Is the “DeSantasy” over?

Source: Hot Air

Well, it depends. Do we believe Republican voters are disordered enough to bypass a younger, smarter, more electable, and more accomplished candidate in favor of a widely loathed demagogue whose candidacy is an elaborate exercise in spite?

I … tend to think so, yeah.

So maybe the “DeSantasy,” as one Trump crony dubbed the fantasy of a DeSantis 2024 nomination to Puck’s Tina Nguyen, really is over.

There’s a hope among Trump’s allies, too, that the anti-Democratic fervor could freeze out the rest of the field, particularly Ron DeSantis. In the aggregate of MAGA battles, trolling woke millennials with corporate pressure campaigns in Florida pales in comparison to veritable political warfare with the Deep State—a culture warrior versus a holy warrior, as it were. “I think this basically makes it impossible for a DeSantis [run] now,” another Trumpworld advisor suggested. Of course, the Florida governor released a Trumpian statement of his own, likening the Biden administration to a banana republic and condemning the D.O.J. for slow-walking its investigation into Biden’s son Hunter. But for the first Trump advisor, it’s game, set, match: “The DeSantasy is over!”

Wishful thinking, perhaps, in a political-media universe where today’s outrages are quickly replaced and forgotten. DeSantis remains a popular Trump understudy, especially if his baggage becomes tiresome. But for the moment, at least, the former president’s legal woes are energizing, not enervating, the moderate center of the party that was beginning to cast around for an alternative. It also forces the rest of the potential ‘24 field—Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, Glenn Youngkin, and so forth—to make a choice: vociferously condemn the raid and support Trump’s run, keeping their powder dry for 2028, or tactfully advance the notion that the party should explore a reset under new leadership.

“Smart ones will wait,” one MAGA consultant predicted. “But you’ll have certain Republicans who are either independently wealthy (Youngkin) or others like Tim Scott (who have establishment funding) who still might make a push” for the presidency this coming year. He added that Scott’s recent appearance on CBS, wherein he urged the G.O.P. to let the investigation “play out” before making any conclusions, was ill-advised: “Take him off my VP shortlist.”

DeSantis will be two years out of office as governor by 2028 and probably regarded as a squish by the standards of the day as the party slouches further towards authoritarianism. He’ll also have to worry about being supplanted as heir apparent by whatever hot new political thing bursts onto the scene between now and then. Realistically, he has to run in 2024.

But only a fool would fail to realize that his odds of winning just got slimmer. Jonah Goldberg quotes this creepy-even-by-current-populist-standards endorsement of Trump from Mike Huckabee this week: “We need to rally around him and simply say, ‘He is the candidate.’ He will be re-elected. That’s because he’s the only candidate who’ll have the guts to take on this incredibly corrupt machine. We must put him back in and let him do this. I’m convinced at this point that this is the only hope for our nation, to get it back to the point where people can believe in it.” That’s banana Republicanism, says Goldberg, correctly.

But it’s also a political fact of life. The problem for DeSantis and every other Republican hopeful is this: How do you defeat a cult leader in a cult primary? How do you make the case against nominating your opponent when highlighting his flaws is tantamount to treason? There are a million strong lines of attack DeSantis could mount against Trump in theory — he lost the popular vote twice, he committed impeachable offenses twice, he failed to enact much of his agenda (including the wall), he may be in criminal jeopardy, etc etc etc. Yet Trump cultism is such that to make any of those arguments and align yourself with “the enemy” would end up costing DeSantis more votes than it would Trump, which is why he was reduced to sputtering in Trump’s defense about “the regime” after news of the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago broke.

And also why many of his supporters in conservative media who quietly do want to see him supplant Trump as party leader were forced to sputter in the former guy’s defense as well. You can’t fail a litmus test as big as the Mar-a-Lago search and hope to retain any influence over a populist audience.

Defeating the cult leader was always going to be hard for DeSantis but it’s that much harder following a major event that reinforced the siege mentality that holds the cult together. And so:

Nate Silver scoffed at that poll in a tweet, noting that it’s hardly suggestive of some sea change in conservative opinion towards Trump. True enough. There *are* still scenarios on the table in which DeSantis overcomes the “rally ’round Trump” dynamic of the moment and goes on to the nomination. Americans have short attention spans; DeSantis is potentially one new grandstanding lib-owning moment away from restoring his position. Maybe he could issue an executive order banning Anthony Fauci from Florida or something. Meanwhile, the DOJ may turn out to have more dirt on Trump than anyone expects. It’ll remain verboten for any Republican candidate to express credulity about criminal charges against him, but GOP votes might end up regarding those charges the same way they do the findings of the January 6 committee — not as something they necessarily endorse or believe but something which they fear swing voters might endorse or believe, rendering Trump unelectable.

But it could go the other way too. Realistically, it’s hard to imagine criminal evidence against Trump that won’t be spun away, dismissed, or otherwise minimized by his toadies into irrelevancy on the right. Criminal charges might well bind the base more tightly to him, intensifying the siege mentality that much more. Unless the DOJ and state authorities were to conclude each of their investigations without bringing charges, the narrative of the “deep state” trying to take down Trump will hang over the 2024 primary, complicating DeSantis’s electability pitch. To repeat a point from yesterday: In a sane party, criminal jeopardy would send voters fleeing from Trump and into DeSantis’s camp. In the insane autocracy that the GOP has become, the traffic is more likely to run the other way.

Exit quotation from Goldberg: “If you’re worried about America looking like a banana republic, please don’t tell me that the first president in American history to defecate on the peaceful transfer of power is the antidote to the rot of Third World corruption of our regime. He is the rot.”