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No "reset" will fix what's wrong with DeSantis
He's getting relentlessly punked by Trump. But that's not all.
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Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign began imploding before the Florida governor officially joined the race. It was clear from the outset that he had no cogent strategy for campaigning against Donald Trump, and was betting that Trump’s supporters — attracted by DeSantis’s overt racism, xenophobia, and message of general resentment — would migrate to him when Trump’s candidacy failed. But as should have been clear to DeSantis from the outset, it was a bad bet to assume Trump would exit the stage.
Even a casual observer of the DeSantis campaign during the past several months would have been left with the impression that Ron’s key political rival for the nomination is a candidate called “Woke,” given his obsessive, self-declared “war” against that adversary.
By contrast, DeSantis has shied away from even mentioning Trump’s name unless prodded to do so. Trump, for his part, has shown no such reticence in taking on DeSantis, against whom he has unleashed relentless volleys of insults and attacks.
Given the sheer ineffectiveness of DeSantis’s campaign, it’s hardly a surprise that he is suffering a growing polling deficit that’s left him in a distant second to Trump in the nomination contest, both nationwide …
… and in key early states, including Iowa, which DeSantis probably has to win to remain viable.
In recent weeks, DeSantis has acknowledged that he’s wildly overspent, including on private plane travel for himself and his spouse, forcing the campaign to abruptly shed staff at a time it should be gearing up. And in a trend that began even before DeSantis formally announced his candidacy, a number of the deep pocketed donors he has relied upon are openly considering backing other Trump rivals.
In the face of this rapidly accelerating disaster, DeSantis has declared that he intends to run a “leaner” and “insurgent” campaign. But if his recent moves are any indication, it’s already clear that DeSantis 2.0 will be an equally spectacular failure.
Last week, he fired his campaign manager, Generra Peck, as part of what’s being marketed as a retooling of his campaign. He replaced Peck with his chief of staff, James Uthmeier, a young right-wing lawyer, who has no experience managing political campaigns whatsoever.
While Uthmeier is no campaign professional, he does have experience with the kind of gratuitous meanness and culture warring that DeSantis is so devoted to.
DeSantis keeps going back to the well of bigotry
Uthmeier was involved in DeSantis’s performatively sadistic scheme to defraud desperate asylum seekers into boarding a chartered plane that landed, and stranded, them on Martha’s Vineyard — in front of a Fox News crew DeSantis’s office had tipped about the spectacle. A Texas sheriff’s officer recently recommended the filing of criminal charges over the human trafficking scheme, which is also the subject of a lawsuit in which Uthmeier is among the defendants.
Soon after Uthmeier took the helm of the campaign, DeSantis announced the suspension of a second elected local prosecutor in Florida, an action that was apparently intended to signal a campaign pivot to issues of “law and order” in place of his obsessive focus on the dangers of gender studies, Black studies, and AP psychology courses.
DeSantis previously defied the will of Florida voters by suspending Hillsborough County prosecutor Andrew Warren in violation of the US and Florida constitutions, according to a federal judge. This time DeSantis’s target was Monique Worrell, a Black woman of Caribbean descent who was elected as Orlando’s state attorney in 2020 with 66 percent of the vote. Just how did Worrell offend DeSantis? She signed a statement decrying the criminalization of gender affirming health care.
While DeSantis offered makeweight claims that Worrell is an ineffective law enforcement officer, the “culture war” — and racial — message sent by singling her out was clear. Worrell is the only Black woman serving as a local prosecutor in the entire state.
While DeSantis subverts democracy in Florida, he’s also doubling down upon extremism on the campaign trail. Over the past couple of weeks alone, he’s declared that upon taking office as president, he will:
“[S]tart slitting [the] throats” of federal government employees, whom he declared to be agents of an alien “deep state.”
“Sic” antisemitic antivaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr. on the nation’s public health agencies. After first suggesting that he might name RFK Jr. as CDC director, DeSantis “moderated” his message, saying he’s simply considered engaging the bigoted conspiracist — who lacks any scientific, epidemiological, or medical qualifications — to serve on a task force intended to “understand” the federal response to the pandemic.
