It’s usually said that a proverbial “White Knight” candidate doesn’t appear until late in the primary campaign season, but this year the phenomenon might be materializing much
sooner. Like now – or more specifically, in a few months, when the Florida state legislative session concludes.
Amidst all the furor and hubbub surrounding the potential indictment of Donald Trump last week came news of Governor Ron DeSantis finally commenting publicly about the 2024 GOP presidential primary race. For months DeSantis has seemingly deflected the not-so-veiled blows from the former president, almost as though pretending not to hear them. Much has been written about DeSantis’s lack of retort to Trump’s tactics.
That all changed when DeSantis sat down for a one-on-one with Piers Morgan last week, where the mild-mannered Floridian felt empowered to discuss a multitude of topics, including the 45th president’s incendiary remarks about him, questioning DeSantis’s accomplishments and all-but shouting “He’s the establishment!” in the face of the much younger man.
It’s hard to imagine things getting any lower than recent months, but it’s evident that DeSantis, assuming he runs for president, isn’t about to sit by passively while Trump lofts rhetorical bombs and mortar shells with no return fire from the governor of both men’s home state.
“It was clear that the governor has had enough of Trump’s constant baiting and felt ready to take him on in what could end up being a ferocious battle for the White House.
“And in a series of jabs at likely his biggest rival for the Republican nomination, DeSantis slammed Trump over his character failings, chaotic leadership style, and for his handling of the COVID pandemic — especially in keeping controversial health chief Dr. Anthony Fauci in his post helping to run the White House coronavirus task force. Trump even awarded a presidential commendation medal to Fauci in one of his last acts as president.
“’When I asked DeSantis to cite specific differences between him and Trump, he said: ‘Well, I think there’s a few things. The approach to COVID was different. I would have fired somebody like Fauci. I think he got way too big for his britches, and I think he did a lot of damage.’ DeSantis also slammed Trump’s chaotic, self-obsessed, divisive management style: ‘I also think just in terms of my approach to leadership, I get personnel in the government who have the agenda of the people and share our agenda. You bring your own agenda in, you’re gone. We’re just not gonna have that. So, the way we run the government, I think, is no daily drama, focus on the big picture and put points on the board, and I think that’s something that’s very important.’”
Yes, putting proverbial points on the board is extremely imperative, though I’m sure in a moment of clarity – and absolute truth telling – DeSantis would probably admit Trump qualifies as the nation’s leading scorer in the federal policy department. Trump distinguished himself from every other politician in the country by keeping his campaign promises to the letter starting on Day One in the White House.
And yes, Trump is known for some huge exaggerations – like “We’re going to build the wall and Mexico’s gonna pay for it”, or “Our inauguration day crowds were the biggest ever” or “We had the best economy in American history”. Such boasts we’ve come to expect from a man like Trump, whose spiel “scores” just as many points as his on the field/court exploits.
But is DeSantis correct that Trump has limited himself by his character shortcomings, uneven leadership style and shaky handling of the COVID farce? Such matters are yet to be seen, but the trench lines are being established and, if Gov. Ron does as everyone expects him to do – runs for president – don’t anticipate either man holding much back. After making these claims, especially as a challenger to Trump’s throne, DeSantis can’t expect the man practically twice his age to go easy on him.
In his wide-ranging interview with Morgan (which aired last Thursday night and generous excerpts appear in the above linked article), DeSantis claimed he’s not in the least bothered by Trump’s nicknames and he seemed to take pride in his defending Trump when in Congress at the outset of the bogus Russian collusion accusations. Gov. Ron also hinted that his campaign would not be overtly negative, and that all Republican candidates should be wishing each other well for the good of the party and the nation.
Put it this way – it doesn’t look like DeSantis will be reformulating Trump’s moniker into some sort of slanderous nickname. To do so would be completely out of place for a man in his mid-forties running against a former president in his late 70’s. There’s a limit to how much can be accomplished by personally trashing your opponent, and, at least for now, DeSantis has recognized those boundaries.
Which is a good thing, because there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by going low against a serial puncher like Trump. Trump clearly intends to make age and experience an issue in the campaign, and there’s no way DeSantis can hope to match Trump’s amazing journey through life, which includes his remarkable political experience.
If anything, DeSantis appears to be drawing a maturity contrast. By suggesting that there’d be a lot less drama in a DeSantis administration, Gov. Ron is implying that Trump’s off-the-cuff behavior and fondness for late night social media posting took away from the more crucial policy transformations he was hoping to make in his first couple years. The Democrats’ stupid Russia investigation and then witch hunt over an innocuous phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy – and subsequent impeachment – stole much of Trump’s ability to work the system in his favor.
Then, just as Trump had beaten the absurd impeachment effort and was preparing to ramp up his reelection campaign, COVID struck. It’s no stretch to say everyone in the country was searching for the proper way to handle the invasion of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, or Wuhan, if you prefer) virus and to assess what the federal authorities were telling us.
DeSantis was among the first to ease lockdown restrictions, but he also initially went along with some of them while cautioning the Florida population to follow the directions of the CDC and NIH under Dr. “fuzzball” Anthony Fauci. For the governor to assert now, in hindsight, that he would’ve fired Fauci is a bit over-the-top. It’s speculative. DeSantis may very well have done it, but it’s up to every observer to recall the mood of the country at the time and consider whether Trump did the right thing under the circumstances.
DeSantis has his work cut out for him trying to distinguish himself from Trump in something other than personality, character and slight departures on certain issues. Gov. Ron’s recent answers to Tucker Carlson’s questionnaire on Ukraine revealed that his views closely align with Trump’s “America First” platform. Given that Trump’s been around a lot longer and actually served as president, it’ll be an uphill battle for DeSantis to take the lead based on foreign policy or freshness alone.
And although DeSantis has been terrific in his very public moves to deal with illegal immigration, every Republican non-Trump candidate will struggle to outdo Trump’s leadership on America’s most pressing problem. On border security, what’s DeSantis going to say – that he would be just like Trump on the subject?
More than a few conservative former Trump backers have now wandered away from him precisely because everything is so public and contentious with the ex-New Yorker. DeSantis’s relatively calm demeanor and friendly nature in the Piers Morgan interview is a credit to him, but softball-type questions from a sympathetic ear don’t count for much compared to what will happen later this summer.
Likewise, DeSantis could benefit from Trump’s ongoing legal battles, but how much? Lots of smart people have said that the establishment’s politically motivated investigations and possible prosecutions will only make Trump stronger and his followers more intractable in their political loyalties. At this point, only an outright endorsement from Trump himself would dislodge many – if not most – of them. If DeSantis makes it too personal, the prideful Trump may not be obliged to give him what he needs at the right moment.
If I were advising DeSantis, I would follow much of his current strategy, but also come right out and credit Trump for helping him get to where he is today. There’s no harm in praising Trump in the ways in which he’s earned it – kind of like fellow Republican Vivek Ramaswamy has dealt with the topic.
Governor Ron DeSantis is no “White Knight” candidate, and his competition with Donald Trump this summer and fall will definitely be must-see TV. How he handles the pressure and the grind of the national campaign trail remains to be seen. Both men had better recognize that this is the war to save America from the leftists. Will they realize it before it’s too late?
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