campaign has also emphasized that they’re not trying to guilt-trip donors into giving nor are they lying to them the way Trump’s campaign has in the past.

The DeSantis camp also decided not to hire outside firms for digital work but instead to recruit everyone in house so there were no conflicts of interest between vendors pushing for bigger portions of the budget solely to enrich their respective companies.

“We wanted true believers who were here for the right reasons,” said Ethan Eilon, head of the DeSantis digital department. “We wanted to run a shop where the incentives were aligned with the mission.”

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Former Myanmar colonel who once served as information minister gets 10-year prison term for sedition



Former Myanmar colonel who once served as information minister gets 10-year prison term for sedition

BANGKOK (AP) — A former high-profile Myanmar army officer who had served as information minister and presidential spokesperson in a previous military-backed government has been convicted of sedition and incitement, a legal official said Thursday. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Ye Htut, a 64-year old retired lieutenant colonel, is the latest in a series of people arrested and jailed for writing Facebook posts that allegedly spreading false or inflammatory news. Once infrequently prosecuted, there has been a deluge of such legal actions since the army seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021.

He was arrested in late October after a military officer from the Yangon Regional Military Command reportedly filed a change against him, around the time when some senior military officers were purged on other charges, including corruption. He was convicted on Wednesday, according to the official familiar with the legal proceedings who insisted on anonymity for fear of being punished by the authorities.

Ye Htut had been the spokesperson from 2013 to 2016 for President Thein Sein in a military-backed government and also information minister from 2014 to 2016.

After leaving the government in 2016, Ye Htut took on the role of a political commentator and wrote books and posted articles on Facebook. For a time, he was a visiting senior research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a center for Southeast Asia studies in Singapore.

After the army’s 2021 takeover, he often posted short personal vignettes and travel essays on Facebook in which he made allusions that were generally recognized to be critical of Myanmar’s current military rulers.

The army’s takeover triggered mass public protests that the military and police responded to with lethal force, triggering armed resistance and violence that has escalated into a civil war.

The official familiar with the court proceedings against Ye Htut told The Associated Press that he was sentenced by a court in Yangon’s Insein prison to seven years for sedition and three years for incitement. Ye Htut was accused on the basis of his posts on his Facebook account, and did not hire a lawyer to represent him at his trial, the official said.

The sedition charge makes disrupting or hindering the work of defense services personnel or government employees punishable by up to seven years in prison. The incitement charge makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that cause fear, spread false news, agitate directly or indirectly for criminal offences against a government employee — an offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

However, a statement from the Ministry of Legal Affairs said he had been charged under a different sedition statute. There was no explanation for the discrepancy.

According to detailed lists compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group based in Thailand, 4,204 civilians have died in Myanmar in the military government’s crackdown on opponents and at least 25,474 people have been arrested.

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Top CIA agent shared pro-Palestinian to Facebook after Hamas attack: report



Top CIA agent shared pro-Palestinian to Facebook after Hamas attack: report

A high-ranking CIA official boldly shared multiple pro-Palestinian images on her Facebook page just two weeks after Hamas launched its bloody surprise attack on Israel — while President Biden was touring the Jewish state to pledge the US’s allegiance to the nation.

The CIA’s associate deputy director for analysis changed her cover photo on Oct. 21 to a shot of a man wearing a Palestinian flag around his neck and waving a larger flag, the Financial Times reported.

The image — taken in 2015 during a surge in the long-stemming conflict — has been used in various news stories and pieces criticizing Israel’s role in the violence.

The CIA agent also shared a selfie with a superimposed “Free Palestine” sticker, similar to those being plastered on businesses and public spaces across the nation by protesters calling for a cease-fire.

The Financial Times did not name the official after the intelligence agency expressed concern for her safety.

“The officer is a career analyst with extensive background in all aspects of the Middle East and this post [of the Palestinian flag] was not intended to express a position on the conflict,” a person familiar with the situation told the outlet.

The individual added that the sticker image was initially posted years before the most recent crisis between the two nations and emphasized that the CIA official’s Facebook account was also peppered with posts taking a stand against antisemitism.

The image the top-ranking CIA official shared on Facebook.

The latest post of the man waving the flag, however, was shared as Biden shook hands with Israeli leaders on their own soil in a show of support for the Jewish state in its conflict with the terrorist group.

Biden has staunchly voiced support for the US ally since the Oct. 7 surprise attack that killed more than 1,300 people, making the CIA agent’s posts in dissent an unusual move.

A protester walks near burning tires in the occupied West Bank on Nov. 27, 2023, ahead of an expected release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli hostages. AFP via Getty Images

In her role, the associate deputy director is one of three people, including the deputy CIA director, responsible for approving all analyses disseminated inside the agency.

She had also previously overseen the production of the President’s Daily Brief, the highly classified compilation of intelligence that is presented to the president most days, the Financial Times said.

“CIA officers are committed to analytic objectivity, which is at the core of what we do as an agency. CIA officers may have personal views, but this does not lessen their — or CIA’s — commitment to unbiased analysis,” the CIA said in a statement to the outlet.

The top CIA official has since deleted the pro-Palestinian images from her social media page. Hamas Press Service/UPI/Shutterstock

Follow along with The Post’s live blog for the latest on Hamas’ attack on Israel

Neither the Office of the Director of National Intelligence nor the White House responded to The Post’s request for comment.

