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Nothing DeSantis Did or Didn’t Do Would Have Made Any Difference

Posted on Thursday, January 18, 2024
by Outside Contributor
trump and desantis

There’s a lot of talk about Ron DeSantis’ poor showing in the Iowa caucus. It’s destroyed his future. He’s not ready for prime time. The race exposed a dour and robotic personality. He’s just too unlikeable to be president.

I’m skeptical. For one thing, I suspect in a few months no one is going to care about the 2024 GOP primary results. In a few years, no one will even remember them.

DeSantis bet that Donald Trump would either step aside because of his mounting legal troubles (they’ve only galvanized the former president’s candidacy) or that Republicans were ready to move on to a more stable, competent and traditional candidate (they are definitely not).

It’s still early, but the uncomfortable truth is that there is probably nothing DeSantis did or didn’t do that really would have mattered.

For one thing, the former president is effectively running as an incumbent, and incumbents have a lot of things going for them. They have built-in party loyalties. Voters have already seen the incumbents win. There is name recognition and Trump, no matter what he does, is perpetually at the center of the political universe.

Trump, understanding all of this, ran for the general election, refusing to debate Republicans and moderating some of his positions. He could sit and watch Nikki Haley and DeSantis pound each other while his stalking horse, Vivek Ramaswamy, dropped bombs on both. Fair or not, as a campaign strategy it makes complete sense.

Although, of course, the notion that debates could have sunk Trump with Iowa Republicans is also wishful thinking. In 2016, I wrote an article laying out the pitfalls of debating Trump during a primary. Basically, it’s like Rocky Balboa taking on Thunderlips in “Rocky III.” To one extent or the other, politicians play by rules — either ones set by others, or ones they set for themselves. Trump plays by the rules of professional wrestling, which is to say no rules whatsoever.

Then again, even if DeSantis had devastated Trump in a debate, it’s unlikely to have made anything but a marginal difference. I don’t want to be the one to break this to people, but there is literally nothing Trump is going to say that will shock anyone. Trump’s support is predicated on a unique loyalty to a man, not so much any mission. Rather, the man is the mission.

Although it’s probably a minority view, I tend to think DeSantis would have benefitted by going after Trump’s chaotic leadership as president and his fecklessness during COVID, among other things, much earlier and much harder. If you’re going to run, run. Trump would never think twice about pounding an opponent. It’s not personal. It’s business.

Ultimately, though, that wasn’t going to change DeSantis’ fortunes. The Florida governor was running somewhat close to Trump (still a 20-point divide, mind you) when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted the former president at the end of March. It’s then that Trump really took off. Any criticism of Trump at that point gave the impression that you were rooting for the former president’s persecutors. Trump’s victimhood solidified the belief, not only that he deserved another shot but that winning would be the best revenge.

Whether general election voters see it that way is another story.

All that said, if Trump weren’t running, it’s likely DeSantis would be leading the GOP field right now. Most primary voters have no real substantive problems with DeSantis. It’s doubtful that even his antagonists would have problems with his personality or how he comports himself if he hadn’t committed the grievous sin of challenging their hero. As soon as DeSantis endorses Trump, all will be well. Trump values nothing more than loyalty to him, sprinkled with a little subservience.

It’s also worth noting that Trump is a movement of one. Just as anti-Trump forces delude themselves into believing they can convince Republicans to abandon the former president with some clever arguments, scaremongering or a new policy prescription, Trump fans seem to believe that MAGA’s success will extend beyond Trump.

In reality, candidates that ape Trump end up losing or severely underperforming. In states like Virginia, Georgia and Florida, competent candidates who fuse movement conservatism with some trendy populist rhetoric are the ones who have done well for themselves.

I’m not in the prediction business, but it’s probably too early to hold a funeral for DeSantis’ political career.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist. Harsanyi is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of five books — the most recent, “Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent.” His work has appeared in National Review, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Reason, New York Post and numerous other publications. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.


