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It’s going to be King Kong vs. Godzilla and, while a few pipsqueak Rodan's might be flapping around (Hi Mike Pence), this bout is the battle royale. The 2024 primary will be Donald Trump v. Ron DeSantis. Everyone else is barely relevant – can you feel the Larry Hoganmania?
Not unless you are Larry Hogan or one of the 1% of Republicans eager to set fire to stacks of Never Trump donor dollars.
Back in June, I wrote, “The Case For Donald Trump 2024” (I followed that up with “The Case Against Donald Trump,” just as this Thursday I will offer “The Case Against Ron DeSantis”). My goal was not to provide some panegyric to the then-potential candidate but to objectively assess his strengths and his weaknesses. We must be cold-eyed and ruthless in our candidate analysis – 2024 is too important to risk by following our hearts and embracing tired clichés. We cannot exploit strengths we have not specified, and we cannot mitigate weaknesses we have not identified. 2024 is the whole enchilada, and it is too important to play it by ear. We must be strategic, and we must select the candidate most likely to win in the general. That means assessing both good points and bad points. And we must undertake the process for Donald Trump as well as his number one competitor.
And Ron DeSantis is Trump’s number one competitor precisely because of his greatest strength – competence. Not just competence in running his dinosaur-ridden state but in turning it bright red and annihilating the competition. “Competence” is going to be the watchword in 2024, along with “normality.” People want to go back to “normal,” which some think of as American life before the drama that began when Donald Trump came down the escalator (note that these people do not necessarily see Trump as the cause of the abnormality; his rise is seen by many as a reaction to the abnormality). But many of us older folks see “normal” as the America we grew up in, before 9/11 and the 2000 election (an election that was A-OK to deny because of reasons and shut up you transphobe). We want a prosperous America and an America that is not constantly in turmoil and at war, facing alleged (and not-so-alleged) existential threats from outside and within. We want an America where weird perversions are not declared awesome and where those of us who oppose groomers waving their tu-tu-clad man-butts in the faces of kindergarteners are not declared dangerous terrorist bigots. We would prefer a country where mean tweets don’t happen because they are not necessary since the ruling caste is functioning and not in need of radical push-back.
Competence goes with normality. It is the ability to perform one’s job with a high level of skill, and Ron DeSantis has done that as governor. His state is secure and prosperous. His handling of Hurricane Ian was stellar. The storm response was planned and executed flawlessly, so flawlessly that once the wind died down you never heard about it again. And what you did not hear, if you did not live there, was how the power came back fast and how bridges got rebuilt in days. You would have heard all about it if those things didn’t happen. Now, especially if they live in a hellhole like California, people look at the construction jobs that clog the freeways for months or years and they know that it does not have to be this way.
Ron DeSantis checks the most important box – he can do the job of the president if elected, though that desiccated old pervert in the Oval Office has set the bar so low that a mediocre hamster could do it better.
Then there are the intangibles. DeSantis is a fighter, and we’re not in the mood for another so-called gentleman who loses then turns on us and talks smack about us to his country club cronies. The Florida governor is a political honey-badger. He does not care. The garbage media attacks him and he either ignores it (which drives it nuts) or pushes back. What he does not do is give a damn about what they say – why should he? He’s got results. But it is more than just treating the regime media like the steaming cesspool that it is. It is understood that it is a steaming cesspool. For DeSantis, this is not a pose that he fakes for the rubes. It’s real. He thinks the media is scum. He does not secretly long for its acceptance or approval. He will never have long talks with Maggie Haberman. He doesn’t give a Schiff who Maggie Haberman is.
That’s key. Ron DeSantis knows what time it is. He is based. This means that at a foundational level, he understands that we are in the midst of an existential cultural/political struggle with people who want to disenfranchise, enslave, or even destroy us. The left does not want to be our friend. It wants to be our master. The bad guys are serious about winning, and so is Ron DeSantis.
This translates into a willingness to take on the enemy, but also to pick fights that he can win instead of spraying and praying venom and hoping it sort of all works out. Look at the Disney fight. He correctly assessed that his opponent was a paper mouse. Disney was big and deeply embedded in Florida culture, so deeply that it felt it could bully the state into accepting its bizarre gender/woke nonsense. And some Republicans were afraid. But DeSantis correctly determined that Disney’s huge Florida footprint was not a strength but a weakness. Disney had not trapped Florida; Disney was trapped in Florida. Disney World is not moving to blue Massachusetts anytime soon. It could not generate the political muscle to stop DeSantis from taking it down a peg or a dozen. Disney folded, and DeSantis became a hero not just for resisting corporate wokeness but for showing that Republicans need not – in fact, better not – keep sucking up to big corporations at the expense of normal voters.
All the policy and all the owning of the libs is useless Toobin Zooming if you cannot get the votes. DeSantis gets the votes. He’s a solid candidate with a solid resume – Navy, lawyer, and congressman in the Freedom Caucus. He’s personally inoffensive – he does not turn off normal people. Libs, yes, but they called everyone since Reagan “Hitler” so they don’t count. He has improved markedly as a speaker and knows how to motivate a crowd. He is also not stiff. I met him in person one time, being introduced as “Colonel,” and said, “Hi governor, the Navy sucks.” He laughed at my interservice ribbing. You need to be thick-skinned in this game, and he is.
Governor DeSantis has a nice family and his wife Casey is a real asset. DeSantis can raise serious money, and big donors like him. He is also appropriately ruthless when it comes to such basics as gerrymandering and reforming election systems. His work fixing the hanging chad stage’s disastrous election system earned him some more competence kudos during the Red Squirt, where Florida finished counting votes before California and Arizona managed to get their pants on.
Ron DeSantis also appeals across political and ethnic lines. He won in the big cities, which is unheard of for a Republican. He also won Hispanic voters. Now, let’s not fall into the liberal trap of thinking all Hispanics are identical – Cubans are not Mexicans are not Venezuelans are not Hondurans – but DeSantis went after these votes and won them. That is huge.
And GOP voters generally like him. The ridiculously early polls are showing that the voters’ interest is at least piqued, and he is certainly in the game. Some state polls even show him leading Trump – he is viewed as Trump sans baggage. As people pay attention, they are likely to come around in increasing numbers.
And, finally, Ron DeSantis is disciplined. You can be smart and you can be savvy, but if you are undisciplined you are going to have problems. DeSantis is scarily disciplined. Trump taunted him and he did not return fire (at least not directly – he’s still at the letting his results speak for themselves stage). He just keeps moving forward, building the best political team in the business, and demanding performance. If he runs, you will find out when he is good and ready and when the announcement will have the maximum impact. Until then, you will get nothing about 2024 from him or his people; he will go on running the freest state in the union. His unspoken offer will be: “All America can be Florida if you vote for me.” And America might do that.
One thing is clear – Ron DeSantis respects Trump, but he is not afraid of Trump. And if Trump wants to be president, he has fights on his hands.