Dang, it’s been a long time since January 6, 2021, hasn’t it?
My how things change. For those of us with that date still etched in our memories, who could forget the feeling of utter despair as we watched news coverage of red, white and blue clad “protesters” enveloping the U.S. Capitol that afternoon, many of whom had found their way inside (it was later revealed that the Capitol police had opened the doors for them, an action that’s never been fully explained) the building and were looking skyward with startled gazes as they contemplated what to do next.
Down below, out of sight of the TV cameras, there was a virtual battle going on between groups of what looked to be Trump backers and the police. What were they doing? What were they after? Conservatives don’t attack the police, we ARE the police. We’re the ones who shook our heads in disgust as we saw the previous summer’s leftist-inspired demonstrations get out of hand in city after city. Had Trump’s people suddenly “snapped” and adopted the tactics of the destroyers?
So there was general confusion among conservatives, with no one clearly comprehending what was going on, only that it certainly looked to be law-breaking and there would be repercussions from the actions of the overzealous crowd. And, needless to say, any hope that the election would be overturned evaporated instantly. Because of the over-the-top riot, there weren’t going to be any “objectors” to the Electoral College count. It wasn’t clear exactly when the process would resume, but there was no stopping it then.
Nope. Not after that. We were all stunned. And defeated. And for a brief time, helpless. Now we understood how William Wallace (in Braveheart) felt as the authorities led him out to be shamed an executed. Seemingly, there was to be no recovery from this, a premature finality that could change the republic forever.
Donald Trump’s political career was seemingly over. His subsequent statements calling for peace rang hollow after the unfortunate event. What would he do now? Was MAGA finished forever, as the establishment media talkers and Democrats insisted that it would be? Would liberals ignore their razor thin congressional majority margins and run up the score in legislation?
The answers came slowly, some taking months to fully reveal themselves. Donald Trump wasn’t finished, MAGA was alive and well and Democrats couldn’t – or wouldn’t – contain themselves. Months after the melee at the capitol, talk began of Trump making a comeback in 2024. Not only had Trump recovered from the public relations wounds, he must’ve hired a political personal trainer to whip his failing political career into shape as well.
Now that it’s clear Trump will reemerge in American politics, questions of how he will conduct his comeback crusade are emerging. Unfortunately, it appears as though the 45th president is trying to pick a fight with Florida’s re-elected superstar-in-the-making governor, Ron DeSantis, calling him “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a pre-election rally last weekend.
“The New York Times reports that Mr. Trump had been privately testing nicknames for Mr. DeSantis. It still proved a dud. And it’s notable that he didn’t use it again at a Florida rally the next day when he said to great applause that Mr. DeSantis would be re-elected. That’s the closest thing to a Trump admission that it was a mistake…
“Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Mr. Trump would be indifferent to the fate and fortune of the Republican Party. After all, he wasn’t really even a Republican until he ran for president. And he probably feels, with some justification, he wasn’t treated well by party elders when he first ran. But it’s different today. No longer is he the outsider. He is a former president, the ostensible party leader, and the presumptive favorite should he run again. When he attacked Mr. DeSantis, he wasn’t the underdog returning fire—he was shooting first, unprovoked.
“We’re long past the days of Ronald Reagan and the so-called 11th Commandment enjoining party members not to speak ill of fellow Republicans. Trump voters, moreover, are long used to other Republicans demeaning or calling out their favorite Trump-backed candidates. The difference this time is that the call is coming from inside the house.”
One does sense that we’re not in 2016 anymore and Trump’s fondness for stamping brands on establishment-type candidates won’t engender chuckles and applause like it did six years ago. I for one didn’t care for Trump’s GOP primary moniker for Ted Cruz – “Lyin’ Ted” – but eventually got used to it. I don’t think Trump ended up winning the nomination because conservatives actually believed Cruz was a liar. It was just part of Trump’s show.
The clever if not cruel names were novel and somewhat new in Republican politics. Now, however, as McGurn argued, the branding labels aren’t destined for success. What’s Trump going to call his loyal Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo if he runs, for example? Or Mike Pence? “Chicken Mike”? Nikki Haley? “Disloyal Nick?” What gives?
