Two Funerals and a Thanksgiving
On grief, grace, and gratitude.
Hey fam—I’m back. I have some personal things to share, but we’ll do that later. First, let’s have a helping of politics. Because the implosion of Ron DeSantis tells us something about the entire Republican ecosystem—the voters, the consultants, and the pols themselves.
1. Sometimes Back Down?
Yesterday NBC broke a story about the meltdown in Ron DeSantis’s super PAC. The upshot of which is:
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Ma and Pa DeSantis are big mad that they’re getting schlonged by Trump and on the cusp of being passed by Haley.
They blame their “unaffiliated” super PAC, Never Back Down, which is helmed by Super Consultant Jeff Roe.
Some friends of the DeSanti1 in a totally unofficial capacity decided to start up a rival super PAC, Fight Right.
Fight Right is now going to do . . . something-something underpants gnome—which will save the DeSantis campaign.
Let’s unpack this, by group.
(1) The candidate. Good politicians have a shrewd understanding of electoral mechanics—the blocking and tackling of campaigns. Great politicians have an instinctual feel for what the electorate wants.
DeSantis does not have either of these gifts.
You know why he’s losing to Trump? Because Republican voters have been signaling—since January of 2021—that they want Trump again. Running against Trump was always going to be a longshot. The percentage play for DeSantis was to wait for 2028.
But once DeSantis got in, he ran like an incumbent rather than an insurgent. And a bad incumbent, at that. The DeSantis campaign somehow managed to be both flat-footed and undisciplined.
The worst part was that DeSantis never attacked the central challenge of his candidacy: How to take voters from Trump. Instead, he spent his time and energy working to take conservative elites from Trump.
One more thing: In a normal environment, you can understand why DeSantis would roll the dice. Finishing a strong second is often a stepping stone in Republican politics.
But the last seven years have demonstrated that almost any Republican who challenges Trump has his (or her) career ended because of the nature of the relationship between Republican voters and Trump. DeSantis thought that, like Brian Kemp, he’d be an exception.
Put it all together and you have a guy wasn’t able to perceive political reality, who didn’t understand Republican voters, and who didn’t know how to manage a campaign.
(2) The consultants and donors. The only person I understand in this whole drama is Jeff Roe: He was there to make a dollar and a cent. That’s why he took the Never Back Down job. And he avoided going hard at Trump because he wanted to be employable after Trump returned to the throne.
But the DeSantis donors and “confidants”? Maybe part of being wealthy is that no one is ever willing to explain the facts of life to you.
(3) Republican voters. They want Trump. Full-stop.
Every poll since Election Day 2020 has demonstrated this. They approve of Trump. They believe he won the last time. They think he was a good president. They want him to be the nominee in 2024.
Further, they will not countenance criticism of Trump on any grounds other than electability.
A Republican politician who says something as anodyne as, “Felony charges are serious, but Mr. Trump deserves the presumption of innocence and I don’t want to comment on an ongoing criminal matter” is signing his political death warrant. On all questions other than electability, only full, affirmative defenses of Trump are permitted.2
I don’t know how to label this relationship between Trump and the majority of Republican voters in a way that isn’t loaded. So I’ll just say that it is categorically different from anything we have ever seen in American politics.
My big takeaway from the DeSantis Experience is:
Trump owns the Republican party.
This ownership can only be disrupted by forces within the party.
No one in the party—neither politicians, donors, nor consultants—has the imagination, ability, or force of will to excise him.
Trump has so corrupted the Republican ecosystem that these potential rivals can’t even accurately perceive the world around them. They are like the inhabitants of an authoritarian state whose basic points of reference are warped.
This last point is the most troubling to me. Because what hope is there when even the people inside the party who want to depose Trump don’t understand the reality of their situation?
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2. The Good Death
So about my extended absence: I had to go to a couple of funerals.
A year and a half ago my family moved from the DC area to the New York area. We had a bundle of reasons, but the biggest was that my wife’s parents are aging. Her folks, Peggy and Jack, are wonderful people and have been an integral part of our kids’ lives from the beginning. Also, Jack had been battling cancer for a dozen years.
So we pulled up stakes and moved a couple
miles down the road subway stops from them.
