Friday, January 19, 2024

ANNALS OF DeSANTISTAN: Opinion | The DeSantis Team Ran the Worst Campaign in History (Politico)

The headline is inflammatory, and it may be an exaggeration for emphatic emphasis.

But it is not far from the truth.  

Our erstwhile Congressman from St. Johns County has achieved a dubious distinction in the history of GQP campaigns.  

From Politico: 

Opinion | The DeSantis Team Ran the Worst Campaign in History

The bizarre decisions behind a $130 million debacle.

Volunteers at the Never Back Down DeSantis Campaign office gather to phone bank voters.

Tim Pawlenty’s and Scott Walker’s presidential campaigns can breathe a sigh of relief. The mantle of Worst Republican Presidential Campaign Ever has been lifted from their shoulders, stolen by the crew that ran Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign into the dirt.

As usual, revisionist histories are being written even before the candidate has been officially buried, with DeSantis staffers and apologists offering a variety of nonsensical explanations. However, we need no gossip from inside sources to understand what happened. The debacle played out in broad daylight.

Start with an indisputable fact: At the beginning of 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis was in first place, ahead of former President Donald Trump. Then acknowledge that the DeSantis campaign and super PAC raised more money than any other campaign, including that of the former president. Many in the GOP billionaire class gushed over DeSantis, promising to spend whatever it would take to vanquish the former president.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, everything.

Strategy. The DeSantis campaign should have had one. What passed as their strategy, if we can call it that, was modeled after a weathervane. Whenever a campaign has multiple self-described “resets,” as did the DeSantis campaign, it means, from day one, they were strategically nomadic. They kept throwing strategy at the wall, hoping some of it would stick. It didn’t.

The DeSantis campaign should have defined their candidate as Trump-plus, something like the former president but better. Instead of merely trying to imitate Trump, they needed to add something of value, casting DeSantis’ own vision for how Republicans can win the future.

Instead, they offered the voters Trump-minus. DeSantis pretended to be just like Trump but in a less bombastic and less entertaining package. To be fair, many self-appointed Republican strategists believed that’s what voters wanted, though the voters, inconveniently, kept rejecting it.

Any candidate who tries to imitate Trump will fail. There is no one like The Donald. Plagiarized reproductions will always be sniffed out and discarded as inauthentic pretenders.

But DeSantis’ problems ran deeper.

All over the country, you would hear the same thing from Republican voters — “Hey, I like what that Florida governor is doing. I like the free state of Florida. Maybe this is my guy?” Polling showed DeSantis had a tremendous opportunity. No candidate had a better setup.

But then, something bad happened: The campaign introduced the product.

The candidate did not match the hype. He was less than advertised. In person, he was a diminutive politician. The campaign introduced him to the nation as a bright but socially awkward introvert, a nerd who did not enjoy people — which was a problem since voters tend to be people.

The campaign’s rollout didn’t help DeSantis’ image at all. The decision by the DeSantis team to have him travel to early states campaigning for president while pretending to not be a candidate was disastrous, giving Trump a chance to savage the governor while DeSantis ignored him, conveying weakness. It was also a too-cute-by-half strategy straight out of the 1990’s that fooled no one. DeSantis’ official launch on Twitter was a flop too, a mess of slow feeds and broken connections that did little to make him seem competent and strong.

First impressions are wildly important in politics. The campaign never recovered from its pitiful Twitter kickoff, its discomfited candidate and the wandering purpose of his candidacy. To the campaign’s surprise, the message that “I’m just like Trump, but awkward, shorter and less interesting” did not seem to catch.

The campaign and super PAC, which acted as one entity, bragged that they had a lot of “algorithms” and “1,400 different pieces of creative.” That is code for rapaciously expensive advertising. They would have been better off producing one compelling piece of “creative.” The campaign and super PAC spent millions on advertising that failed to move voters to their candidate. That’s not just an assertion, it’s a fact.

Perhaps it did not help that the advertising, like the campaign, tried to sell two conflicting propositions: It argued that their guy was more electable than Trump, but also that he was just like Trump. There was no market for the Trump Who Wasn’t Trump but could not be himself.

Money. One way to determine who will win the Republican nomination is to ask the biggest GOP donors what they think — and bet the opposite. The rich men north of Richmond who fund the GOP are completely clueless regarding the views and aspirations of working-class Republican voters. Money can buy cowboy boots. Money can buy trips on private jets. Money cannot buy love in a presidential race.

