January 22, 2024 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
It took two years of humiliation for DeSantis to realize that 2028 would be a better year to run
He’s just not good at this.
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I said last week that if Ron DeSantis had not been so busy trying to be Donald Trump’s doppelgänger, by now he might be known as one of his sharpest critics. Over the weekend, he gave voice to yet another bit of wisdom, which is that the rightwing media apparatus has gone easy on Trump. He added that if Trump wins the GOP nomination, “the polls are going to turn on a dime,” meaning polls that suggest weakness on Joe Biden’s part are going to flip in a hurry.
As you know, I think he’s right, but no one is going to credit him. After saying that, and just two days before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, he dropped out. Then he endorsed Trump for president, leaving Nikki Haley as his lone challenger. Trump is going to win that state and, in time, the nomination. And when those polls turn against him, it will be in part because DeSantis accelerated that turning.
Ron DeSantis could have spent his remaining time in office doing what Texas Governor Greg Abbott is doing — going to war with the Biden administration, close to literally, advancing “anti-woke politics,” becoming its visible champion, all without risking harm to himself.
This isn’t to say that he should have stayed in the race. I don’t think he had a chance. I don’t think Haley has a chance. Everything about GOP politics right now begins and ends with Trump. This is to say, however, that DeSantis just isn’t good at this. You will see many autopsies of his campaign, most about how weird he is personally, or about how sadistic he has been as Florida’s governor. But we should resist identifying reasons for failure that can’t otherwise be explained by incompetence.
First is the fact that he dislikes interacting with donors and supporters. That’s according to the Post. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see the point in being a politician if you don’t like the most basic feature of the job of being a politician. You have to talk to people! It makes you wonder how DeSantis got this far, and the only explanation that seems right to me is that he didn’t have to do “retail politics” as Florida’s governor. That state’s good-old-boy system did all that work for him.
Second, and related to the first, is that he didn’t assess the political terrain on his own. (He was too used to Florida’s GOP machine.) He seemed happy to believe whatever hype was being said about him by people who are paid to hype. It was like, when the Washington press corps appeared eager to report on a candidate who was just like Donald Trump but without all the baggage, DeSantis said to himself, yeah, that’s it! I’ll be just like Donald Trump but without all the baggage!
It’s true that when all this started that no one knew whether Trump would still be a viable candidate. Even some Republican members of the Congress suspected that he was finished after the J6 insurrection.
But everyone knew that you had to get past Trump to be the party’s nominee. Everyone knew that even if you got past him, you still had to beat an incumbent. Incumbents are generally hard to beat, even if you pretend, as Trump does, to be “the real incumbent.” At best, a GOP nominee who is not Trump might make it to this year’s general election only to be depleted and degraded, and ready for slaughter. (Republican strategists have warned of the high likelihood of many Republican voters staying home if Donald Trump is not the party’s nominee.)
Which brings me to ask why DeSantis didn’t sit out this cycle. Mike Pence had to run this time. So did Haley. This was their only shot. DeSantis didn’t have to. He didn’t have to sustain all the injury that he has sustained. He could have spent his remaining time in office doing what Texas Governor Greg Abbott is doing – going to war with the Biden administration, close to literally, advancing “anti-woke politics,” becoming its visible champion, all without risking harm to himself.
DeSantis could have waited, knowing that if Trump loses this election, he will fade almost instantly, whether because he’s gone to prison, because he’s fled the country or because he’s died of natural causes. DeSantis could have waited, knowing that President Joe Biden will no longer be in the way (because of term limits). He could have waited, but that might mean having to learn to like interacting with people!
Now, after all this humiliation, DeSantis has reportedly realized that 2028 would be a better year! The damage is done, though. If he has a chance of future success, there’s a lot of reputational rehab ahead.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.