Consider drone strikes against cartels in Mexico, in addition to using “lethal force” against drug traffickers, whom DeSantis said should be shot “stone cold dead” by border control agents following “rules of engagement” like those employed in war zones. When asked how, before unloading their assault rifles, agents could distinguish between drug traffickers and desperate migrants fleeing poverty or persecution, DeSantis said: “Same way somebody operating in Iraq would know.”
Meanwhile, there’s absolutely no indication that the rebooted DeSantis campaign is prepared to take on the opponent it actually has to defeat: Donald Trump.
You can’t beat Trump if you’re scared of him
DeSantis got headlines last week for grudgingly acknowledging that Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. But as National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru observed, DeSantis managed to add vagueness to his belated observation regarding the outcome of the race, later indicating to an NBC reporter that “what he meant by saying Trump lost is that Joe Biden took the oath of office in January 2021,” thus leaving “open the possibility that Biden stole the election.”
This follows “law and order” DeSantis repeatedly attacking law enforcement officials for having the temerity to prosecute Trump for multiple alleged felonies. DeSantis has also parroted Trump in attacking the District of Columbia — which, oddly for a Floridian, DeSantis insulted as a “swamp” — suggesting that no citizen of DC can be relied on to provide an unbiased verdict in the election fraud case brought against Trump.
But while DeSantis has no hesitancy about insulting teachers, threatening public servants, and defaming the entire population of the nation’s capital, he remains curiously meek about taking on his actual primary adversary.
The closest DeSantis’s campaign has come to forcefully challenging Trump came in the form of a bizarre online ad that was both homophobic and homoerotic — replete with images of oiled up body builders and vikings — which asserted that Trump is suspiciously favorable to affording civil rights to LGBTQ persons.
But soon after retweeting the ad (which a DeSantis staffer actually secretly produced), the campaign tried to distance itself from it. And other halfhearted DeSantis attempts to criticize Trump for being insufficiently bigoted and unwilling to go as far as DeSantis to extinguish and criminalize abortion rights have similarly fizzled.
It’s not hard to understand why DeSantis is so hesitant to attack the GOP frontrunner, whom he must defeat to obtain the Republican presidential nomination. A huge portion of the very same GOP electorate that DeSantis needs to court favors, and may even worship, Trump. Accordingly, while DeSantis has never missed a chance to punch down at any and all available victims, he’s long quivered in fear of alienating members of the MAGA base by attacking its idol, The Donald.
In the meantime, Trump — and members of the base DeSantis covets — treat DeSantis as the butt of jokes. During the governor’s visit to the Iowa State Fair, a plane circled the fairgrounds trailing a banner reading “Be likable, Ron!” Meanwhile, Trump endorser Matt Gaetz stood next to Trump at the fair wearing a t-shirt reading “Florida Man” and said: “We got pork that’s more well done than Ron DeSantis.”
It was no help that liberal protestors have also been dogging DeSantis during his Iowa campaign swing, turning his appearances at the fair and elsewhere into fiascos as they yell taunts like “Go back to Florida, pudding fingers.”
The bully gets a taste of his own medicine
It’s somehow appropriate that DeSantis, who has governed Florida by engaging in systematic bullying, is suffering an ignominious end to his presidential campaign by being smashed to the curb by a far more powerful thug. But nobody should think that the implosion of DeSantis’s White House bid will mean the end of his authoritarian governance.
Even as DeSantis has been enduring public embarrassment in Iowa, his representatives have been telling Florida teachers that they need to instruct students that the National Guard troops who terrorized Black children in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, as they prevented them from attending school, were also the kids’ “protectors.” And, fitting nicely with the Little Rock theme, DeSantis’s campaign recently deployed cops to prevent an accredited journalist who just happened to be Black from attending a DeSantis campaign event.
Just as DeSantis can be expected to take out his anger on Florida after he slinks back to the governor’s mansion in defeat, we can expect that GOP voters will continue to be attracted to his flavor of resentment-powered politics in the future, even if they don’t like Ron himself.
That’s it for today
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