Is Ron DeSantis unlikable?
We hear it all the time, someone we know – or maybe even a stranger in a public place – remarking “I like (such and such). He’s (She’s) doing a great job and a credit to his constituents.”
Or you could just as easily hear, “I can’t stand (such and such). He’s (She’s) a lowdown dirty dog of a scoundrel, corrupt to the core, a liar, a thief, and a detriment to everyone in the country (or district or state, etc.).”
With politics the way it is today, we usually encounter the “don’t like” opinions more often than the positive, thumbs up kind. Longtime followers of American politics learn it’s much easier to voice contrarian thoughts out loud than praise someone everyone has heard of but not everyone feels good about. Dedicated fans of former President Donald Trump, for prime example, recognized early on that his name shouldn’t always be dropped in polite company lest a raging liberal expose his or her true sensibilities about Trump’s bona fides and ruin an otherwise friendly get together.
Imagine appearing on “The View” and telling the old crow hosts how much you appreciated Trump’s often contentious relationship with the nasty, vindictive crone Nancy Pelosi. Or Trump’s multitude of moments mocking nasally liar “Chucky” Schumer, a man so averse to stating the truth that he’s incapable of spouting anything that isn’t a talking point on a sheet drawn up by the spinmeisters at Democrat Party headquarters.
As with everything else in life, a politician’s “likability” is in the eye of the beholder. Ronald Reagan was absolutely revered by conservatives and Republicans because of his always sunny outlook, the ultimate “happy warrior” who appeared immune to criticism and insults from the leftist Democrats and the establishment media during his years in Washington. Hollywood celebrities hated Reagan (some, at least). Leftist musicians wrote songs about him. It’s hard being a politician, isn’t it?
Many of the critics who seemingly enjoy ripping everyone have now taken off after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who they claim isn’t likable. We could spend hours debating the point, but the only relevant question now, is, can DeSantis win the GOP presidential nod without a likability makeover?
In a piece titled “Ron DeSantis Takes On the Likability Issue (Sort Of)”, liberal establishmentarian Jonathan Martin took on the topic at Politico Magazine:
“DeSantis’s deficiencies … can’t be easily dismissed. They get at the heart of a much larger question, something more consequential than even donor vanity, that will shape his prospects in 2024: how much does retail politics still matter in presidential campaigns?
“More to the point, was Trump an exception, a celebrity playing by a different set of rules, or a turning point in presidential primaries? In 2016, he ignored the purported expectations of early nominating states, blowing in and out with large rallies, made little attempt to court Republican lawmakers and, no, wasn’t calling donors and remembering their kids’ names.
“DeSantis has thrived in Florida, and made a national name for himself, with his piercing attacks on the left and gift for finding the erogenous zones of the new right. And he’s done it mostly thanks to his ubiquity on Fox News and with a series of news conferences or public events that went viral.”
Martin’s point is interesting if only partially true. The Politico writer’s theory was mostly based on anecdotes gathered from recent DeSantis appearances where the Florida governor didn’t linger long after his scheduled speaking time to mingle with guests and press the flesh with donors. Yet Martin also relayed that he didn’t speak with any of the mystified notables at DeSantis’s inauguration who indicated they were still pondering supporting Donald Trump in 2024, either.
It's safe to say, at this point, most conservatives and Republicans are just getting to know Ron DeSantis. Up until now, DeSantis has been a name and face on Fox News, and except for those who live in Florida, are not all that familiar with him apart from what we’ve seen on TV or read in the media (establishment or otherwise). We’ve heard about DeSantis’s many successful battles with the “woke” forces of the left, but we don’t know what he’s like one-on-one other than he’s a pretty serious kind of guy who is solar systems removed from the media entertainment circus that always followed the much older Trump.
It doesn’t require a complete rehash to suggest Trump did it his way from the beginning. Whereas it’d always been that early states like Iowa and New Hampshire demanded wannabe-presidential candidates to visit frequently, set off on barnstorming bus tours through the territory, become intimately familiar with every diner and coffee shop in every zip code and stop to speak personally with each and every citizen who bothered to show up to see them, Trump sold his MAGA concept, not himself.
It wouldn’t have done the lifelong real estate developer and reality TV show celebrity much good to devote appreciable time to so-called retail politics, because most everyone already knew who he was and, let’s face it, many of the attendees at these events would be more focused on the tabloid-type gossip than Trump’s Make American Great Again platform.
It was almost like we knew Trump even if we’d never seen him in person or delivering a mostly ad-libbed speech full of rhetorical flare about political issues rather than merely hearing about his real estate or business prowess and his knack for entertainment. Trump was a worldwide recognized figure for decades before he ever went political.
It’s a standard we weren’t used to and might not ever see again. Some would say they never want to see it again, though to claim Trump changed politics is an understatement. No one could hope to replicate Trump’s campaign formula and every other potential candidate has certain advantages in that sense – namely, interested voters will want to hear about DeSantis’s platform and what he intends to do to reverse course in the country rather than listen to him brag about his brand and the quality of the neckties his company sells.
The way things are evolving with the Biden family document scandal it seems plausible that senile Joe will not be running again on the Democrat ticket – or he’ll certainly be delaying an official announcement until the dust settles, if it ever does – so there more than likely will be parallel primary campaigns in both parties like there was in 2016. Democrats will struggle to settle on a candidate with the “likability” factor of ol’ back slappin’, hair sniffin’ Joe combined with a deep commitment to the current party’s socialist bent.
No one currently comes to mind. Most Democrats simply aren’t likable. Hillary Clinton, anyone?
Republicans will divide into two camps. One will follow Trump and the others will compete for the main not-Trump position. I think DeSantis will be the initial frontrunner for the not-Trumps, but if he can’t muster the “likability” element sufficient to hold onto the spot, it could open the door for someone like Mike Pence or Glenn Youngkin. Both of those guys are imminently likable.
Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had a “likability” problem in 2016, though his was a hard position to be in against a political novelty like Donald Trump. Compared with the New Yorker, the midwestern-born Walker couldn’t compete to capture Republican voters’ imaginations. Will the same dilemma impact DeSantis as well?
It’s hard to envision Ron DeSantis holding mass rallies like Trump did with thousands of screaming “fans” cheering along with Ron’s every proclamation. Sarah Palin had the Trump-like magic in 2008 – John McCain certainly didn’t – but Palin was new on the scene, possessed a folksy “aw shucks” type personality and understood how to get a crowd riled up.
Sarah was the kind of unabashed politician you either loved or hated. The same with Donald Trump. I don’t see DeSantis falling into this category, however.
DeSantis is about the same age now that Palin was in 2008, and his youth and presence will be different than Trump’s career celebrity was seven years ago. DeSantis has the advantage of being much more well known than Sarah was when John McCain introduced her, and this will play somewhat to his advantage.
Barack Obama famously said to Hillary Clinton in 2008 that she was “likable enough” -- so it does matter to the voting public how a candidate is perceived on a personal level. Ron DeSantis will have to work on his “act” to come across as being “presidential” and approachable at the same time. It shouldn’t be hard for him – he’s got so much going for him.
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