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Ron DeSantis Smells Like A Loser (For Now)
The Republican Party Is Still Trump's Party
Gov. Ron DeSantis is making all the right behind the scenes moves one should be making to secure a spot as the next Republican presidential candidate. DeSantis is securing big money conservative donors, lining up support among Republican members of Congress, hiring strategists and consultants, making regular appearances on Fox News and catering to other conservative media outlets, and most significantly making life hell for residents of Florida as he implements conservative social and fiscal policy.
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But nevertheless, at the present moment he looks like a loser who is destined to lose to Donald Trump, the odds-on favorite to be nominated as the party’s standard bearer for the third national election in a row.
To be somewhat fair to DeSantis, the stench of loserdom that surrounds him is very much the same story for the other likely Republican candidates. Nikki Haley, Mike Pence and (tries to keep a straight face) Mike Pompeo are all positioned to make sub-par performances in the Iowa caucus, if they make it that far.
DeSantis and the others currently have more in common with Jeb(!) Bush than anyone else around: Well financed challengers with the backing of the Republican establishment who have little to no appeal to rank and file Republican primary voters.
Trump’s repeated failure since edging ahead of Hillary Clinton in 2016 (an election where he also received fewer votes than the competition) mark him as a loser, but not with the hardcore cult of support he has built up over the years. So while figures like Mitch McConnell may understand that Trump is a drag on the party who picks losing candidates and who engages in rhetoric that turns off many voters and fires up Democratic voters, this does not yet appear to have filtered down.
To the Trump cult, he still hasn’t won. In addition to his electoral college victory against Clinton, they view the unsuccessful 2018 midterms, the 2020 election, and the wave-less 2022 elections as the product of a vast conspiracy against them and their god-emperor. When establishment figures and donors worry about “candidate quality” and an unhealthy embrace of election conspiracies and January 6 terrorism, inside the Trump cult compound all is well.
Figures like DeSantis have not given this mythology any serious challenge thus far. To get the nomination, DeSantis needs Trump supporters to abandon their man and policies like “don’t say gay” laws and attacking diversity by demonizing Critical Race Theory will probably not be enough. Republican primary voters have always preferred candidates who demonstrate some sort of “alpha” personality trait and DeSantis has already passed up repeated opportunities to go after Trump rhetorically.
In a Republican primary you aren’t going to come out ahead of Trump by appealing to brains over guts. These are voters who signed up for the political equivalent of a Nazi Party rally combined with a WWE Monday Night Raw wrestling show. They have to be fed red meat, and Trump’s ranting about “Ron Desanctimonious” are closer in line with how they view the world.
If the non-Trumps of the Republican political world want to have any hope of success against him in their primary, they will have to crib notes from the last person to beat him like a drum: President Joe Biden.
In the 2020 race, Biden made the case that his policy approach to the world, particularly on issues like the response to COVID-19, were superior. But Biden more importantly stressed over and over again just how much distaste and personal animus he had for Trump and the movement he led. Biden launched his campaign making it clear how revolted he was by Trump’s bigotry, repeatedly invoking language about the antisemitic Charlottesville protests.
“Charlottesville is also home to a defining moment for this nation in the last few years. It was there on August of 2017 we saw Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open, their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging, and bearing the fangs of racism. Chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ‘30s,” Biden said. “And that’s when we heard the words from the president of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were ‘some very fine people on both sides.’ Very fine people on both sides?”
Biden wasn’t ambiguous on Trump. He wasn’t trying to finesse his way into a role as a Trump alternative. He came at the blunt object that is Trump as a blunt object himself.
It would be foolish to believe that Republican presidential candidates can take a legitimate moral high ground to Trump, because those values are not what the party and the conservative movement support, but from a tactical standpoint that is what needs to be done to move ahead of their adversary. To defeat Trump the playbook shows that you have to take him on directly, as the Democratic Party has in three successful election cycles.
From the right, despite fatigue from the elites with Trump’s style, that approach doesn’t seem to have any takers. Nobody is seriously trying to out-MAGA Trump, and if they don’t do that they are positioned for failure.
Now of course, anything can happen. We live in an era of political uncertainty and unpredictability. In a universe where Trump took the oath of office and had unquestioned access to America’s nuclear arsenal, it would be foolish to assume events will play out in the direction that the evidence seems to say it will. This is also why it is foolish for Democrats and liberals to embrace the idea that the weakened Trump we see today will be “easy” to defeat in the 2024 election. None of the options before us should be taken lightly. The worst can and will happen.
But right now, Trump is on a trajectory to secure the nomination again. DeSantis and his cohorts have not done anything that is likely to impede that, and if anything by their reluctance to take Trump on as directly as Biden did, they are reinforcing Trump’s own argument as the only one who can fight the left, the swamp, the Deep State, and whatever other bogeymen he can invent.
The data shows this is a mostly losing fight for Republicans, who lose power without the assistance of the Electoral College and Democratic Party complacence. But in the Trump cult, data doesn’t matter. Feelings rule the day. And they feel, for now, that Ron DeSantis is a loser.
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