When we were in DC, the kids got to see Peggy and Jack every month. After the move, they saw them every day. Sometimes we’d do big adventure stuff together. Sometimes we’d just pop over for 10 minutes to have a cup of tea. Many evenings, we’d stop in just to watch Jeopardy, have ice cream, and then head home to get the kids ready for bed.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that over the last year, the kids got a decade’s worth of time with their Granny and Pop-Pop. Moving to be near them was the best decision my wife and I ever made.
If growing is the process of widening your scope and mastering your world, then aging is the process of having things taken away from you; of having the aperture of your world contract.
The trick is finding ways to grow, even as you age. Or, to put it a little more darkly: In a well-lived life you are constantly preparing yourself so that you can have a good death.
Last week, Jack had a good death.
Jack had been in hospice since the beginning of the summer, but until about two months ago, he had been able to do most of the things he wanted: Go to church, have breakfast at the diner with his friends, watch the Mets and Jeopardy. We could see his decline from month to month, and later from week to week. But on the whole, he was okay. He slept more. His mobility slipped. He needed a walker. But he could still get up the stairs to his own bed every night and down the stairs to make coffee for Peggy every morning.
Then things changed.
He couldn’t leave the house. He needed oxygen. Finally, he couldn’t get up the stairs and slept on a hospital bed in the living room. Two weeks ago there was another change as he turned the corner on his last mile.
After that, Jack was never alone for a single moment. Peggy, my wife, their other kids, the grandkids—we all kept vigil over him. When he took his final breath he was surrounded by his wife, his children, and his grandchildren.
Jack’s dad had him baptized as an infant, but he turned away from God as a kid. As these things go, there was a good reason: He had been outside playing while his dad mowed the lawn. His father, just 36 years old, collapsed. Jack prayed that he would survive the heart attack. He didn’t. And that was that.
I won’t burden you with the details, but over the last year his heart opened to God’s love. Jack came to Mass last December, on the third Sunday of Advent, to see my youngest make his first Holy Communion. And then the next Sunday, he came back. And the Sunday after. And so on. Eventually he sat down with our priest, got his life’s burdens off his chest, and asked to be received into the Church. On Easter Sunday, Jack made his first communion.
His funeral Mass was beautiful. My oldest son and I were pall bearers and as I walked Jack’s casket down the aisle I was overwhelmed by the scene: An entire church packed for this man. All of his children and grandchildren, his nieces and nephews. There were old men he’d played Little League with. There were students he had taught and coached.
The priest who had received Jack into the Church was waiting for him at the altar. Another priest, a dear family friend, traveled early in the morning to concelebrate. One of my older son’s friends had volunteered as the altar server. A whole bunch of my kids’ friends walked across the street from school to attend Mass, too, either because they had met Jack and loved him, or knew how much he meant to my kids.
In these faces I saw the ripple effects of Jack’s life.
The sum total was that I felt more gratitude than grief at Jack’s passing. His death was beautiful; his life was appreciated; what more can any of us hope for?
3. The Other Thanksgiving
By coincidence, my sister’s father-in-law was making the same journey, at the same time.
My sister has always been close to her in-laws, Mike and Betsy. Mike had a harder road than Jack: He had suffered from Parkinson’s for years. At the same time Jack took his final turn, Mike did, too.
So while my family was gathered in vigil at Jack’s deathbed, my sister’s family was doing the same for Mike, a couple hundred miles away. Mike passed away the day after Jack. Like Jack, Mike had a good death: peaceful and surrounded by the people who loved him. My sister—who Jack and Peg have always loved—drove down for Jack’s funeral on Monday. I drove up for Mike’s funeral on Tuesday.
And Thanksgiving is tomorrow.
These events are connected, but they are not in tension.
Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. I’m grateful for Jack. Grateful for Mike. And grateful for all of you.
See you Monday.
We should use “DeSanti” as the plural for Ron and Casey. It just makes sense.
On the electability question, the only criticism permitted of Trump is that some nebulous “they” won’t let him win.
My wife is a professional speechwriter, so having her do a eulogy is like bringing an NBA player to your weekly pickup game. I want her to do mine someday. But I’d very much like to read it before I peg out.