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Ron DeSantis was supposed to be Serious Trump. Maybe a little lawyer-ish, a little stiff. But so what? Stiff meant competent. And wasn’t that what Republicans wanted? Didn’t they want to build the wall? Crush the administrative state? Just with a little less bluster?
Recall that after the Republicans’ disappointing 2022 midterms, DeSantis became the party’s “presumptive nominee” in 2024. On a night when 11 of the 21 candidates endorsed by Donald Trump lost—including Blake Masters in Arizona, Herschel Walker in Georgia, and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania—DeSantis expanded on his 2018 win by nearly 10 percentage points.
Seven months later, the Florida governor announced his presidential bid—in a very rocky Twitter Space rollout with Elon Musk—and soon after, he decamped to Iowa, racking up the endorsements of the state’s Republican governor, tons of state senators and representatives, and the highly coveted Bob Vander Plaats, the influential evangelical leader.
He did everything he was supposed to—and it wasn’t what Republican voters wanted.
They wanted the Duck à L’Orange, and they seemed convinced that anyone who wasn’t him was a squish.
Which is why Donald Trump trounced the whole Republican pack Monday in Iowa. At the time of writing, DeSantis looked like he’d come out on top in a close tussle with Nikki Haley for a distant second place. Little consolation given the expectations for his candidacy a year ago.
Team DeSantis insists that a big part of the problem is the conservative media ecosystem, and they’re not wrong. How else could their candidate lose?
As DeSantis said of Trump last week while stumping: “He’s got basically a Praetorian Guard of the conservative media—Fox News, the websites, all this stuff. They don’t hold him accountable because they’re worried about losing viewers, and they don’t want to have their ratings to go down.”
Few defeats more powerfully illustrate what we’ve known since 2016: that the old rules no longer matter, that no one cares if you did a brilliant job holding down the proverbial fort in Florida. What they care about is that you not simply enact, but, more importantly, embody your agenda. If you’re not angry enough—or entertaining enough—then your agenda isn’t a real agenda. It’s a fake politics probably conjured up by some deep-state AI.
Final thought: it’s utterly mystifying how it is that this keeps happening, that the politicians are still playing catch-up eight-and-a-half years after Trump descended his gilded escalator, that they have yet to intuit what he knew way back when—that America is broken and coasting and cracking up, and if you’re still adhering to the stale strictures, you don’t really get it.
Ron DeSantis was supposed to implement the Trump agenda and make his party serious again and forge a national coalition that would bring together conservatives and economic populists and maybe even a few old-fashioned liberals, and he failed because he didn’t grasp how deep the rage runs.
For now, alas, only one man in the race gets that.
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