As DeSantis’ poll numbers plummeted and his appeal to pragmatic GOP donors vanished, DeSantis jettisoned the preferred strategy of his wealthy backers. He swung wildly to appeal to Trump’s blue-collar base, painting himself even more like Trump, though less stable, declaring war on Mickey Mouse. A war that should have been a slam dunk. After all, Disney is perhaps the perfect example of big business gone dangerously “woke,” but even here DeSantis managed to overreach when he went after the company’s special tax status, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In the end, he went home with neither donors nor voters in his camp.

Talent. Certainly, most staffers and consultants who worked for DeSantis are earnest, well-intentioned people who served him to the best of their abilities. But we might as well be honest: The celebrity consultant known as Jeff Roe loses virtually every race he touches and, according to his own boasts, makes mad money in the process. His string of losses in Senate races over the past few years distinguishes him: Adam Laxalt (Nevada), Carla Sands (Pennsylvania), Dave McCormick (Pennsylvania), Jim Lamon (Arizona), Josh Mandel (Ohio) and Martha McSally (Arizona, twice). Some consultants believe the next best thing to winning elections is to make money losing them. So, if losing while hemorrhaging money is your vision, Roe is your man. (Editor’s note: Roe is the founder of Axiom Strategies. Rob Phillips, president of Axiom Strategies, had this to say in response: “On Message spends more time parading as experts on Sunday shows than on winning campaigns. Axiom Strategies had more victories in the last six months than On Message has had in the last six years. No one’s taking seriously the musings of a Bob Dole Democrat or the brains behind Bobby Jindal’s failed presidential campaign.”)

Remarkably, some close to DeSantis allege Roe was hired to “take the consultant off the field” and keep him from helping Virginia Gov. Glenn Younkin or another DeSantis competitor. If this is true, DeSantis should have paid Roe to work for Nikki Haley.

The Big Con. Somehow, someway, the DeSantis campaign and super PAC created a myth of epic proportions and sold it to political reporters and donors. P. T. Barnum never imagined a con job this big.

The myth: An army of paid doorknockers would fan out across the country, even in states beyond the early primaries, and deliver the nomination to DeSantis. It’s hilarious. If you ever believed that it was possible to affect the trajectory of a presidential campaign with underemployed losers going door to door in between puffs of strawberry-flavored vapes, you are vaping an intoxicant yourself. When skeptics noted that the advertising was not moving the polls, they were told not to worry: There was a giant, secret army of DeSantis door knockers! The absurdity was breathtaking. Yet, the news media reported that DeSantis’ ground game was his secret weapon. It was secret because it wasn’t there.

Anyone near a campaign recently knows how this works: In 2023, no one in America wants a stranger coming to their door for any reason. And if they were given the choice between door knockers who were selling politicians or membership in a cult, it would be a close call. Also, as fun as it is to take a phone call from a politician during dinner, imagine the joy of opening your door to a political doorknocker, especially in the balmy Iowa or New Hampshire winter.

Certainly, there have been times in campaign history when person-to-person contact methods, including door-knocking, have delivered results. But in those cases, campaigns used door-knocking to turn out existing supporters on Election Day, not to create new ones. The volunteers were turnout machines, not armies of persuasion. Ground-game organizations are not candidate-building mechanisms. Visits from paid strangers build brands the same way Joe Biden plays hacky sack: They don’t. If they did, Dollar Shave Club would have rung your doorbell, and Budweiser would have knocked to sell you something icy in a can.

This is The Law: First, the Candidate. Then, the Organization — because if you build a church without Jesus, all you have is an empty warehouse. Similarly, when a candidate collapses in the polls, their organization evaporates as well.

But many political reporters and donors treated DeSantis’ vaunted “ground game” as if it were more than campaign hype. The only thing the DeSantis ground game built was second and third homes for the consultants who conned him out of millions. To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, “ There’s an ambitious Harvard grad born every minute.”

Perhaps Trump’s vast lead could not be overcome and this was the wrong cycle for DeSantis to run. Perhaps, for someone so uncomfortable with people, this was the wrong decade — or century. Still, that’s no excuse for misspending over $130 million and running the Worst Presidential Campaign in History.

But on the bright side, Team DeSantis may not have its title long: Other terrible candidates and consultants are already lying in wait for their opportunity to con voters — and themselves.

1 comment:

Marcus said...

It was a PR stunt and vacation spree really. He had no chance because of the orange carnival barker. Just goes to show you how much control and influence that the GOP has over people. Much of their own base they wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole because of all the cultural degeneracy and irrational ideologies. They could do something about it but instead they choose to feed off of it. Immoral, inegalitarian party of crooks and socially irresponsible people.