August 10, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Ron DeSantis is in trouble. Will he follow Chris Christie’s model?
Florida's governor seems to understand that Trump is the problem.
Last week, I said that Ron DeSantis is trailing in the polls because he’s bad at this. He could sit out this presidential cycle and wait for Joe Biden’s tenure to expire. But, I said, he seems to believe the hype about him – that he’s Not-Donald Trump but also Donald Trump II. Just one problem, I said: Everything in Republican politics begins and ends with Donald Trump.
He seems eager to convince hesitant Republican voters that they have nowhere else to go but to him. “They do have nowhere else to go,” I wrote, “but not for the reasons DeSantis thinks. There’s no Donald Trump II. There’s no Not-Donald Trump. There’s only Donald Trump.”
Then came news Tuesday that he’s “replacing his presidential campaign manager and making other changes to his senior staff after a rough stretch of layoffs, budget woes and struggles to make headway against … the front-runner for the Republican nomination,” the Post said.
When a candidate gets rid of a campaign manager, that’s a bad sign, bad enough for The Bulwark’s Jonathan Last to write DeSantis’ obituary.
I don’t know whether DeSantis’ campaign is dead or not. But I do know that political history is chock-full of examples of primary underdogs who were forced to make radical changes in the face of struggle. I don’t know what that change will be exactly, but DeSantis seems to already understand that change is necessary – and not only because his campaign is in trouble.
I don’t know if DeSantis’ campaign is dead. But I do know that political history is full of examples of underdogs who were forced to make radical changes in the face of struggle. I don’t know what that change will be exactly, but DeSantis seems to already understand that change is necessary – and not only because his campaign is in trouble.
He seems to understand that Trump is a liability.
During an interview with NBC News, he said that “if the election is a referendum on Joe Biden’s policies and the failures that we’ve seen and we are presenting a positive vision for the future, we will win the presidency and we will have a chance to turn the country around.”
But, Florida’s second-term governor added, “if the election is not about January 20, 2025, but January 6, 2021, or what document was left by the toilet at Mar-a-Lago, if it’s a referendum on that, we are going to lose.”
So if Trump is the GOP’s nominee, the election is going to be about him and his serial crimes. And if it’s about them, Joe Biden is going to win.
“Any election in which Donald Trump is involved will be almost entirely about Donald Trump. And that is not good for his party,” the Post’s Paul Waldman wrote Sunday. “Republicans fared poorly in all three elections since he won the presidency in 2016, and each poor performance can be attributed in large part to Trump’s malign influence.”
Which brings me back to DeSantis.
If he’s going to make a change to save his presidential bid, he should probably stop what he’s been doing – avoiding direct confrontation with Donald Trump – and start doing something else. Fortunately, another underdog, Chris Christie, is modeling an alternative.
The former New Jersey governor has turned his long shot campaign into a mission to “tell Republican voters the truth,” he said during an interview with “CBS News Sunday Morning.” He has been rewarded for that. Politico said Tuesday that he’s “the field’s loudest Trump critic.”
Christie asked Wednesday: “How were the American people benefited by [Trump] keeping boxes of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. That was just there for him to continue to pretend that he was president and to show off for people who were on the back patio. … The great irony of this campaign is Donald Trump saying he’s going to put America first. He has not put America first. He’s put Donald Trump first.”
Now, just because Christie is modeling an alternative doesn’t mean that DeSantis should follow it. Christie is good at this. He’s comfortable trading insults with Trump, and the more they trade insults, the better things will be in the end for “the field’s loudest Trump critic.”
But DeSantis is bad at this – or at least he appears to be. Maybe he only seems bad, because he’s trying to do the impossible. He’s selling himself as the Not-Donald Trump candidate who also wants the support of Trump’s followers. Impossible situations can make anyone look foolish.
Still, DeSantis is facing a crisis. He must choose. He could continue avoiding confrontation with Trump. That hasn’t worked. Or he could confront Trump – and in the process give a Republican candidacy, perhaps his own, a better chance of beating Biden. If everything in GOP politics begins and end with Trump, and it does, you gotta go through him. But success depends on how good he is. Christie is very good.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.