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DeSaster? Ron DeSantis wants to preside over Trumpism without Trump

DeSaster? Ron DeSantis wants to preside over Trumpism without Trump
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ formal launch of his campaign for the Republican nomination for president in the 2024 election fell face forward leaving the starting blocks. Nevertheless, fully six months before the first primary or caucus votes, it’s now game on between Donald Trump and DeSantis, along with a growing cast of lesser players.

Who among us has not had one of those mysterious electronic meltdowns that takes place after you’ve carried out a final check of all the connections, arrangements and equipment functions to record a major event, or to document a really important life or family moment? Surely we can sympathise with Ron Desantis, Florida’s incumbent governor and Republican wannabe to become US president. The formal launch of his campaign came with a full-on, live-action, electronic meltdown.  

Right up until his hi-tech pitch to become the Republican nominee for president, his unofficial campaign banner had been an image of decisiveness and — above all — a steely competence in battling back the raging tides of wokeism and similar evils presumably afflicting the nation.  

Concurrently, he has been touting his personal virtues (in the face of a reputation for being humourless and bloodless) in contrast to the wild, undisciplined rhetorical flourishes and over-the-top, maniacal drama-queen stuff emanating from you-know-who, the other contender for the nomination, the former president. (Observers with “long” memories can remember the Trump town hall on CNN where he delivered one-liners certain to be worked into the campaign ads of his opponents as proof positive that this man does not deserve a second chance.)

This demonstration of Murphy’s law has been a kick in the seat of DeSantis’ newborn campaign. What DeSantis offered at his virtual, online launch, instead of a vivid demonstration of pedal-to-the-metal control and competence, was a vivid example of just how thoroughly things can fall apart, played out in front of the world, despite one’s best intentions.  

Far from picture-perfect

DeSantis had teamed up with Elon Musk to carry out his campaign launch via the very eccentric billionaire’s newly available Twitter Spaces platform. Over the years, candidates have usually used a scenic vista, a historic site, a warm and fuzzy homelike set, or even prerecorded video messages with an official-looking setting to deliver an announcement that was picture-perfect and in sync with the candidate’s presumed core values and message.  

Unfortunately, DeSantis’ broadcast spluttered along, complete with broken connections, overtaxed servers, unintelligible sounds and comments coming out of the gloom, and background conversations, rather than the smoothly functioning juggernaut it was supposed to represent. The announcement was, in a word — in an age of technological legerdemain — a shambles.  

Inevitably, the broadcast suffered steep drop-offs of people tuning in but then quickly finding something else to amuse themselves by watching. There have been the inevitable snickers about DeSantis’ (and Musk’s) technological competence and managerial nous. In effect, the reaction was the botched announcement came in contradiction to the things DeSantis wants to be known for and as a way to build momentum for his campaign.

After a promising start as a non-declared candidate, he had risen in the polls for a time, only to begin a descent once the Trump machine started to punch holes in his image. Moreover, much of what was actually audible on the broadcast was often just confusing references to the evils of the feds regulating cryptocurrency, Covid and Dr Anthony Fauci’s perfidy, CRT (critical race theory), DEI (diversity, equity and inclusiveness) and other acronyms and topics seemingly distant from many voters’ interests or kitchen-table concerns now (although not, perhaps, those dyed-in-the-wool Maga-ists).

The irony, of course, well, actually two of them, is that despite these stumbles, DeSantis’ campaign announced afterwards that the broadcast had generated more than $8-million worth of campaign contributions and that, inadvertently, it may have helped humanise the candidate somewhat, a man heretofore not known for having normal human attributes and emotions as a candidate or an elected official in his prior races as both a congressman and in two wins in gubernatorial elections in Florida. A politician has to at least give the illusion of liking people and enjoying the interchanges with them about their concerns and hopes — an attribute seemingly missing in DeSantis’ makeup.

Still, some of his recent political choices have seemed quixotic, at best. 

There has been his battle with The Walt Disney Company over some glimpsed wokeism that led the company to cancel a new $1-billion investment in Florida, giving DeSantis the reputation of a man who took on “The Mouse” and the cartoon rodent won. 

Then there was his stumble over a question about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, when he responded by calling it a territorial dispute; and then his seeming assumption of the leadership of a movement for book bannings in schools and libraries. That last seems to embrace the same knee-jerk reaction to all that perceived, pervasive wokeism, something that has provoked scorn in many corners, even if his supporters love it.

Now, by formally entering the race for next year’s nomination, even with a botched announcement, the Florida governor has placed himself squarely in competition with the current front-runner, the former president.

Trumpism sans Trump

The DeSantis bet being placed is that potential Republican primary voters actually do want much of the Trumpian agenda — such as his rebellion against the political/economic/academic/media elite and an embrace of the grievances of the forgotten white working class — but without the whirlwind that comes with Trump himself.  

But some veteran commentators, such as electoral handicapper Nate Cohn and conservative columnist George Will, are pondering out loud (in print) that perhaps a substantial share of the electorate actually wants that exciting sizzle, the frisson, even more than the actual steak. This may be true even though such a position is not an effective tactic or strategy for winning the general election come November 2024.

As The Economist set out the circumstances of the now officially proclaimed contest between DeSantis and Trump, “A glitch-plagued chat with Elon Musk, live on Twitter, is an unconventional way to launch a presidential campaign. But with the entry of Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, the race for the Republican nomination is now properly under way. The first states will not vote until January. Primaries are hard to predict, because it is expensive to conduct enough high-quality polls of primary voters in the key states. But, with that disclaimer over, one candidate has a huge, perhaps insurmountable, lead: Donald Trump. Mr Trump thus has a real chance of becoming America’s next president. Betting markets put his odds of returning to the White House at one in three.” 