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6 months ago

Interesting article in the sense that the author presumes the general electorate on the GOP side wants to return to the globalist, status quo, “go along to get along” type Republican personified so well by both Bushes in the White House prior to Trump. He refers to that by saying “that Republicans were ready to move on to a more stable, competent and traditional candidate (they are definitely not).” Talk about a misread of the GOP voter base and needs of the country to halt our decline both domestically and on the world stage. Oh well, it seems there are a LOT of authors out there pining for the “good old days” of Republican Presidents either be a doormat for the Democrat agenda or a whipping post for the left leaning MSM. It takes all kinds I guess. Many, if not most people in Washington, D.C., are desperate to find someone, anyone to stop President Trump from getting back into the White House and cleaning out the corruption and self-dealing that is endemic of our nation’s capital at this point.

As for DeSantis, his biggest mistake was listening to his old congressional pal Paul Ryan the Murdocks at FOX and many of the big money donor that have now abandoned him to try and see if Nikki Haley can get any better traction at this point. All DeSantis had to do was be a good Governor of Florida for two terms by continuing to copy many of Trump’s MAGA policies and he would have had a clear runway to the White House in 2028. Instead, he was convinced by the big money crowd that he could steam roll the person who saved his dying political career by endorsing him in his first campaign for Governor of Florida. Now you can sense the frantic desperation as DeSantis sees what could have been a much longer political career, if he had just stayed on his original course of a 2028 Presidential run now being truncated to what will be perhaps a footnote in history and a TV pundit consulting gig that Chris Christie is trying to now land a round two on.

Can DeSantis run again in 2028? Sure why not. There are a number of Republicans who throw their hat into the ring for POTUS multiple times hoping to revive their fortunes. The problem is in most cases, the first try is usually their best showing. So sure we may see DeSantis run for POTUS again in 2028, but if the Democrat pull a repeat of 2020 to either keep Biden in the WH or install a new, liable puppet in this his place, the odds that there will be anything left of the United States, even as it exists today, will be near zero.

Many of the big money donors that were backing DeSantis never wanted Trump anywhere near the White House, as he wasn’t part of the good old boys club, in terms of selling out the nation in exchange for their major donors’ overseas business interests. Trump simply represented too great a threat to the status quo of the uni-party or administrative state in D.C. and the billionaires bankrolling the globalist agenda. Many of the big money donors have since walked away from DeSantis and in recent months have now thrown millions behind Nikki Haley to try and stop Trump. When 43% of Haley’s major money donors are life-long Democrats, you kind of know you can’t trust anything she says or promises to do.

Anyway, the choice for POTUS this year should be crystal clear, as the contrasts between the two sides couldn’t be more stark. All that remains is whether the American people are going to allow for a repeat of 2020 when the Democrats pulled every trick in the book to seat their puppet in the White House.

6 months ago

This author seems to be afflicted with an advanced case of Trump derangement syndrome.

John Shipway
John Shipway
6 months ago

All that DeSantis had to do was wait FOUR years at which point the Presidency would be handed to him without question. Now one has to wonder if his lack of forethought and his overabundance of self interest should preclude him from ever being more than the governor of Florida. I hope when it all shakes out that he simply fell victim to some horrid advice. That seems apparent to everyone but of course DeSantis.

6 months ago

Its not about Repub vs Dim. Its about conservatism vs liberalism. And about whether or not moderates can control both. Half of those who call themselves Repubs and half of those who call themselves Dims are the same. The controlling party is the moderate party. They love the middle and will go along to get along.
I favor disruption, chaos, and turmoil until we get to a Trump-type conservatism which makes me MAGA which is worse than having Covid. I love the battle in congress to pass a budget until one side folds. And one side will.

6 months ago

Even though Trump won 51% in Iowa and will probably win NH ( I hope) thats onlyabout 25% of the total general electorate. The rest of the nation is scared to death of Trump (stupidly) or moderate which decides at the last minute or super-liberal which tells me nothing about Trump’s prospects in the the general election in Nov.even if he becomes the Repub nominee.

Silhouette of the President of the United States of America Donald Trump while attending a conference
1960s and 2020s; history repeats itself
Helena, Montana / November 3, 2020: Woman election official directing voter where to park and vote, man in vehicle holding ballot, voting from car outside polling station, poll worker
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