Why is Donald Trump singling out Gov. Ron DeSantis for special denigration?
It’s something a lot of conservatives wonder these days. While most Republicans appreciate the former president and would welcome him in another general election contest against Joe Biden (or whichever rubberstamp Democrat happens to win the liberal nomination), it’s still a mystery as to why Trump has taken off so quickly and aggressively against who could be the biggest non-Trump hero in the GOP today.
Trump seemingly floated one of his famous nicknames for DeSantis shortly after announcing his 2024 candidacy – “DeSanctimonious” – and appeared, for a time, to be dancing around direct assaults on the Floridian’s record and character, perhaps testing the proverbial waters to see how similar barbs would land. Such hesitancy has now completely vanished, with Trump running ads in The Sunshine State against a governor who won reelection in a landslide last November.
Even those Republicans who aren’t wild about DeSantis as a presidential candidate usually cite some other reasons than his platform and job performance as the basis for their position. “I don’t want him to run for president because he’s too good of a governor”, I’ve heard friends from Florida remark. Or, “DeSantis hasn’t been tested on the national stage, he’s too much of a risk to run in an election that we have to win.”
So why Trump’s barrage, then? “It’s all about branding” some would answer. Others would insist, “It’s because DeSantis is running out of turn – he should wait until 2028 to take over the leadership spot”. “Everyone knows Trump won in 2020 and was cheated out of a second term, so 2024 is rightly his”, still others argue.
Some of the folks I’ve personally polled state that Trump’s time is now because he’s the only one who has the intestinal fortitude to stand up to the Democrats and the Washington DC swamp establishment (which certainly includes the Republican Bush bluebloods and the party’s senate leadership). They appreciate DeSantis and what the 44-year-old has accomplished in so little time, but they’d rather see Trump in the White House laying waste to the Democrats for a second term and possibly pave the way for DeSantis to come in and clean up the mess.
Whatever the rationale, Trump doesn’t give the appearance of desiring to let-up on DeSantis. In addition to the unflattering “DeSanctimonious” nickname (which DeSantis indicated he kind of liked), the former commander in chief has openly questioned Ron’s commitment to saving Social Security and Medicare and also alleged the GOP’s next-in-line is too chummy with former Speaker Paul Ryan and the rest of the old guard party establishment.
Last week, Kentucky libertarian-minded Republican Thomas Massie said Trump’s assertions about DeSantis just aren’t true and spoke out to set the record straight. In a piece titled “Massie Says Trump Is Wrong About DeSantis”, Philip Wegmann reported at Real Clear Politics:
“Endorsements are not unusual, but the move by Massie could undercut recent Trump attacks that DeSantis was once a ‘disciple’ of ‘RINO loser’ former House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“The most outspoken libertarian in the House, it was Massie, not Trump, who opposed Ryan. He was the only Republican to vote against him for speaker, a move Massie worried ‘would attract the wrath of President Trump’ because, at the time, ‘that’s how strongly Trump had endorsed him.’
“’Go back and roll the tape,’ Massie told RealClearPolitics, noting how Trump’s endorsement effectively quelled all opposition from the speaker’s right flank… On the floor, Massie said his opposition stemmed only from a desire ‘to drain the swamp.’ The current Trump complaint that DeSantis was in cahoots with Ryan while in Congress, Massie said, ‘is a joke.’ He should know.”
As I usually reply when a liberal friend gripes that Trump or Tucker Carlson or some other conservative is a “liar” and a dangerous fact-bending fiend, “What did Massie say that wasn’t accurate?” Since his first moment in Congress, the Kentucky congressman has done things his way, and it’s the truth, he was the lone vote against elevating the “reluctant” Paul Ryan to the speakership in 2015 and then was again the only holdout to the reelection of the baby-faced Wisconsin representative in 2017.
In Wegmann’s piece, Massie relayed how DeSantis, when he was in Congress, celebrated former Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss in 2014 along with other conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, which DeSantis co-founded.
