Hard as it is to believe, it’s almost been a month since former president Donald Trump was arraigned in Miami on federal charges for allegedly violating the mystifyingly obscure and
rarely used Espionage Act by keeping some government records deemed classified within his Mar-a-Lago post-presidency home.
Yes, the Feds even claimed they found boxes stuffed into a shower. Was such a revelation intended to embarrass Trump or simply disparage themselves?
At any rate, perhaps even more challenging to fathom is the purported reaction of the citizenry to the charges. Polls suggest that a strong majority of Americans think the whole affair was politically motivated, spurned to its unnatural conclusion by a Merrick Garland-led in-Justice Department bent on making an example out of Trump while simultaneously attempting to eliminate what many see as senile president Joe Biden’s most serious competition for next year’s presidential election.
Of course, there’s an emerging school of thought that Democrats are purposely turning Trump into a sympathetic character so as to guarantee his re-nomination as the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Reasonable or not, liberals – and a good number of Republicans, too – believe a Trump candidacy would be a certain loser against frail and senile Joe. Debate will rage back-and-forth over the merits of their contention, but for now, let’s assume there’s some truth in the declaration.
If the Democrats’ plan is to get Trump – again – and thus pave the path for Joe Biden’s soon-to-be senior walker, they appear to be succeeding. If it could be said Trump’s lead was strong prior to his criminal charges in both New York and Florida, his margin is even more solid now. Not even Ron DeSantis’s entrance into the race well over a month ago seemed to have an effect on Trump’s polling numbers – they’ve only shot up, a fact that the lifelong real estate developer and tabloid celebrity is happy to frequently tout on his Truth Social platform.
We’re still (likely) over seven months from the first primary votes being cast in Iowa next winter, yet the somewhat immovable nature of the current polls – and the fact Trump is being pursued in an obvious witch hunt – is motivating some to call for the former president’s intra-party opponents to voluntarily remove themselves from the race.
Still others, a group which I find myself inhabiting, take more of a “wait and see” orientation. The last thing conservatives need now is a hasty rallying ‘round the man who can generate headlines (negative or otherwise) simply by sneezing in the wrong direction. I’m not alone. In a piece titled “DeSantis Refuses to Lose”, the always tell-it-like-it-is Kurt Schlichter argued at Townhall:
“This is a two-man race.
“And it's a marathon, not a sprint. Ron DeSantis, like [legendary Roman Statesman and General Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus] Fabius, must merely hold on. He just has to not quit. That's why they are trying their ham-handed attempts to psyche him out and get him off his plan. They know that if RDS does not get crushed now, he is in the fight, and the decisive battles will be in Iowa and New Hampshire. Team DeSantis is preparing the groundwork for those fights while Trump is trying to relive the glory days of 2016 with lots of social media, interviews, and the occasional rally to audiences of superfans who follow his shows like patriotic Grateful Deadheads with MAGA hats instead of tie-dye.
“Will the DeSantis Fabian strategy work? Fabius's plan did. Rome survived, grew more powerful, and eventually beat the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War. In the Third Punic War, the Romans finished the job, sowing the ruins of Carthage with salt. Hopefully, if DeSantis's strategy pays off and he wins (unlike Trump, DeSantis is beating Biden in the battleground states), he can pull a Carthage on the whole damn swamp. Because that's how Romans roll.”
Funny, I never envisioned Ron DeSantis as a Roman-type leader, but then again, I don’t know nearly as much about western civilization history as Schlichter apparently does. But the analogy could work, if DeSantis continues his campaign as though he’s biding his time, counting on Trump to make a mistake – or for conservatives to simply get tired of the leader.
The likelihood of either a Trump-ian mistake or for limited government lovers to grow weary with Trump – isn’t all that great, in my opinion. Over the course of these eight years he’s worked in politics, Trump has committed what looked to be error after error only to have them disregarded by the voters as some form of DC swamp conspiracy to get him.
