Thursday, January 19, 2023


If you've been wondering whatever happened to the crude, thuggish Donald Trump of the 2016 campaign, the lede to this Rolling Stone story would make you think he'll be back soon:
FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD Trump and his allies have already started charting out possible plans of attack against likely 2024 rival and Florida governor Ron DeSantis, according to three people familiar with the matter.

“This is where...Trump kicks him in the nuts,” one person close to the ex-president says.

... Trump and his advisers are plotting a new scorched-earth campaign against DeSantis as soon as he declares his 2024 candidacy.
But Trump's game plan seems tame and conventional.
On a host of issues, Trump and his lieutenants are itching to portray DeSantis as the “establishment” figure — the one who is preferred by the supposedly squishy party bigwigs like Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.
Surely Trump isn't going to say "establishment" -- is he? That's a boring word. You'd think he'd at least say that DeSantis is part of the "swamp." The fans will want Trump to play the hits, and "swamp" is one of the crowd favorites. Attacking DeSantis as a McConnell ally could be effective -- everyone hates Mitch McConnell -- but it's rather tame.

Here's something else that could work, though it's presented here as if it was cooked up in a New York Times op-ed columnist Zoom chat:
“In a Republican primary, only Donald Trump could effectively go after Ron DeSantis for wanting to cut Social Security,” a Republican close to the 2024 Trump campaign tells Rolling Stone. “Trump has a track record of saying the right things on this issue both when it comes to a general election and also Republican voters in a primary. DeSantis’ record in the House [on this topic] is very much of the Paul Ryan, privatize Social Security platform, which is just not where our voters are now.”
The facts here are exploitable by Trump:
In 2013, during DeSantis’ first year in [the House of Representatives], he voted for a far-right budget resolution that sought to balance the federal budget in just four years....

The draconian cuts DeSantis voted for would have raised the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to 70. It would have weakened Medicare by offering seniors “premium support” instead of comprehensive health coverage. And it would have eroded Social Security by giving recipients miserly annual adjustments for inflation. Taken together, the two measures would have cut these bedrock safety-net programs for seniors by more than $250 billion over a decade.
This is good, but ... it's how you'd expect Larry Hogan to attack DeSantis, not Trump. The mainstream media genuinely believes that Trump won the 2016 nomination in large part because he vowed to protect Social Security and Medicare, which distinguished him from other Republicans, but it's obvious that Republican voters cared much, much more about Trump's bigotry and belligerence. Sure, Republican voters want to keep their Social Security and Medicare, but they fall for plenty of candidates who merely say they want to "preserve and stregthen" those programs, a GOP euphemism for cutting them. And Republican voters aren't consistent -- they don't want these programs cut, but they root for GOP budget cutters when they're going up against Democrats. So if Trump attacks DeSantis on this budget vote, DeSantis will probably just attack "tax-and-spend liberals," or whatever the current term of art is. He'll slide by.

On foreign policy, Trump represented a partial break with the interventionist neoconservative foreign policy that had defined the GOP since the George W. Bush era....

DeSantis has a far more conventional Republican profile. That starts with his decorated military service — during the Global War on Terror he served as a JAG officer at Guantanamo, and deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, as the top legal adviser to SEAL Team One.

... on Russia, in particular, DeSantis sounds like a throwback, McCain-style hawk, blasting Putin as an “authoritarian gas station attendant... with some legacy nuclear weapons.”
Yes, but Trump regularly lies about Russia, saying that no one was ever as tough on Putin as he was, and insisting that there never would have been an invasion of Ukraine if he'd been in office. So he won't attack DeSantis for being a Putin foe.

In a throwback to 2016, [Trump has] described DeSantis in several private conversations in recent weeks as: “Bad on trade.”

... In recent huddles with longtime confidants, Trump has signaled his intention to cudgel DeSantis for the former congressman’s role in advancing a Pacific-rim free trade pact called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). In a 2015 vote, DeSantis voted to give president Obama “fast track” authority to pursue that trade deal with dozens of Asian nations.
The problem with this and the budget vote is that they happened a decade ago. And attacks on these subjects are boring. They're what conventional politicians do.

Maybe it'll all be enough to get Trump past DeSantis. But I thought Trump would have a much more vicious and repellent approach to this campaign. If this is the most we can expect from him, DeSantis might out-bully him.

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