Plus: A weekend with the Addled Don.
And just like that, before a single vote had been cast in the first primary, Ron DeSantis is out, ending his campaign by citing a bogus Churchill quote as he bent the knee to Donald Trump. From shambolic launch to the final sad trombone slide into oblivion, it was all so on-brand.
Last week, the man from Florida declared “you could be the most worthless Republican in America,” but “if you kiss the ring, Trump will say you are wonderful.”
Seven. Days. Later. He kissed the ring.
By then, of course, the campaign had devolved from the Great Hope of anti-anti-Trump redemption into a wretched death march. So, it was hardly surprising that it ended with a whimper. The GOP wannabe alpha was a thorough beta when it mattered, and now the long, endless slog of self-abasement begins. (While Mickey Mouse breaks into a much-deserved happy dance.)
As my colleague Sonny Bunch noted last night, “Again, the theory of DeSantis’s candidacy just never made sense.”
“I’m not Trump, I’m more effective than Trump, but I’ll never criticize Trump because I’m terrified of his voters who don’t actually want effective Trump, they want vaguely racist, entertaining Trump. Vote for me?”
Who knew it would be such a spectacular, historic fail? Well, pretty much everyone around here.
Sarah Longwell summed it up: “A talentless candidate with a dumb strategy who said ‘God made a fighter’ but refused to fight Trump at every turn. Now he endorses Trump (and rags on Nikki) to try and preserve the tatters of his political career. This guy is done.”
The obituaries are almost too easy to write.
What killed the presidential candidacy of Ron DeSantis, suspended on the Sunday before New Hampshire? Let us count the causes.
There was, of course, his shambolic super PAC; campaign infighting; his reckless spending on private jets; his disastrous rollout with Elon Musk; his serial strategic and tactical blunders. His campaign operation was both incompetent and tone-deaf, totally misreading the dynamics of GOP primary politics.
But the proximate cause of his demise was pretty obvious: DeSantis was a bad candidate with a lousy message, as unlikeable in person as he was on television. He was, in the memorable words of GOP consultant Stuart Stevens, “Ted Cruz without the personality.”
And he refused to actually run against the man he had to beat.
The Florida governor was not, of course, the first fantastic-on-paper presidential contender who failed to flourish in the spotlight. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida’s Jeb Bush (!) blundered and floundered their way to presidential asterisk status over the past few decades. Indeed, political history is full of could-have-beens who imploded in the heat of a presidential contest: Democrat Ed Muskie in 1972; Gary Hart in 1984; Rudy Giuliani in 2008; and who could forget the hopes dashed by the collapse of the Fred Thompson boomlet that same year?
Even so, there is something rather extraordinary about DeSantis’ defenestration.
Amid an otherwise bleak midterms for the GOP, he won re-election in a landslide in one of the nation’s biggest and most crucial states.
The timing could hardly have been more propitious: Trump had been defeated, disgraced, and was facing serious legal peril, and the GOP looked poised to finally move on. The smart kids in the anti-anti-Trump wing of party — including much of Conservatism Inc. and its media allies — moved quickly to embrace DeSantis’ candidacy.
DeSantis eagerly tried to seize the mantle of Trumpism without Trump, picking fights with “woke” corporations, banning books and abortion, bullying and insulting critics, and using migrants as pawns. In his performative aggression, DeSantis imagined that he was checking all the right boxes, even if it meant using the power of government. He may have abandoned the notion of “small government” and “free markets,” but he was making the right enemies, and that was what MAGA really wanted, he thought.
He lined up as many right-wing influencers as he could, including anti-CRT activists like Chris Rufo and writers like Nate Hochman (whom he had to later fire after Hochman tweeted Nazi imagery). Last year, The Daily Beast reported on what it called DeSantis’ “Secret Twitter Army of Far-Right Influencers,” a decidedly deplorable group that included a self-described “alpha-male giga chad,” an unregistered arms dealer and an ex-Trump digital strategist who has said some very, very racist things.
But in the end, none of it worked. MAGA wanted what MAGA wanted. And that was Donald Trump.
This was DeSantis’ most fundamental miscalculation, and one that he alluded to in the video announcing the end of his campaign. Rather than go for soft Trumpers, or Republicans who were skeptical of the former president, DeSantis went hard for the hardcore base. That meant continually moving to the right, embracing a reactionary pugilism and draconian reactionary policies that he thought would wean MAGA loyalists from their orange Messiah.
But the MAGA faithful didn’t care about the policies or the legislation. They wanted the show.
Trump gave them the show. DeSantis was stiff, shrill, unlikeable and, worst of all, boring.