In other words, if DeSantis were a spineless establishment-loving wimp as Trump continues to insist, then why would someone like “lone wolf” Massie be so public about how DeSantis isn’t anything like how Trump is portraying him? The record plays itself out and those who bother conducting a token few internet searches can easily verify everything in DeSantis’s background.
Trump is fond of saying DeSantis begged (“with tears in his eyes”) him for an endorsement during the latter’s 2018 run for governor, but even if Ron did grovel (and I don’t know if it’s true), so what? Maybe DeSantis was convinced he was the right man for the job of turning Florida into a blood red state and was willing to display a little emotion to convey the gravity of the situation to the much older man?
Trump obviously sees DeSantis as not only his main competition for the Republican presidential nod, he views the Floridian as his only serious competitor. That’s true today in mid-April and likely will be the case in six months when the primary debates have begun and conservative voters are really paying attention. DeSantis is making the rounds to various states to promote his book and toss not-so-subtle hints that he’s running, but Ron is limited in what he can say in return because of Trump’s criminal charges in New York.
Just as Trump is counting on conservatives rallying ‘round him as he counters yet another epic struggle against the establishment – the corrupted leftist controlled “justice” system in New York and in the nation’s capital – DeSantis, perhaps, surmises that once the initial shock of Trump’s current strife dies down a bit, folks will be open to hearing about policy and on-the-ground accomplishments in addition to outrage and fury.
And Ron DeSantis has plenty to tout.
The fact is, Trump needs to be pressed, and pressed hard, to earn the 2024 nomination. There must be real rivalry for him because as much as Trump insists otherwise, he’s not an incumbent, and he lost in 2020 due in part to a series of unforced errors, political faux pas that were wholly avoidable by anyone who grasped what was going on at the time.
It would behoove Trump to remember that he still has a large and solid bloc of conservative and Republican voters who are not only welcoming a primary challenge – from someone – they’re demanding it. Thus far, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley hasn’t lit anyone’s pilot light and neither has young and brilliant – but little known – challenger Vivek Ramaswamy. Who else? Asa Hutchinson? Chris Christie? Liz Cheney?
There simply isn’t another Republican other than DeSantis who stands out in the lead-up to 2024. And shaky senile president Joe Biden isn’t looking as certain to be the Democrat nominee, either. Biden seems to be delaying announcing his reelection bid and the liberal party’s faithful are getting restless. They reacted with glee and gladness when Trump was indicted and arraigned, but how much mileage can they expect from such flimsy accusations?
Another explanation for Trump’s persistent DeSantis branding campaign is the former president figures he has little to lose by labelling the Florida governor as an establishment tool. Few have memories comparable to Thomas Massie’s and even fewer have any regard for the leadership of the current Washington establishment Republicans. The fact most everyone who hates Trump has already come out for DeSantis makes it easy for the New Yorker to say “See, If Jeb Bush likes DeSantis, he must be a Bush-lover!”
I’ve said it often, Trump’s approach to gaining the Republican nomination by knocking down DeSantis is a risky and dangerous (in terms of winning in 2024) endeavor. Trump will head into any state’s vote with a significant following – the “only Trump” voters who would march with him come hell or high water. This group is roughly one-third of the primary electorate (and may have grown a bit recently, but could just as easily return to its former size). The other two-thirds of Republicans must be convinced Trump is viable in the general election and that he has the temperament to sustain a must-win campaign.
If Trump – or whoever runs for the Republican Party – loses, that’s it for America. Can anyone see our way of life surviving another four years under the current “woke” leftist regime?
One can only hope Donald Trump wises up a bit and stops his unmerited attacks on Ron DeSantis. Trump doesn’t need to minimize someone like DeSantis to win the GOP nomination and he’ll only make more enemies than converts if he sustains his current course. Trump keeps his own counsel, but this is one bit of advice I wish he would accept. Ease up, Trump.
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