Anatomy of a failed strategy
Glad to see something akin to my theory of the rise and fall of DeSantis is gaining traction.
His covid policy was very popular. Even his early forays into culture war stuff in 2022 (15 week abortion ban, ban on lessons about gender in K-3) worked out well for him because he successfully baited prominent liberals in politics and media into seething with rage at him for things where 60%+ of Americans agree with his position. He was also projecting general competence, such as that insanely fast repair of the causeway to that island after the hurricane. Combine all that with running against a corpse and no surprise he won in a historic landslide. Even against a non-corpse I suspect he would have been well into double digit margin of victory.
But now he's extended the gender/sexuality ban all the way thru high school, passed a 6 week abortion ban, and has people like Nate Hochman and Pedro Gonzalez as campaign surrogates. He's shifted from being anti-lockdown to outright anti-vax. And yesterday a campaign staffer retweeted a video of DeSantis with a Sonnenrad and goosestepping troops (supposedly a fan video, but I suspect Hochman made it, and there's some weak circumstantial evidence pointing to this). This flameout is impressive.
I have a theory that (1) his landslide reelection got to his head, and (2) for some reason he thinks the culture war stupidity is the root of his (now former?) popularity, which it very much is not. I promise you he did not win half the vote in Miami city proper because those folks think protecting gays from terrorist attacks is bad.
I was a huge DeSantis-for-prez booster all the way from his 2018 gov win up until around January this year. Sometimes I kick myself hard for it. But I also have to remind myself 2018-2022 DeSantis is very different from this new 2023 DeSantis.
Everyone understands we're stuck with Trump as the recurring GOP candidate for President until he dies, right?
Sometimes the GOP doesn’t seem to have policy but rather targets for abuse.
I call him Triple AAA Desantis. Could dominate Triple AAA pitching and everyone wants him called up. In the majors cant hit an off speed pitch to save his life and the fans know that.
There's always a danger going after a front runner from the direction of the opposite party as it makes you look traitor-ish. But going after Trump's disorganization, corruption, age, and electoral defeat should all be available to do in a way that looks like your looking out for the party without being ideological. But the Desantis campaign doesn't seem smart enough to do any of it.
This is totally off-topic, but I thought the Twitter X thing was a joke and was pretty shocked to find out that it is real. If Elon had continued to build electric cars and rockets while maintaining a position of relentless media-shy silence, he would be some kind of inscrutable techno-hero. I share nothing of the man's politics, near as I can tell, but this whole affair still makes me kind of sad.
I’ve sort of alluded to this before but I feel like GOP took the wrong lesson from Trump’s electoral success and continuing popularity. Namely too many GOP officials (including DeSantis) think that Trump showed you can be as ideologically extreme as you want to be and not suffer electoral consequences when it’s more you can be corrupt and clownish and due to negative polarization, less of your side will abandon you than you might think*.
It’s weird but I feel like McConnell is the only one who seems to understand this and knows if you want to extreme GOP policy to succeed you need to do it more under the radar or more “removed” from the front pages. Hence obsessive focus on judges. I think it also speaks to the fact that the other real reason more extreme legislation can pass is the skewed make up of state legislatures and the fact most of the stuff passed is just not headlines news. A good example to me is this recent law in Texas passed by Governor Abbot eliminating mandatory water breaks for construction crews. I feel pretty certain that even among GOP voters, this would seem to an almost cartoonishly evil law given the extreme heat in Texas. Also, even if you are a pretty big “free market” conservative, I have to believe that even among this cohort the distortion this previous regulation causes must have been extremely trivial**. And yet the law passed. But because it’s a) not a “front page” story b) a pretty small law that only directly effects a small group of ppl, the negative electoral impact to Abbot or GOP is probably negligible.
* It seems pretty clear that Trump’s corruption and clownish has cost himself and GOP votes in every election since 2016. I think the key is for someone like me, pre 2016 I would have said this level of corruption would have been way more costly. And I don’t think I’m alone.
** honestly. Who was pushing for this? What big donor developer was like “water breaks are devastating my business. Time to get Abbott to do something.” It’s again almost cartoonishly evil.
If DeSantis -- and MY -- want to keep bringing up how good Ron's COVID was they're going to have to reckon with that whole record. Keeping beaches open and preventing nursing home deaths, great. Reopening schools, good. This was partly, let's recall, already about owning the libs, i.e., the teachers' union, and would have been better if paired with more robust prevention and remediation measures, but OK. But quickly downplaying and even discouraging vaccination among the general population? MY might want to explain if that looks better with the passage of time. Too many people are still hung up specifically on NPI mandates re: COVID. I've always expected Trump to use Ron's quasi/pseudo anti-vax stance against him and to run as the GOP pro-science candidate. "I did the vaccines and they ended COVID. Why won't you say if you took the jab, Ron? I did. My family did. Mandates are problematic but vaccines are good! Believe the science, Ron." Srsly.
DeSantis is just Ted Cruz with a tan. He’s an unlikeable malcontent whose self serving motivations are so transparent it’s almost admirable. A couple of years from now people will think it’s hilarious that anyone ever thought he could be a serious contender for national election. The video complications of DeSantis trying to act human with voters will destroy the internet by next spring.
Winning the primary against Trump was always going to be very hard and would probably end in failure. But DeSantis has really shit the bed with his campaign. I don't think he will have another chance at becoming President. Trump will dominate the GoP until he dies or loses his mind, either as President, or as someone who will pick handpick the GoP candidate, or as Dictator.
What really surprises me is the de Santis didn't early take the line that Trump is unelectable because over 50% of the population don't like him, while de Santis has shown that he has won two elections in a big, electorally competetive state. Sure it would have alienated the "Trump really won" crows but de Santis had to attack Trump, and this was less dangerous than directly attacking Trump like Christie has. He could have played the statesman "Yes I supported Trump, and respect him but he'll certainly lose us the election" which would have been a nicer contrast to Trump's predictable, malicious attacks that were inevitable. It almost seems that de Santis was trying to be more Trumpy than Trump when the base was perfectly happy with the genuine article. That said Trump's hold on the Republican party is such that I don't think anyone could beat him. That's bad for America, terrible for Republicans but great for Democrats.
“he would have lost by a much larger margin in 2020 and taken the GOP House majority down with him. “
huh? Democrats had a House majority after 2018 and kept it in 2020.
Great article but you also need to point out that DeSAntis’s first term, and second, included a fair amount of self-serving but good environmental policy. Florida is ground zero for much of climate change and he seems to have understood that red tides and the attendant toxic slurry that blurs one’s vision isn’t great for tourism. So you could as a moderate “Jimmy Buffett/Boomer” retiree who cares about low taxes AND clean beaches vote for him without much concern following the first term.
The extent to which he has gotten the Florida legislature to turn into the Campaign to Elect Ron DeSantis, pushed for judicial initiatives that stack the court system with intellectual lightweights who check the federalist society box, and used his line item veto power in the second term to gut money unanimously dedicated to conservation efforts in my former state are under reported negative hits on his moderate image.
I suspect many Florida voters feel a lot like the mask just got ripped off in the second act and have buyer’s remorse. If the democrats had a functional political party in the state, maybe they’d have something to say about it. The party disfunction there is frankly shocking.
It does seem pretty clear that desantis won’t be in Washington or Tallahassee in a couple years. He did not understand the assignment.
I am going to posit a different theory. Although Matt is correct that RDS is probably too far right, his biggest issue is that once he was introduced to the National stage, everyone learned that he was short, socially awkward, has a high voice and lacks personal charisma. I am no Trump fan, but he eclipses RDS easily on those four scales.
Yeah DeSantis had the strange position of simultaneously being the "reasonable Republican" that could have won back moderate affluent suburb voters, while also appealing to the weirdo Trump base, while also doing really well with Hispanics. Could have just stayed the course and probably been president.
I don't know whether he's personally pickled his brain in the Internet or if he's just getting terrible campaign advice from posters?
NIce article. My one nitpick is this statement: "Trump made some ironclad promises". There is no such thing as an ironclad promise with Trump. If it had really mattered to him to appoint different kinds of people to SCOTUS, he would have done it. He was willing to live up to that promise because he didn't really know or care anything about the issue. So he let the Federalist Society give him short lists of SCOTUS candidates, and interestingly, if you look back at those lists, Trump consistently chose the sanest person from the options he was given. If Neil Gorsuch is too conservative for your tastes (probably a safe bet for most Slow Boring readers), you would have liked the other options even less.