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Sunday, April 02, 2023
ANNALS OF DeSANTISTAN: Is It Too Late for Ron DeSantis? (NY Times Opinion column)
Jamelle Bouie is probably right -- the double-minded TRUMP mini-me, RONALD DIOJN DeSANTIS, already seems like a flash in the pan. What do you reckon?
The Republican establishment thought it could have Donald Trump’s political appeal without Donald Trump himself.
That’s why many of the most prominent voices in conservative politics and media have lined up behind Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, as the presumptive leader of the Republican Party in the 2024 presidential race. He combines traditional, elite credentials and orthodox conservative views with a pugilistic, Trumpish affect. DeSantis, goes the thinking, could hold Trump’s working-class supporters and reclaim suburban Republicans who decamped for bluer pastures in the 2020 presidential election.
To be the nominee, of course, DeSantis has to win the nomination. And to win the nomination, he has to topple Trump, who remains the largest orbital body in Republican politics. Trump’s pull is so powerful — his influence is so great — that he basically compelled much of the Republican Party, including would-be rivals, to defend him in the wake of his indictment by a Manhattan jury.
Besting Trump, in other words, will require a certain amount of skill, finesse and political daring.
DeSantis has to find an avenue of attack on the former president and actually take the shot, knowing that he could alienate legions of Republican voters in the process. He has to somehow persuade Trump supporters that he could do a better job — more effective and less chaotic — without disparaging Trump to the point where he, DeSantis, is no longer viable. And he has to do all of this before Trump can build steam and roll over him like he did his rivals in the 2016 Republican primary.
The problem for DeSantis is that it might already be too late.
According to a recent Fox News poll, more than 50 percent of Republican voters support Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, compared with 24 percent for Gov. DeSantis. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 51 percent of Republican voters support Trump, compared with 40 percent for DeSantis. And according to a recent Morning Consult poll, 52 percent of Republicans support Trump, compared with 26 percent for DeSantis.
A lot could change between now and next year. Trump could collapse and DeSantis could pick up the pieces. But let’s consider the context of the last 13 years of Republican politics. Republican voters have always liked Trump. When asked in a 2011 NBC News poll whom they wanted to win the party nomination, 17 percent said Trump, just behind Mitt Romney and beating both Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Trump was so influential even then that Romney asked for his endorsement, sharing the stage with the real estate mogul at an embarrassing Las Vegas news conference.
The weakest Trump has ever been among Republican voters was in the wake of Jan. 6, when it seemed as if the entire political class, Republicans included, was ready to cut him loose. But they didn’t. Prominent Republican leaders kept him in the fold. Conservative media defended his actions. He was vulnerable, yes. But he remained the dominant figure in Republican politics.
DeSantis could have struck when the former president was weak. He didn’t. And now the most likely outcome is that Trump takes the crown again, tossing his rivals aside like a collection of old dolls.
What’s clear in all of this is that the Republican establishment — DeSantis included, it seems — is as clueless about its situation now as it was when Trump came down the escalator in 2015. They seem to think that they can harness Trump’s energy without submitting to Trump himself. But Republican voters want Trump, and they won’t take any substitutes.
The draw of Trump is that he is an entertainer and a showman who will turn those skills against their political enemies. DeSantis might be more competent, but Republican voters don’t want a manager, they want a performer. If Trump’s opponents can outperform him, then, maybe, they have a chance. But in a fight for attention between a seasoned celebrity and a conservative apparatchik, I know where I would place my bet.