The announcement hit like a lightning bolt from the blue yesterday afternoon, the news that Gov. Ron DeSantis was suspending his presidential campaign – and endorsing the man who’d all-but singlehandedly killed his chance to ascend in 2024 -- former president Donald Trump.
It was no secret that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would’ve come in third tomorrow. Tomorrow being the quadrennial New Hampshire primary, where citizens of one of the country’s smallest states (geographically speaking) head to their polling places to cast votes for party nominees for president.
For those unfamiliar with New Hampshire’s rules, the primary voting is “open” there, meaning independents and even some Democrats can opt to take part in either party’s balloting, a flexible choice many Democrats will likely take advantage of because president senile Joe Biden has been so brazenly contemptuous of The Granite State (Biden didn’t bother filing paperwork on time, so he’s not even on the primary ballot). Plus, they’d rather do something meaningful with their time.
The 2016 and 2020 Republican winner, Donald Trump, would normally be considered a shoe-in to take the top spot in The Granite State, but recent polls have shown wishy-washy “moderate” establishment candidate Nikki Haley’s numbers creeping up to challenge the frontrunner and she could, given the right combination of disaffected Never Trumpers and Democrats, independent voters, etc., win there.
That’s yet to be determined. But DeSantis, who didn’t fit the state’s New England-ish ideological bent, would’ve almost certainly have struggled up north. But shouldn’t Gov. Ron have just stuck it out a few more days/weeks to demonstrate respect for the process?
“[DeSantis] needs to stay in it with the knowledge that he isn’t going to win without something catastrophic happening to Trump. DeSantis should stay in the race with the express purpose of destroying Nikki Haley as a political entity.
“He needs to do it for selfish reasons, because discrediting her and chasing her out of the GOP means DeSantis would be the de-facto frontrunner for 2028. Serving as Trump’s attack dog for the rest of the campaign could be a platform for a rapprochement between the two that the Republican Party needs going forward, and that could inure to DeSantis’ benefit in the form of Trump either endorsing him or merely not standing in his way when the 2028 cycle gets going.
“But, most of all, Ron DeSantis needs to stick around and eviscerate Haley because the Republican Party cannot revert to the mediocre, base-betraying, donor-class-slave Washington Generals operation that it was between 1988 and 2016 and seems to want to become again.”
Oh, what might have been. Why didn’t I think of McKay’s rationale? Well, I kind of did, but for different reasons.
To those, like myself, who watched last week’s Iowa results trickle across TV screens and wondered whether the trouncing the not-Trump candidates endured would trigger a mass knee-jerk common-sense reaction and they’d suddenly grasp the futile nature of their campaigns and exit the race to promote “unity” within the party -- McKay’s argument would not make sense.
Sure, Vivek Ramaswamy saw his chance of unseating Trump fade to zero and decided he’d spent enough of his own money riding buses across Iowa and New Hampshire to gather it was time to leave. But Ramaswamy, though immensely brilliant and talented, never had a shot to begin with. Voters who loved Trump weren’t about to replace their beloved political figurehead with a fast-talking thirty-something upstart who hadn’t even voted in a presidential election until relatively recently (in political time, that is).
But Ramaswamy still had served a vital purpose within the Republican Party by becoming the self-appointed Nikki Haley foil, a role he took on with gusto and pursued despite being booed by the party establishment and labeled a woman hater by the sensitive sort who couldn’t stomach seeing a lady being called “CORRUPT” to her face and also have her family’s integrity questioned before the whole world.
Haley has often said, “It’s not personal with me”, but oh yes, it was. Vivek struck for Haley’s corrupt jugular and drew blood – not just with Haley’s eye rolls and name-calling (“You’re just scum!”), but also by exposing Nikki’s lifeline in politics, the wealthy donors who gave her millions so she could keep the gravy train running with only one stop -- to the military industrial complex.
If Ramaswamy had truly hoped to win the Republican presidential nomination as he maintained, there’s no way he would’ve behaved in this manner, because the Karl Rove’s and Mitt Romney’s and George W. Bush’s of the DC swamp would’ve come a-runnin’ to her defense like New Jersey dirigible Chris Christie did in the December party forum.
Vivek left the race because he wanted to help Trump, and figured most of his voters would heed his call and move to the former president’s column in future primaries and caucuses. Ramaswamy’s voters may have only represented a small part of the electorate, but a few points are a few points and matter a lot, especially in tight races. I didn’t hear anyone point it out last week, but if Trump had received Ramaswamy’s Iowa voters, the former president would’ve neared sixty percent of the tally.