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A Weekend With the Addled Don
Despite Haley’s Last Stand, the GOP opposition continues to crumble as the new establishment tightens its grip on the party. But as one Republican after another embraces Trump for a third time, attention ought to be paid to what they are getting.
Let’s leave aside the defeats, the impeachments, the corruption, the lies, the rape, the multiple felony indictments. For the moment let’s also pass over his calls for terminating parts of the Constitution, his claim of TOTAL immunity, his malevolence and bigotry, and the hundreds of thousands of people who died as a result of his demagoguery on COVID.
Instead, let’s just consider this last weekend:
He confused Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi, accusing Haley (who was not even in government at the time) of botching the defense of the Capitol when his supporters sacked it on January 6th.
He fawned (once again) on murderous dictators, calling Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi, and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un “very fine people.” As our friend Jay Nordlinger remarked: “They are not very fine people. They are murderous dictators.”
He praised Hungary’s illiberal strongman Viktor Orban as a role model. “A great man, a great leader in Europe. . . . Some people don’t like him because he’s too strong. It’s good to have a strong man at the head of a country.”
He signaled again that he would surrender Ukraine to Russia.
He threw Taiwan under the bus, suggesting that the United States should abandon it if is attacked by China.
Trump repeatedly referred to Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, as “Nimbra.” Haley, the former South Carolina governor, was born in Bamberg, South Carolina, as Nimarata Nikki Randhawa. She has always gone by her middle name, “Nikki.” She took the surname “Haley” upon her marriage in 1996.
He spread conspiracy theories about Dominion Voting Systems and continued attacking the woman he raped, E. Jean Carroll.
He mocked Joe Biden’s stutter. (Nordlinger again: “Most parents, I wager, would not let their children engage in such behavior. Do they want it in a president? A leader? You can criticize Biden six ways to Sunday — but I don’t know why you have to include mockery of a stutter.”)
And, of course all this came just days after this:
Amanda Carpenter: The Authoritarian Playbook
On our weekend podcast: Donald Trump has been making promises on the campaign trail. And unlike in 2016, this time he has a team drawing up the plans for implementing them. Amanda Carpenter joins me to explain how Trump would follow through on his most extreme anti-democratic pledges in a second term.
You can listen to the whole thing here. Or watch us on YouTube.
New Hampshire Weirdos for Nikki? (with Tim Miller) - The Focus Group Podcast
Nikki Haley is on the ropes after losing Iowa by 30 points, but there’s one group of voters who could bail her out: New Hampshire’s undeclared and moderate Republican voters. The problem? Even though they vote in Republican primaries sometimes, they hate Trump, they’re pro-choice, and some watch MSNBC. Republican voters in all of the other states? Not so much.
1. Ross Douthat Once Again Downplays the Trump Threat
“THERE WILL BE NO TRUMP COUP,” WAS THE HEADLINE of an October 20, 2020 New York Times column in which Ross Douthat downplayed suggestions that the president, if defeated, might use extralegal means to try to cling to power. Needless to say, that turned out to be dead wrong.
Having minimized the dangers posed by Donald Trump three years ago, Douthat is now back with a column repeating the error, minimizing the dangers posed by Trump while maximizing the perils supposedly posed by Nikki Haley. “Why Nikki Haley Could Be the Most Dangerous President” is the arresting title of his January 20, 2024 column. Is Douthat serious? Apparently so. What is his argument?
2. The Party of Malice
Trump’s rhetoric is resonating with the majority of Republicans. Nationally, Trump has a massive lead over Haley and DeSantis—more than 50 points and climbing. After losing the Iowa caucus in 2016, last Monday Trump won it by 30 points, carrying 98 of 99 counties.
Eighty-two percent of Republicans across the country agree with Trump’s “poisoning the blood” rhetoric. In addition, two-thirds of Iowa caucus-goers said Biden did not legitimately win the presidential election in 2020.
And about two-thirds of Iowa caucus-goers said they would consider Trump to be fit for president even if he were convicted of a crime. No previous nonincumbent presidential hopeful has ever been in so dominant a position at so early a stage of the race. For Republicans, there is Trump, and there is really no one else. Nikki Haley may do well in New Hampshire; there’s a slight possibility she may even win there. But after that comes South Carolina and Super Tuesday. By then, and maybe before then, Haley will exit the race and announce her endorsement of Trump.
3. Sorry, Nikki: There’s No Path to the Nomination with Your New Hampshire Coalition
Tim Miller in today’s Bulwark:
When it comes right down to it, the only stakes for Haley tomorrow are these: Does our Palmetto Rose earn enough crossover voters to allow her to die in her native Iodine State? Or does New Hampshire put her down more comfortably, ending the GOP primary for good before it really even started?