Friday, January 19, 2024


I agree that Ron DeSantis's campaign has made a lot of mistakes. He probably should have announced his candidacy early instead of waiting for the end of the Florida legislative session. He shouldn't have frozen out the mainstream media (a mistake he now admits). He was foolish to launch his campaign in a glitchy live Twitter broadcast. And he could have make better use of his origin story -- a kid with a modest upbringing who played baseball for a team that made it to the Little League World Series.

If DeSantis had made all of those changes, I think he still would have finished far behind Donald Trump. Maybe he'd be poised to finish well ahead of the other also-rans -- the position Nikki Haley appears to be in now. But he still wouldn't have beaten Trump, or even come close.

DeSantis might have had a shot at a win if he'd made all of the changes listed above plus one more: He should have come out of the gate as a finger-pointing, trash-talking critic of Trump from the right.

I know that DeSantis tried to direct some trash talk at Trump. But even then, he was trying to thread the needle. Last March, when it seemed clar that Trump would be indicted in New York for paying hush money to Stormy Daniels, DeSantis, who wasn't a declared candidate yet, tried to attack Trump and defend him simultaneously, in a way that pleased no one and was genuinely embarrassing:
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair, I can’t speak to that,” DeSantis said. “What I can speak to is that if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction, and he chooses to go back many, many years ago to try to use something about porn star hush money payments, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.”
I'm imagining a DeSantis who attacked Trump head on, addressing Trump directly and pointing his finger at the camera like a pro wrestler threatening his rival. The main message this DeSantis would have delivered was: Trump is an ineffectual RINO. Imagine DeSantis opening his campaign with this as the highlight of his first speech:
Donald Trump, you didn't get the wall built. I will. You didn't destroy the Deep State. I will. You didn't repeal and replace Obamacare. I will. You didn't end the abortion holocaust in America. I will. You didn't take on the COVID Nazis. I did, and I will. And while you complain a lot about Democrat election fraud, you didn't prevent it. I've stopped the steal in my state, and if I'm elected, I'll do the same all over America.
This would have been very different from Chris Christie's campaign argument. DeSantis would have been attacking Trump but rejecting all liberal and centrist framing. (When DeSantis suggested that it was bad for Trump to have sex with a porn star, he was accepting what the hated libs say.) DeSantis could have become the candidate who made journalists ask, "Did he really say that?" -- which is Trump's strength.

Also, by taking this approach, DeSantis would have been using his personal obnoxiousness. Newt Gingrich does this, and while he'll never be president, or even the GOP presidential nominee, he won a couple of states in the 2012 primary season and put a scare into Mitt Romney. DeSantis won't win any states this year.

And just imagine DeSantis jiujitsu-ing the issue of the 2020 election by claiming that Trump cost himself the White House. You and I know that the election was fair, but Republican voters don't. Could DeSantis have persuaded a significant number of them that Trump just didn't work hard enough to prevent all the (nonexistent) Democratic cheating? (Think of this as the Karl Rove strategy -- using an opponent's strength against him.)

I think Trump still would have beaten DeSantis if he'd taken this approach -- but DeSantis at least would have gone down swinging, and probably in a better position for 2028. We'll never know.

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