Sixty percent seems to be the threshold for “outsider” votes, having been the number established, more or less, in the 2016 campaign (with Trump, Cruz, Carson and Fiorina splitting the 60 percent). With DeSantis champion joining Trump in the race, the figure went up higher. In conservative states, it’s now around 80 percent of the total votes.
But with Ramaswamy out of the race, the destroy-Haley duties should’ve gone to Ron DeSantis. I believe the Floridian must’ve appreciated this too – at least for a time -- as his recent appearances on national media have been devoted to bringing out the truth on naughty corrupt Nikki for the voting world to see. Some, if not most, Republican race observers attributed DeSantis’s more aggressive stance to his needing to compete with Haley for the existing not-Trump voters.
This may have been correct, too, but it also looked as though Gov. Ron’s sole mission morphed into knocking Haley down. This strategy was not only worthwhile for eventually getting back in Trump’s good graces, but also for saving the GOP from slipping backwards into a permanently capitulating party whose establishment runs content-free campaigns and largely doesn’t believe in anything. That’s what Nikki Haley represents. She’s the female equivalent of the Bush family. Why not just bring ol’ Jeb Bush himself out of mothballs instead?
Or slap a wig and a black pointy hat on Mitch McConnell’s or Paul Ryan’s dome and they’d be like Nikki, too.
It suddenly started making sense why DeSantis didn’t immediately follow Ramaswamy into the domain of used up and “suspend my campaign” former candidates. In essence, Gov. Ron was taking one for the proverbial team, albeit temporarily, by staying in the race and thereby dividing up the not-Trump vote with Nikki Haley. With DeSantis in and still competitive, she’d never be able to muster enough loyalists (outside of open primary locales like New Hampshire, where anti-Trump Democrats and Independents can vote for her) to actually win states and command convention delegates.
With or without DeSantis, by herself, Haley is basically a non-entity representing the final death throes of the old guard Republican establishment. Vivek Ramaswamy must’ve realized he didn’t have enough conservatives’ votes to carry on in his ruin-Nikki mission by himself. But DeSantis did. Here’s thinking DeSantis would have at least been competitive with Haley in jurisdictions where only Republicans can participate in their primaries.
Add the fact that Haley appears to have developed a case of personal political hatred towards DeSantis, and there was even more incentive for the Floridian to stay put and serve a different sort of purpose from here on out – to guarantee that Nikki didn’t get a clean “one-on-one” shot at Trump. In Iowa, Haley said it’s down to a “two-person race” … but was it?
And that’s all would have taken. DeSantis wouldn’t have had to win a single state – which he probably wouldn’t have anyway – and yet he still could’ve fulfilled a vital position in assuring that Trump gets another chance to enact similar policies to what Gov. Ron would’ve done if he’d won the presidency. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? DeSantis is no dummy – he saw that the mood of the conservative electorate is still with Trump. Why attempt to crush what is already a pretty good situation that can’t be changed no matter what?
As McKay argued in his piece last week, Trump would eventually get past the “DeSanctimonious” nonsense, and seeing a humbler Florida governor, would have even welcomed DeSantis’s friendship and assistance. Some commentators, such as Julie Kelly, have argued that one of DeSantis’s biggest campaign mistakes was simply not confessing his own errors in judgment during the COVID crisis and also for not acknowledging that he needed Trump’s help to win his office in the beginning.
If you think such remarkable political reconciliation is impossible, look at Ted Cruz, who just endorsed Trump for president after his former hated rival’s big win in Iowa. If it could be said that voters have short memories, politicians’ recollections – and grudges – have even shorter shelf-lives.
Who knows why DeSantis decided to leave just hours before New Hampshire, which he had no chance to win in any case. But, as argued above, DeSantis wouldn’t have been working to prevail – he was just trying to ensure that Nikki doesn’t win.
I played a game of “Risk” decades ago with my father-in-law-to-be and my fiancé, now wife, where my future dad by marriage announced to me at a crucial point in the contest, “I don’t care who wins as long as it isn’t you.” Funny, isn’t it? Well, the rationale works in politics, too. Nikki Haley is a threat to everything that was accomplished during Trump’s first term. She must be stopped. Ron DeSantis could’ve helped do it.
Perhaps DeSantis’s Trump endorsement will have the same effect. And who said politics isn’t really a team sport?
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