Okay, now what do we do?
This question must’ve been on the minds of a lot of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s 2024 presidential campaign supporters last weekend when the news wires cooked to practical overheating by the breaking story that their candidate had opted to leave the race just two days before the New Hampshire primary. I can’t say for sure, but DeSantis’s diehards must’ve felt like the fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills, both of which were eliminated from the playoffs in closely contested games later that same day.
Yes, DeSantis’s action came as quite a shock considering its curious timing, but his campaign had been headed on a downward trend for months, so the end came more as the result of a slow burn and ultimate collapse than something that ignited through spontaneous combustion and simply disappeared in an instant as though it had never existed to begin with.
The cruise ship Titanic took over two hours to sink below the surface once it had struck the infamous iceberg. DeSantis’s presidential campaign’s descent was much slower after colliding with the Donald Trump “reelection” effort 2.0. Was it doomed from the outset? Debate will no doubt rage for a while as attention turns to the remainder of the 2024 Republican race (how long will it take team Nikki Haley to throw in the towel?) and then dramatically shift again to the much more salient general election campaign.
DeSantis himself announced he was fully endorsing Trump in the Republican race. This was hardly unexpected despite the former president’s rather unkind treatment of his fellow Floridian during the campaign. Should Gov. Ron’s backers hold a grudge, or go full MAGA?
In an opinion piece titled “Time for Us DeSantis Supporters to Rally Around Donald Trump”, the always bomb-throwing and usually dead-on Kurt Schlichter concluded at Townhall the other day:
“Don’t confuse being butthurt over some third-tier slanders by ridiculous fringies or the disappointment that comes with losing when you think you should’ve won with occupying the moral high ground. You’re not a better person if your actions help Joe Biden win. You’re mad. I get it. Let it go...“…I’m not presuming to tell you how to vote. I will give you my opinion on why you should vote for Donald Trump, but you’re free to disregard it. It’s a free country – at least until Biden is reelected. I just hope you will think carefully about your choice if you are a DeSantis supporter who is still mad about the primary. Most of us are already backing the President. Governor DeSantis is supporting Donald Trump. And if you aren’t, you’re supporting Biden.
“Get up, brush off the dirt, and get back in the game. Up and down the ballot, from top to bottom, we have got to win. It matters – it matters more than our disappointment and anger. The guy we supported sees that. And the Governor is right as usual. Let’s do this thing.”
In his exit announcement, DeSantis did indeed admit he signed the RNC’s pledge to support whomever won the nomination, and that he intended to honor his pledge. It was a convenient way for the just-capitulated candidate to convey an “I gotta do what I said I’d do” message to not only his backers, but also the Trump people and the uppers at the Republican National Committee.
Hence everyone had a smile on their face, except maybe for DeSantis, who tried his darndest to look chipper and upbeat but who had to be going through pangs of horror at having his campaign end like this. No one likes to lose, least of all an eminently driven and successful man like Governor Ron. But it’s not like his career is over. Far from it. There are still many unwritten chapters to his tale.
But in wars, defeated countries sometimes surrender to salvage what’s left of their lives and territory. DeSantis went out while there was still some of his dignity still intact.
That’s a good thing. As far as his supporters go, it now boils down to an either/or question rather than a, “Well, if he doesn’t win, then there’s always X to possibly get behind.” Trump is it. He’s the only lifeboat left on the Republican deck and the water’s rising fast in the badly listing American ship. Senile Joe and the Democrats may save you, but they’d then either commit you to a prison barge or worse – send you to a slave galley to row until you collapse. And then they’d toss your exhausted body overboard as so much useless ballast.
Conservatives have experienced this either/or dilemma before. It’s safe to say some of DeSantis’s supporters journeyed through a similar sense of loss to those of Ted Cruz in 2016, and were faced with the quandary of whether to take the Florida governor’s advice and basically replace your yard signs to take up with Trump – or merely call it quits altogether.