The Economist went on to observe that while political parties rarely reward serial losers with yet another bite at the apple, especially sore losers who continue to cry “We wuz robbed”, as Trump has. And the publication wondered if the Republican Party’s voters would really clamour for another dance with a man who is likely to be ensnared in multiple criminal cases by the beginning of the primary season in six months’ time.  

The periodical added, “In 2016 and in 2020 it made some sense to think of the Trump movement as a hostile takeover of the party. In 2023 it no longer does. He is the front-runner because a large proportion of Republicans really like him. His supporters have had their hands on the Republican National Committee for six years now. More than half of Republicans in the House of Representatives were elected for the first time since 2016, and therefore under Mr Trump’s banner…  

“Mr Trump’s campaign is also better organised than in either 2016 or 2020. Our analysis of the primaries shows how hard he will be to beat. He has a stunning lead: polling for The Economist by YouGov suggests Republican primary voters prefer Mr Trump to Mr DeSantis by 33 percentage points. He also has a big lead in endorsements from elected Republicans, which are usually a good predictor of what will happen. In 2016, the last time Mr Trump contested a primary, he won the early primaries with much less support than he has now.” 

The other contenders

Regardless, a growing list of other Republican challengers are now either announcing that they are seeking the nomination or are just about ready to do so. Further, all of these people are trying to position themselves as one version or another of conservative Trumpians but without all that rhetorical excess. 

As a child of South Asian immigrants and the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the UN in the Trump administration, Nikki Haley is trying to project solid conservative values without frightening the skittish horses. Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, meanwhile, has gently decried Trumpian excess and wants to position himself as a calm, rational conservative. Then there is South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, the only Republican African American in the Senate, who is trying to create a niche for himself as an exuberantly optimistic, evangelical conservative. 

Waiting in the wings are former Vice-President Mike Pence, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and the incumbent Virginia governor, Glenn Youngkin. There may be a few others as well. What many observers believe, however, is that with such a diverse roster of candidates, Trump could actually begin winning the delegates in those primaries and caucuses with much less than a majority of the votes — as all the other rivals split up the anybody-but-Trump vote half a dozen ways.

It is still very early days. Not a single primary vote has been cast, let alone any for the actual general election, and yet there is a growing sense that the 2024 election will pit the incumbent president, Joe Biden, against the man he beat in 2020. Biden will have some real successes to offer — assuming the economy holds and Ukraine stands steady in the face of its attackers.  

Nevertheless, there will be persistent mumbling and unhappiness that the presidency will go to a candidate who stands in the way for the next two generations of political figures to take their chances for the country’s highest office. Instead, 2024 may have the same two men and the same battles they argued about three years earlier, all over again. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Democracy’s strength and weakness all in one man: you can vote for any idiot you like, it’s your choice; unfortunately too many did.

  • ian hurst says:

    The major threat to the Trump and De Santis election chances is the FBI. The Durham report makes it clear that in the 2016 election, the Trump “Russian collusion” was an electoral ploy started by the Clinton Democrats and eagerly taken up by the FBI, without a shred of evidence. Before the 2020 election, the FBI’s role was disgraceful. They dismissed the “Laptop from Hell” as Russian Disinformation and proffered 51 FBI operatives as proof. We now know that the laptop is a genuine smoking gun, implicating the entire Biden family in influence peddling, tax evasion, and perhaps treasonous dealing with adversaries. What will the FBI do to influence the 2024 election?

    • Dennis Bailey says:

      “We now know” – you must be a seer! we know what they want us to know and works both ways. I’m no Biden supporter but he’s better for the world than idiots like Trump.

      • ian hurst says:

        Whatever you think of Trump, he is no idiot. We DO now know that the Laptop from Hell is real. Please read more widely. Brooke Spectre never mentions the laptop, that does not mean that it is a fake!

    • Johann Olivier says:

      Mr Hurst. Forgive me. That is deplorable nonsense. We … I wonder who ‘we’ is … know nothing of the sort. Where do you get your information? When one becomes immersed in social media, one becomes vulnerable to becoming a conspiratorialist … Every intelligence agency has recognised the role of Russia in the election of Trump. Facts, please, not conspiracy folderol. The major threat to Trump and DeSantis is the American voter. They know crazy when they see it.

      • ian hurst says:

        Please read the Durham report. It states quite clearly that there was NO evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump. You Sir, should face the facts, not believe the “conspiracy folderol” (whatever that may be). By the way, I do not subscribe to ANY social media.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      “Special counsel John Durham found no evidence that the US justice department and the FBI conspired in a deep-state plot to investigate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia in 2016, though the report released on Monday found that the FBI’s handling of key aspects of the case was deficient.”

      You might want to read the rest of this UK Guardian article before believing The Chump’s fake news?

      ” FBI accused of failures but key report finds no deep-state plot against Trump”

      • ian hurst says:

        The report found NO EVIDENCE of a Trump / Russia collusion, and that the FBI should never have started the investigation. Is this what The Grauniad classifies as a “key Aspect” that was deficient. What the report did mention is the involvement of Hilary’s lawyer in instigating the investigation. Whether that is deep-state or not I don’t know, but the “Collusion delusion” would cetainly have lost Trump some votes.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    From the day that Trump was elected President, I have not talked to or heard about anybody outside the USA, who did not think that he was the worst that could happen to the country/world. How come that half of the population in the States has voted for him and will probably do it again? Are the Americans so different from the rest of us? I am puzzled.

    • ian hurst says:

      You must be talking to people who read only the liberal media, which never mentions anything pro-Trump. If your friends read Brooke Spectre they would never have heard of “The Laptop From Hell”, nor would they have heard of the Durham report. I think that the voters in the US are better placed than anyone to judge Trump’s merits.

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