Former President Donald Trump and Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis are the two leading figures of today’s Republican Party.
Sure, there are other good Republican officeholders and candidates out there – we could run through the list of Republican Governors and Senators, and even after eliminating the obvious non-conservatives like Mitt Romney, come up with a list of half-a-dozen names that prior to 2016 would have been credible candidates for the presidency.
But this isn’t 2016, and neither of these two leading Republican candidates seem to have grasped that the entire political world has changed and what worked in 2016 nationally or in Florida in 2018 and 2022 isn’t going to work for a 2024 presidential campaign.
In 2016 Donald Trump fought his way to the White House on the best political tagline of the past half-century: Make America Great Again. And he deftly knocked down one opponent after another with a native instinct for branding the opposition. Who can forget “Low Energy” Jeb Bush and “Crooked” Hillary Clinton. The brands worked and stuck because they rang true with voters and in the case of Crooked Hillary the brand sparked its own viral meme: Spontaneous chants of “lock her up.”
But lately Trump’s instinct for branding has seemingly failed him. His two shots at DeSantis – “Meatball Ron” and “Ron DeSanctimonious” haven’t caught. As far as we can tell they have fallen flat with voters because they are childish (Meatball Ron) or in the case of Ron DeSanctimonious the brand doesn’t reflect the product. Obama was and is sanctimonious, DeSantis is anything but.
So, Trump seems to have reverted to the typical Republican consultant-driven primary strategy of carpet-bombing DeSantis with specious charges that would only require a quick change of disclaimer to make great Democrat attack ads in the Fall should DeSantis win the Republican nomination.
Given Trump’s myriad of legal troubles it is not unreasonable to think that something could knock him out of the race. And to win in November any Republican is going to have to capture Trump’s MAGA vote. However, DeSantis, after starting out on the high road apparently has had enough of Trump’s goading and is responding in kind with his own carpet-bombing campaign, and that’s not really working either.
The bottom line is Trump and DeSantis are doing a great job of helping the Democrats by using what are mostly Democrat talking points to negatively brand each other, instead of training their fire – and their branding -- on Joe Biden.
What’s more, this isn’t 2016 and after Trump remade American politics by sparking the Make America Great Again movement and defeating Hillary Clinton Democrats vowed to themselves that was never going to happen again.
Consequently, they completely remade how elections are run in states that Republicans must win to win the White House: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona are almost beyond the reach of the GOP, not because there aren’t potential Republican majorities in those states, but because Democrats have mastered the new terrain of universal mail-in ballots, ballot harvesting, government-driven voter turnout campaigns in Democrat precincts and early voting ballot collection.
The national Republican organizations and committees seem stuck in the 1980s with Election Day Get-Out-The-Vote campaigns, and many conservatives aren’t helping by discouraging GOP voters from voting early and chasing the unproven claims of hacked voting machines, when the more obvious problem is the thousands of untracked universal mail-in ballots available to Democrat ballot harvesters.
So, while Trump constantly relitigates that the 2020 election was stolen from him (it was but not for the reasons he apparently thinks) he paid absolutely no attention to the warnings we and other conservatives gave him well ahead of the 2020 election about Zuckbucks funding ballot drop boxes in Democrat precincts, the government-paid Democrat turnout efforts, the harvesting of universal mail-in ballots and the failure of Democrat jurisdictions to purge their voter lists as required by law.
And so far, we haven’t heard a peep out of Governor DeSantis about any of these issues or seen any indication that his campaign is ready to fight them in court, or counter them with similar boundary-testing efforts.
The results of this failure to address the new election law and voting process terrain was on full display in Wisconsin’s recent judicial election.
The news media and establishment Republican consultants have all blamed Judge Dan Kelly’s double-digit loss on voter rejection of the right-to-life and limits on abortion post the Dobbs decision.
But that’s a very shallow analysis – abortion is what “activated the activists,” but what decided the election was the Democrat ballot turn-in effort that used paid and volunteer technology to identify, advocate to and collect every possible Democrat ballot, particularly in Democrat-oriented urban areas, liberal college towns and among Democrat-friendly and tech savvy younger voters. This was especially important in college towns where Democrats used Wisconsin’s same day voter registration system to their great advantage.
As Natalia Mittelstadt reported for our friend John Solomon’s Just the News, in a proof-of-concept effort in advance of the 2024 election, Wisconsin "Community mobilizers" could make as much as $270 by creating a list of 75 people and making sustained efforts to turn out 60 of them to vote in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election.
Wisconsin Takes Action, a project of Organizing Empowerment PAC, held live Zoom training sessions during the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, instructing potential "community mobilizers" on how to reach out to people to encourage them to vote and get paid hundreds of dollars for their outreach efforts.
Attendees could earn $30 by downloading an app from the Empower Project, a left-wing organization that helps "progressive organizations and nonprofits ... activate, build, and expand their activist bases and organizational reach on a meaningful scale," according to its website reported Ms. Mittelstadt.
Read Ms. Mittelstadt's entire article through this link and note that where Democrats used this system Republicans mostly lost – in Wisconsin, in Nevada and in the Georgia runoff.
Imagine what the results might be if pro-life conservatives had a similar effort based in pro-life churches and parents’ rights groups that used similar technology to get conservative parents to turn-in their ballots instead of relying on blast email and 1980s-style phone banks?
Trump and DeSantis have two jobs: Brand the Democrats and forge campaigns that get out of the 1980s and effectively operate in the post-2016 technology-driven ballot turn-in environment. Right now, neither of them are working either job very well, and if they don’t stop carpet-bombing each other and focus on what’s important it won’t matter who wins the Republican nomination in 2024.
George Rasley is editor of Richard Viguerie's ConservativeHQ.com. A veteran of over 300 political campaigns, including every Republican presidential campaign from 1976 to 2004, he served as a staff member or advance representative for some of America’s most recognized conservative political figures, including Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin and Jack Kemp. A member of American MENSA, he served on the House and Senate staff and on the staff of Vice President Dan Quayle. Rasley is a graduate of Hanover College and studied international affairs at Oxford University's Worcester College.
2024 Republican primary race
Get Out the Vote
Wisconsin Supreme Court election