And why wouldn’t people think this? The always bombastic, boastful and confident Trump has opened himself up to the attacks only to deflect them like Darth Vader did to Han Solo’s blaster (in The Empire Strikes Back). Here’s thinking Trump has weathered so many assaults, nibbles, full-on bites, lawsuits, political savages and establishment media smear jobs that he finds himself invincible. His backers love him and many would willingly fall on their swords to advance him. How is this going to change?
So it probably won’t happen that Trump’s legions will get tired of him. But he could still very well make a fatal mistake – or at least one that would bring DeSantis back into the equation. As much as Trump wouldn’t admit it, he’s not perfect. His handling of January 6, 2021 and its aftermath was hardly a manifestation of unassailable political skill. As the demonstration got out of hand, Trump should’ve gone on TV and called for a cessation of “hostilities”. If he had, it would’ve saved him a lot of post-event grief.
What conservative didn’t see the melee and surmise that it was not only the end of Trump’s presidency, but also his political career? Democrats have since tried to make Trump’s role on that afternoon much larger than it actually was, yet the man’s stubbornness and reticence to show remorse for the occasion is one thing people can still talk about and use against him. It probably won’t make a difference in the Republican primary race, but the issue still hangs above Trump whether he acknowledges it or not.
Schlichter is correct (or mostly correct); DeSantis has time on his side. Eventually, and I can’t pinpoint exactly when, but conservatives and Republicans will begin listening to the issue platforms of the different candidates and piece the entire picture together to finalize their support. The music’s just started and folks are deciding whether they even want to dance. Those who do get up from the table will put a lot of effort into it, not go through the motions.
Meanwhile, Trump isn’t all about settling old scores as his enemies insist that he is. He’s put out a number of watch-worthy policy ideas on his Truth Social network (like this recent one on impoundment). One would hope, as he did in 2016, that he will devote entire speeches to content-filled proposals that get beyond the punch back nature of the campaign. Perhaps, now that his polling lead is so vast, Trump can (and should) drop the personal pecking and concentrate on selling his candidacy rather than just his combative nature.
If Trump were to take this approach, he would all-but eliminate the possibility of committing a fatal political mistake, no matter how unlikely. At this point, Trump probably isn’t going to build on his support in the GOP primaries. But if he’s not careful he can start losing chunks of voters who demand more substance and fewer iterations of “DeSanctimonious” or other ill-advised put downs.
Chris Christie’s campaign launch was practically drowned-out by Trump’s arraignment, but the rotund New Jersian doesn’t have any other purpose than bringing Trump down. Other party candidates will try doing the same thing, though there probably won’t be the same effect. Trump will endure a thorough piling on if he participates in the primary debates (in a little over a month’s time), but he won’t be doing himself any favors by avoiding them, either.
Democrats have already announced that they won’t hold head-to-head forums with senile Joe and his challengers, so if Trump were to stay away, Americans would have no opportunities to see the party campaign leaders in action. Is that giving the people what they really want?
The fact is, the floor of Trump’s backing will probably not go below about a third of the primary vote – again, unless something catastrophic happens. DeSantis and the others must therefore work with about seventy percent of the support. In some states, the numbers might not even be that generous.
DeSantis doesn’t need to win in Iowa or New Hampshire, merely be close enough to imply that there’s a real race at hand for when the others peel away. There simply isn’t any scenario where there will be more than a couple legitimate contenders remaining after the early states. Therefore, DeSantis would be wise to hold back and do what he’s doing – namely, staying visible and focusing fully on policy. He’ll either make progress vis-à-vis Trump, or he won’t.
There isn’t a good reason, at this point, for a candidate like Ron DeSantis to hang up his campaign shoes, and there isn’t justification for Governor Ron to go all-out against Trump, either. The summer is long and Americans are waiting for the debates and the fall season to truly assess where the race is. Prepare to linger. Patience is a virtue, right?
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