Many Cruz backers, myself included, were in a similar state of mind in the late spring of 2016 when the Texas senator turned off his own music and halted his campaign buses after the fateful Indiana primary, where Trump won convincingly and closed off Ted’s path to victory. The difference now being that the 2016 GOP campaign had been incredibly intense, personal and vitriol-filled to the point where Cruz couldn’t even get himself to endorse the race-winner at the party convention a few months later. (Note: Cruz did come around to backing Trump in the fall and the two have been all-good ever since.)
By taking the high road – granted, it’s still only January – and joining what surely will be the winning side, DeSantis eliminated the kind of conjecture that motivates people to avoid hard choices, such as forgiving and forgetting Trump for his low blows, gloating and less desirable behavior during the campaign.
Overall, lots of Republicans must be disappointed that the race is ending so quickly. What once looked as though it could be an exciting, substance-filled and entertaining campaign has now devolved into a de facto Trump coronation with little in the way of crowning the former president as the future of the Republican party. Donald Trump is a talented man, but even he probably never envisioned he would be regarded as the past, present and future of the GOP – especially since, not all that long ago, relatively speaking, he was officially a Democrat.
Plus, the 2024 Republican primary campaign, at least thus far, didn’t really settle a whole lot. Trump kicked off the running shortly after the 2022 federal midterm elections concluded, with the establishment media labelling him a wounded, all-but washed-up former president and accused felon who was only interested in trying for the presidency a third time because he was hell bent on exacting revenge – not only on the Democrats, the media and his multitude of DC swamp detractors, but also on those who wouldn’t give him an audience on his claims of being cheated out of his 2020 victory.
The Liz Cheneys and Adam Kinzingers of the Republican party had been forcibly relegated to the peripheral of the GOP through retirements or primary election defeats, finding solace – and employment – only as guests on liberal cable TV networks or positions (in Cheney’s case) as academians at leftist, out-of-touch universities. And they wrote books, too, some of which actually sold quite well.
Then there was Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, both of whom either retired or will be gone by the time the next president is inaugurated next year. As the rancor in the Republican-controlled House has visibly demonstrated, RINOs are still alive and well in Congress, but their voices are more muted than before, the swamp skunks terrified of making too big a stink and being branded by the MAGA forces as targets for primary challenges. The GOP is far from “fixed”, but Trump has mostly succeeded in uniting its warring factions, making them ready to take on broken down president senile Joe Biden (or whomever the Democrats end up nominating) in November.
In all of this, Donald Trump didn’t change, and if he did, it isn’t noticeable. His abortion position has evolved somewhat since the beginning of his political career – now he’s taking more of a nuanced centrist position since his three Supreme Court Justice nominees have sent Roe v. Wade to the dustbin of history – but he still champions the cause of life, albeit quieter, in favor of a “We need to win elections” stance.
Otherwise, Trump is still talking about mostly the same things he was last year, and the year before that – and the years before that. Meanwhile, the Republican Trump haters are keeping up their whining and griping about “Trump will lose” and “Trump is the only way that Joe Biden can win” sour grapes. It’s hard to tell if they’re just frustrated that the 2024 primary campaign didn’t go differently or they’re actually nearing the equivalent of a political nervous breakdown.
Or it could be more like a childish tantrum where they lay on the floor, kicking their legs in the air and screaming “I’m not gonna do it! I’m not gonna do it! And you’re not gonna make me do it either!” There will certainly be some of that in the coming weeks and months. Be prepared. And as Schlichter counsels, get over it.
As for Nikki Haley, her public denials notwithstanding, she knows she’s not going to beat Trump. Nikki might still be holding out hope she’s still under consideration for Trump’s vice president or it could be she’s merely attempting to establish a position as the Republican party’s next-in-line candidate for 2028. The GOP has a tradition of anointing the second-place finishers from the previous campaign, though thankfully, the grassroots appears to have moved on from the notion since Mitt Romney won the nomination in 2012.
Ron DeSantis did himself and the Republican Party a favor by bowing out so early in the primary season. He could have stayed on and served as a foil for Nikki Haley, but Trump is in no danger of losing his grip on the 2024 party nomination. Now, it appears as though the party is in the process of unifying and setting itself up for the effort to beat Joe Biden and the Democrats. Bring it on.
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