If I were Ron DeSantis, upon hearing about it, I first would’ve ignored Trump’s veiled and not-so-veiled insults and concentrated on the winnable race right in front of his person, his reelection “battle” – if you could call it that – in Florida against the decrepit phony loser Charlie Crist, which he subsequently trounced.
Secondly, I would’ve thought, “Is that the best he can come up with?” if so, then it would only encourage the hugely reelected Florida governor to strongly consider jumping into the 2024 GOP nomination contest. For people who’ve been paying attention, it’s DeSantis, not Trump, who singlehandedly turned a key purple swing state into a flowing red safe Republican state. Florida and Texas don’t look much like each other topographically, but, politically, it’s doubtful that media commentators will be calling the former a tossup any longer.
Trump will want to take credit for it, but he didn’t transform Florida. Trump won The Sunshine State in 2016 by a narrow but comfortable margin and repeated the feat in 2020 by a bigger number. But DeSantis is the one who turned a party voter registration deficit into a sizable advantage, and he’s done it by taking the left on on their own turf. Trump made punching the Democrats in the nose a signature; DeSantis took the technique and improved on it to become an undisputed heavyweight champion.
Trump won’t get away with trying to place a label on the much younger and highly likable Ron DeSantis, he with a beautiful cancer-survivor wife and three cute-as-a-button young children. Besides, doesn’t “De-Sanctimonious” mean NOT sanctimonious?
Should Trump opt to continue with this strange anti-DeSantis attitude, he might just guarantee that Florida won’t be in his column when the time comes, and that’s a big concession before the primary race even starts. In 2008, Rudy Giuliani put all his marbles into winning Florida (where he had been polling very strongly) and didn’t even survive long enough to get there, but these days, having The Sunshine State in the bag would be a pretty big benefit for the governor.
Giving up on Florida is a yuge (there’s that word again) mistake. Even a man like Trump with an ego the size of New York City must grasp that his label-thing has largely subsided in effectiveness. Republicans and conservatives put their serious faces on after the 2020 election and haven’t smiled (in a political sense) ever since, though this week’s election results will help a little bit.
So why is Trump doing this – namely, reinstituting his name-calling and semi-childish intra-party behavior?
One theory: Like a battleship preparing for an island infantry landing, Trump is softening up the beach for his “I’m running again” announcement.
Another thought: It could be that Trump figures he's the only one with the guts and outsider status to take on the Washington establishment. Or, maybe Trump figures all he needs is a certain percentage of the primary electorate to secure the 2024 GOP nomination. If he wins in Iowa and New Hampshire in less than a year and a half from now, he'd probably have it sewed up before Florida even votes.
Trump also likely figures this is his last campaign and doesn't want to spare any means to get the nomination. The last thing Donald Trump would ever want is to go out a loser, especially in his own party. And he doesn't care what most people think of him, banking that most former backers would vote for him against any Democrat. I think he's right -- not because Trump is so awesome, but because the Democrats are SO bad.
Trump also might figure he'd have a hard time beating DeSantis one on one and wants to get in some early punches to scare the younger potential competitor away – and/or possibly encourage others to come forward. The more challengers Trump has in the field, the greater his shot to divide the support and win the nomination.
There are lots of reasons, and those are the ones we’ll explore in the weeks and months to come.
I personally would prefer that, if Trump is going to run again, that he'd make the all-important contest about ideas. But maybe he bets he can't win that way. The family name is on the line. The last thing Trump wants is to look weak.
All politicians have enormous egos. Look at senile Joe Biden. He thinks he's the only Democrat who could win in 2024. Maybe he's right.
No one realistically expects Trump to change the way he does things this late in his life and career, though ditching the name-calling thing would definitely add a degree of maturity to his overall presentation. Picking fights with other popular Republicans – especially 2022 election hero Ron DeSantis – isn’t smart politics. We’ll see if Trump can actually grow a little bit.
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