All of the official’s pro-Palestinian images and other, unrelated posts have since been deleted, the outlet reported.

Palestinian children sit by the fire next to the rubble of a house hit in an Israeli strike. REUTERS

The report comes as CIA Director William Burns arrived in Qatar, where he was due to meet with his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts and the Gulf state’s prime minister to discuss the possibility of extending the pause in fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip for a second time.

Israel and Hamas agreed Monday to an additional two-day pause in fighting, meaning combat would likely resume Thursday morning Israel time if no additional halt is brokered.

Both sides agreed to release a portion of its hostages under the arrangement.

More than 14,000 Palestinians in Gaza, including many women and children, have been killed in the conflict, according to data from the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health.

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Lee Hsien Yang faces damages for defamation against two Singapore ministers over Ridout Road rentals



Lee Hsien Yang faces damages for defamation against two Singapore ministers over Ridout Road rentals

High Court ruling: Lee Hsien Yang directed to compensate Ministers Shanmugam and Balakrishnan for defamatory remarks on Ridout Road state bungalows. (PHOTO: MCI/YouTube and ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images ) ((PHOTO: MCI/YouTube and ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images ))

SINGAPORE — The High Court in Singapore has directed Lee Hsien Yang to pay damages to ministers K. Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan for defamatory statements made in Facebook comments regarding their rental of black-and-white bungalows on Ridout Road.

The court issued a default judgment favouring the two ministers after Lee – the youngest son of Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and brother of current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – failed to address the defamation lawsuits brought against him. Lee had, among other claims, insinuated that the ministers engaged in corrupt practices and received preferential treatment from the Singapore Land Authority for their bungalow rentals.

The exact amount of damages will be evaluated in a subsequent hearing.

Restricted from spreading defamatory claims against ministers

Not only did Justice Goh Yi Han grant the default judgment on 2 November, but he also imposed an injunction to prohibit Lee from further circulating false and defamatory allegations.

In a released written judgment on Monday (27 November), the judge highlighted “strong reasons” to believe that Lee might persist in making defamatory statements again, noting his refusal to remove the contentious Facebook post on 23 July, despite receiving a letter of demand from the ministers on 27 July.

Among other things, Lee stated in the post that “two ministers have leased state-owned mansions from the agency that one of them controls, felling trees and getting state-sponsored renovations.”

A report released by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau in June concluded that no wrongdoing or preferential treatment had occurred concerning the two ministers. However, Lee continued referencing this post and the ongoing lawsuits, drawing attention to his remarks under legal scrutiny.

Justice Goh emphasised that the ministers met the prerequisites for a default judgment against Lee. The suits, separately filed by Shanmugam, the Law and Home Affairs Minister, and Dr Balakrishnan, the Foreign Affairs Minister, were initiated in early August.

Lee Hsien Yang alleges in his post that two ministers leased state-owned mansions, 26 and 31 Ridout Road from an agency, one of which they control, involving tree felling and receiving state-sponsored renovations.Lee Hsien Yang alleges in his post that two ministers leased state-owned mansions, 26 and 31 Ridout Road from an agency, one of which they control, involving tree felling and receiving state-sponsored renovations.

Lee Hsien Yang alleges in his post that two ministers leased state-owned mansions, 26 and 31 Ridout Road from an agency, one of which they control, involving tree felling and receiving state-sponsored renovations.(SCREENSHOTS: Google Maps)

He failed to respond within 21 days

Lee and his wife, Lee Suet Fern, had left Singapore in July 2022, after declining to attend a police interview for potentially giving false evidence in judicial proceedings over the late Lee Kuan Yew’s will.

His absence from Singapore prompted the court to permit Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan to serve him legal documents via Facebook Messenger in mid-September. Despite no requirement for proof that Lee saw these documents, his subsequent social media post on 16 September confirmed his awareness of the served legal papers.

Although Lee had the opportunity to respond within 21 days, he chose not to do so. Additionally, the judge noted the novelty of the ministers’ request for an injunction during this legal process, highlighting updated court rules allowing such measures since April 2022.

Justice Goh clarified that despite the claimants’ application for an injunction, the court needed independent validation for its appropriateness, considering its potentially severe impact on the defendant. He reiterated being satisfied with the circumstances and granted the injunction, given the continued accessibility of the contentious Facebook post.

Lee acknowledges court order and removes allegations from Facebook

Following the court’s decision, Lee acknowledged the court order on 10 November and removed the statements in question from his Facebook page.

In the judgment, Justice Goh noted that there were substantial grounds to anticipate Lee’s repetition of the “defamatory allegations by continuing to draw attention to them and/or publish further defamatory allegations against the claimants.”

The judge mentioned that if Lee had contested the ministers’ claims, there could have been grounds for a legally enforceable case under defamation law.

According to Justice Goh, a reasonable reader would interpret Lee’s Facebook post as insinuating that the People’s Action Party’s trust had been squandered due to the ministers’ alleged corrupt conduct, from which they gained personally.

While Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan were not explicitly named, the post made it evident that it referred to them, and these posts remained accessible to the public, as noted by the judge.

Justice Goh pointed out that by choosing not to respond to the lawsuits, Lee prevented the court from considering any opposing evidence related to the claims.

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