February 1, 2023

Trump and DeSantis

Former President Donald Trump kicked off his 2024 White House bid with stops Saturday in New Hampshire and South Carolina… After his South Carolina speech, Trump told The Associated Press in an interview that it would be ‘a great act of disloyalty’ if [Florida governor Ron] DeSantis opposed him in the primary and took credit for the governor’s initial election.” AP News

Both sides see DeSantis as a formidable challenger to Trump:

Don’t expect a return to the former president’s halcyon days. Trump in 2023 is diminished in many key respects. Whereas once his finely attuned sense of personal grievance could also mirror that of his supporters, he’s become myopic in his outlook and prone to raving about a series of slights so personal and so opaque that they fail to register. His obsession with the 2020 election, while deranged, has become oddly dull… “Where his sheer unpredictability once made him a news-generating machine, he is now repetitive and boring; his Saturday speeches were rote and predictable, and they received the exact amount of coverage that normal political speeches get, which is to say, perfunctory… It’s possible that sometime between now and the end of the year, something might change… But there are heartening signs that his one formidable ability to shape the daily discourse now eludes him.”

Alex Shephard, New Republic

“You almost certainly can’t beat Trump in a Republican primary by running to his left. But what if you run to his right? What makes DeSantis formidable is that he’s more populist than Trump in some respects but also more electable… There’s no doubting his electability after a 19-point win in Florida in November, which explains why Democrats are already weighing in on Trump’s side in his squabbles with the governor. Yet there’s also no doubt that he’s more closely aligned with the base’s vaccine skepticism than Trump is… “It’s not just the vaccine, either… In November Trump was heard babbling about quick trials and executions for drug dealers; last week DeSantis upped the ante by arguing that jury unanimity was too high a hurdle for death sentences and that capital punishment should be extended to child rapists… However you slice it, the only way out of the GOP’s populist morass is through it, with a candidate capable of coopting a meaningful share of Trump’s own devotees. DeSantis is the lone top-tier option executing on a strategy to do so.”

Nick Catoggio, The Dispatch

“I see Ron DeSantis taking all the necessary steps to win the nomination. I think his chances of winning the nomination, while hardly certain, exceed Trump’s. The Florida governor has spent the past year locking down the national Republican donor base and amassing a gigantic pool of money. Trump, by contrast, is reportedly strapped for funding. In the past, Trump has managed to overcome a resource deficit by exploiting his command of the national media. But the conservative media is now overwhelmingly favorable to DeSantis… “It may seem to some panicked Republicans at this moment that Trump is running unopposed because he has formally announced his candidacy before DeSantis or other rivals. But, generally speaking, an early announcement indicates weakness rather than strength. DeSantis can afford to delay his announcement until spring because he already has the media attention and elite support required to run a first-tier campaign.”

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

“DeSantis is also benefiting from the fact that he doesn’t have to respond to Trump’s attacks. Nobody expects him to. He ignores Trump in a way that GOP candidates couldn’t get away with in 2015. And he isn’t expected to announce until the end of Florida’s legislative session—perhaps as late as Memorial Day. And because he’s so far ahead of every other non-Trump candidate in the polls, the field is all but frozen until he gets in—regardless of how many other candidates actually do jump in between now and then. And the more Trump attacks him, the more viable he looks.”

Sarah Isgur, The Dispatch

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“For most of the country’s history, we thought likability was almost a prerequisite for a presidential candidate. Candidates such as Richard M. Nixon labored to convince voters that they were warm and personable. In 2000, we spent months debating which candidate ‘you’d like to have a beer with.’… “Al Gore might have been more experienced and competent. But George W. Bush had the easygoing manner of the fraternity president he once was, liberally distributing nicknames and dancing goofily before the cameras. The ‘beer question’ was ubiquitous enough to be mocked by the Onion: ‘Long-Awaited Beer With Bush Really Awkward, Voter Reports.’… “But GOP candidates today have a new understanding of their voters… For many of Trump’s supporters, his cruelty and narcissism weren’t something they learned to live with, but the things that attracted them most. He was ‘a fighter,’ they’d say again and again, meaning he would be ruthless on their behalf, mocking those they scorned and abusing those they loathed… For Republicans, Trump is still the template.”

Paul Waldman, Washington Post

From the Right

“By attacking DeSantis as weak on COVID policy, Trump highlights his own Achilles’ heel… Trump while president regularly criticized others for not being more fascist on COVID policies, including DeSantis, Governor Kemp of Georgia, and the Swedes. Trump stood next to Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx for weeks–literally next to them while they gave TV briefings, and even criticized those within his administration who thought Fauci was going way too far… The country is still reeling from the shutdowns Trump initially promoted enthusiastically and never fully rejected.”

David Strom, Hot Air

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) writes, “My entire adult lifetime has been shaped by presidents who threw America into unwise wars and failed to win them… Donald Trump’s presidency marked the first real disruption to a failed consensus and the terrible consequences it wrought. That fact, more than any single accomplishment, is the enduring legacy of Mr. Trump’s first term. But there is much more to do, and I’m supporting him for president in 2024 because he’s the only person certain to do it.”

J.D. Vance, Wall Street Journal

On the bright side

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