Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Writing for The Atlantic, Mark Leibovich argues that Ron DeSantis might not be ready for the big leagues, primarily because he's stiff and unlikable:
People who know him better and have watched him longer are skeptical of his ability to take on the former president. DeSantis, they say, is no thoroughbred political athlete. He can be awkward and plodding. And Trump tends to eviscerate guys like that.

“He was standoffish in general,” the Virginia Republican Barbara Comstock, a former House colleague of DeSantis’s, told me.

“A strange no-eye-contact oddball,” Rick Wilson, a Republican media consultant, wrote on Resolute Square.

“I’d rather have teeth pulled without anesthetic than be on a boat with Ron DeSantis,” says Mac Stipanovich, a Tallahassee lobbyist who set sail from the GOP over his revulsion for Trump and his knockoffs. To sum up: DeSantis is not a fun and convivial dude. He prefers to keep his earbuds in. His “Step away from the vehicle” vibes are strong.
Leibovich acknowledges that this might not be a problem for DeSantis ("the GOP ... has shown a persistent tolerance, even inclination, for churlish bastards—just as long as they are churlish toward the right rascals, reprobates, and agents of wokeness"). But he remains skeptical.

In response, I'd say: Do you know who else gave off “Step away from the vehicle” vibes? Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s. When the public is worried about crime and disorder, as it was in that decade when Giuliani won two elections and as portions of it are now despite much lower crime rates, an unpleasant bad cop on a hair trigger sometimes seems like the right electoral choice, especially if the bad cop can be humanized (if barely) by an appealing wife and young children. (DeSantis has young kids, as did Rudy in the '90s; Rudy's then-wife was a fixture on local TV news, and DeSantis's wife also had a TV career, including a stint in local news.)

The national equivalent -- albeit with older children and wife whose time in Hollywood had been brief -- was Richard Nixon, a personality-deficient scold who was elected twice in an era of extreme cultural anxiety. So it can happen.

Leibovich writes:
... Trump will be running DeSantis through his patented dehumanizer machine, which made such mashed mush of his rivals in 2016. Trump’s efficient cartooning of “Low-Energy Jeb,” “Liddle Marco,” and “Lyin’ Ted” left them flailing pathetically.
The difference is that, in 2016, Bush, Rubio, and Cruz weren't trying to be assholes. They didn't understand that the game had changed -- even Cruz thought you had to seem upright and statesmanlike to win the nomination. He didn't try to attack Trump until Trump was already in the process of gutting and filleting him. DeSantis is unlikely to make that mistake. I expect him to campaign as an asshole from Day One.

Leibovich writes:
DeSantis ... can appear needlessly snappish and reactive (earlier this year, he scolded a group of high-school students for wearing masks onstage behind him).
Leibovich knows that the base loved that moment, doesn't he?
One particular interlude during DeSantis’s 2022 campaign bears revisiting. It occurred during a debate with his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, who attempted to pin down the governor on whether he would commit to serving out his four-year term if reelected. In other words, was DeSantis running for president in 2024 or not? “Yes or no, Ron?” Crist pressed him. DeSantis froze. “It’s a fair question and he won’t tell you,” Crist said, filling the silence.

Finally, a moderator jumped in and reminded the candidates that they were not permitted to ask each other direct questions, allowing DeSantis to regroup. “Well, I know that Charlie is interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden,” DeSantis said, delivering what was clearly a rehearsed line. “But I just want to make this very, very clear. The only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.” Cute recovery. But still awkward.

... a fluid politician could have better finessed that exchange. And Trump likely took note and filed this away. “He knew and assessed the weaknesses of DeSantis on the debate stage and in the media space,” Wilson wrote in his Resolute Square essay, concluding that Trump will tear him to pieces. “He smelled blood.”
Crist smelled blood? It must have been his own, because he lost to DeSantis by 19 points.

I wouldn't bet against Trump in this battle, but if he beats DeSantis, it won't be because DeSantis is obnoxious and disagreeable. That might be precisely what voters want.

No comments: