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The Fundamental Error At The Heart Of The DeSantis Campaign

Updated: Jan 21

Florida’s principled limited government constitutional conservative Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has ended his campaign for President. As a Floridian who liked the way DeSantis applied his brand of no-nonsense conservatism to state government, I’m sorry to see him leave the race for President, but I’m not surprised he did not fare better.

And Governor DeSantis’s exit from the race has nothing to do with the raps the establishment media has used to knock him since his first campaign for Congress – “he’s wooden” or “does not smile enough” or is “inarticulate” or any of the smart-alecky Trump comments about “meatball Ron” wearing elevator cowboy boots.


I remember going to New Hampshire in 2000 to see George W. Bush campaign in the state that had saved his father in 1988.

Talk about wooden. I sat through one speech and thought “This guy is so bad he can never get the nomination, let alone win in November.”

The “Dubya” campaign was also infected with a bad case of hubris. Allegedly, the candidate did not like to come out to speak until everyone was politely seated. Bush’s opponents – especially Senator John McCain – sent kids to mill around at Bush events ensuring that he always started late, much to the annoyance of potential supporters and a critical media.


George W. Bush lost New Hampshire but righted his campaign and went on to win the Republican nomination and the presidency… twice.


In 2008, at one point early in the cycle Sen. John McCain was so low in the polls and so low on money he had no media and was flying around with one staffer and carrying his own luggage. Yet, after being reviled by the Bush people for eight years and being shunned by most of his Senate Republican colleagues McCain came back to win the Republican nomination.


And in 2012 Mitt Romney certainly proved you don’t have to have empathy and a winning personality to at least get the Republican nomination.


We conservatives may not like to admit it, and some of the tactics they used still stick in our craws, but George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney each had a “hole in the market” with room to grow their vote.


We conservatives may not like the establishment Republicanism of Bush and Romney and the anti-conservative “Maverick” brand of McCain Republicanism, but they each had a large enough market segment and were able to differentiate themselves from the other candidates to gather enough votes to win the GOP nomination.


The real reason the DeSantis campaign never really took off is that it was built on a fundamental error – listening to consultants and Republican “leaders” instead of actual voters – who convinced Governor DeSantis that Trumpism without Trump would be a winning package.


And it very well might have been, except voters who like Trumpism, the MAGA Movement, America First policies, or whatever you want to call it, still had the choice of the real thing.


When given the choice between Trump and his policies (or at least his promises) and Trump’s policies without Trump regular voters out in real America overwhelmingly chose Trump and his policies.

Yes, Republican elected officials and conservative movement leaders who support the America First agenda but are suffering from Trump fatigue induced by the chaos that seems to follow Mr. Trump wherever he goes or who prefer a candidate who can get through a speech without dropping an F-bomb count for something.


But in talking with real, “regular guy” voters, it quickly becomes apparent that those are concerns of what one might call “connected conservatives,” the folks that live and breathe politics.


The guys at the bait shop, they don’t mind Trump-induced chaos, and the more establishment or DC corporate Republican crockery Trump breaks, the better as far as they are concerned.


The fact that Governor DeSantis methodically went after a Trump-like agenda and actually got stuff done in Florida, where Trump often failed in DC, proved to be largely immaterial to a big chunk of Republican voters as long as the man himself was still in the campaign.


Talking with actual voters, not listening to consultants whose paychecks depended on DeSantis launching a national campaign, might have shown the Governor the premise of his candidacy was in error.


Does this mean the America First agenda is merely a Trump “cult of personality”?


Not hardly.


The America First agenda is alive and well in DC and state capitols around the country, often pushed or led by legislators and political activists, like Rep. Chip Roy and Iowa’s Bob Vander Plaats, who didn’t endorse the former president for reelection.


So, will Ron DeSantis quietly serve out his term as Governor of Florida and retire from public life?


We hope not.


Richard Nixon and John McCain both came back from campaigns that foundered to win the Republican nomination, and in Nixon’s case to win a landslide victory in the general election. McCain spent the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency in virtual isolation, before persevering to the GOP nomination in 2008.


The best thing Ron DeSantis can do for the country, for Florida and for himself is to get back to Florida and preside over a successful 2024 session of the Florida legislature, and to put more conservative wins on the board.

George Rasley is editor of Richard Viguerie's 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.

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