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Why Does DeSantis Keep Letting Trump Take Shots at Him?
How long can the Florida governor absorb blows from Trump before he looks weak?
How many times can you let someone punch you before everyone else thinks you’re a sucker?
Ron DeSantis is about to find out.
Donald Trump has disgustingly smeared DeSantis on social media, gone after DeSantis at his presidential campaign rally in Waco on Saturday, and used a primetime interview on Fox News on Monday to question DeSantis’s ability to win Florida without his help.
So far, DeSantis has accepted it all as if he were being initiated into the 2024 race with a “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” plastered-on smile.
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Example: After Trump shared an unfounded smear about DeSantis being a “groomer” and then tested a bunch of juvenile nicknames for the Florida governor, including "Ron DeSanctimonious," DeSantis grinned at the sobriquet and told Piers Morgan, “I don’t really know what it means, but I kind of like it.” An oddly submissive posture for someone who is supposed to be such a tough guy, no?
While Trump’s audience may not always welcome his hits on DeSantis, that doesn’t mean they can’t do damage. If DeSantis wants to bill himself as a fighter, he’s got to live up to the hype, which, so far, is proving to be more of a fanboy cartoon image than the actual picture.
Take a gander at Morgan’s headline for the DeSantis interview: “Ron DeSantis rips Trump’s character, chaotic leadership style.” But what were DeSantis’s big, swaggering hits? He gave a demure answer about Trump’s expected indictment, offered a polite contrast about their approaches to COVID, and talked about how he won’t get drawn into social media battles. Oh.
Morgan said this would “ignite a firestorm in the Republican party.” Spoiler: It most definitely did not. Forgive the guy for his blatant wishcasting.
Media folks like Morgan want a brawl because big fights mean big ratings. And, various kingdoms of the Murdoch empire, which Morgan represents as he conducted this interview for Fox Nation and wrote about it in the New York Post, are itching to broker and cover the match between DeSantis and Trump.
Fox host Jesse Waters openly expressed exasperation on Tuesday with DeSantis’s unwillingness to get into the ring:
He’s suffering. He is bleeding. [Trump] is painting him as this RINO, consultant-driven guy who doesn’t have what it takes. And Ron’s quiet. And if I were Ron, I would start talking because every day that goes by that Trump draws blood, by the time you get into an announcement situation, you’re going to be bloodied up.
I guess Waters wasn’t satisfied with the sappy sermon DeSantis gave Morgan about George Washington: “When we won the American Revolution, Washington surrendered his sword. [King] George III said he’s the greatest man in the world if he gives up power.”
Probably because everyone knows Donald Trump is nothing like George Washington. And Trump is never going to unwillingly give up power.
Republican voters may accept DeSantis’s attempt at stoicism for a while, but at some point, it could start to look more like weakness.
While it may be hard for our exhausted republic to acknowledge, Trump is fully running for president again and has been for many months. And here’s what’s important:
Trump is running against DeSantis. But DeSantis isn’t running against Trump yet.
It’s not like there is any shortage of material available for DeSantis to use against Trump, either.
He’s out there talking himself up as the Fat Elvis of the January 6th choir, for goodness’ sake.
The fact that DeSantis hasn’t filed papers with the FEC to officially declare his candidacy is no excuse. He’s doing everything a top-tier presidential candidate would do. He’s courting big donors, doing the book tour, getting chummy with Fox hosts, making stops in early states, standing up his SuperPAC, and poaching staff from 2024 rivals.
But DeSantis doesn’t seem prepared to do the one big thing that matters: show that he intends to beat Trump instead of sidestepping him.
DeSantis appears to think he can wait to formally announce and then—maybe!—engage in the dirty business of fighting to define both himself and his opponent sometime after his legislative session concludes in May and his Florida pals can give him a proper sendoff. That could be too late.
The drop in the polls DeSantis has suffered for his yet-to-be-declared candidacy is well-documented. It’s probably the result of his blundering assessment of Russia’s war on Ukraine and squishy response to Trump’s potential indictment. Or maybe it’s something else: Maybe anyone paying attention, seeing how DeSantis is content to let Trump take so many free shots at him, is wondering whether he’s got what it takes.