By Matthew Boose
The 2024 Republican presidential primary has hardly begun, but a consensus has already formed in conservative media that Donald Trump is toxic and unelectable. This narrative, commonplace but seldom challenged, is being pushed aggressively by pundits who are obviously partial to Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Many of these personalities insist that Trump has an obligation to step aside, and they pretend that Trump is attacking DeSantis unprovoked, despite the governor’s obvious intentions to run.
The DeSantis hype is not limited to media personalities, but their lockstep support of the governor is out of sync with the Republican base, where Trump remains quite popular. The self-satisfied euphoria of predestined victory that has swept across DeSantis, Inc. needs a reality check, and it may just get one before long. The reality is that the DeSantis narrative, with its overemphasis on a facile notion of “electability,” is based on a tendentious and superficial reading of recent history and our present political situation. Moreover, it is a reading the MAGA base overwhelmingly rejects.
Most critically, the overconfidence of the pro-DeSantis camp often comes paired with a complacency about elections. While some might find it futile to keep pressing the matter, the 2020 election was a sham, and it would be a fatal mistake to trust any man to challenge the Left who willingly echoes their fabricated history of the subject. Yet, this is exactly what DeSantis is now doing, with his own Pollyannish spin. “In my case,” he said recently, “not only did we win reelection, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican governor candidate has had in the history of the state of Florida.” While not naming Trump, DeSantis, sounding a cutesy, above-it-all tone, left little doubt about his meaning.
It is not surprising, given DeSantis’ obvious ambition to replace Trump, that he would downplay election integrity and reject Trump’s “Big Lie.” But DeSantis’ position puts him at odds with the majority of Republican voters, even those who are skeptical of Trump, who share his belief that he was robbed of a second term and that our elections remain fatally broken. DeSantis’ measured actions on this issue also leave reason to doubt his commitment to taking on the corrupt establishment. He could easily ban the scourge of no-excuse mail-in voting, for example, but this would require him to change how things have been done in Florida since 2002 (incidentally, when George W. Bush was in the White House.)
If DeSantis is a once-in-a-lifetime political talent, he hasn’t proven it yet. Trump already has. His 2016 upset was the biggest shock in modern American history, and despite what revisionists on the Left and the Right say, he narrowly “lost” re-election under some of the most adversarial circumstances an incumbent has ever faced. Democrats weaponized hysteria over a pandemic and racial unrest, completely changed the nation’s voting habits, and systematically suppressed a major corruption scandal about Joe Biden. Despite unprecedented headwinds, Trump “lost” by about 50,000 votes. It’s easy to forget now, but many Democrats were outraged at the time that Trump came so close to a second term.
It’s too early to divine what the political climate will look like in 2024, but a Trump-Biden rematch is not destined to be a repeat of 2020. Democrats seem to have tapped out the COVID “emergency” at last, and Democrats will be left with defending Biden’s disastrous record of failure. Notwithstanding challenges with mail-in voting, the historic, contrived chaos that the shadowy “cabal”—to use the memorable phrase of Time’s Molly Ball—orchestrated to force Trump out of power was an aberration that cannot easily be replicated (if for no other reason than that Trump is not the incumbent). A post-COVID election might also work against DeSantis, who has built a political brand largely as a crusader against lockdowns and vaccines (which he initially supported.)
The DeSantis camp also underestimates the power of the media to shape, even to dictate, public opinion. Trump has a rare political agelessness, an ability to avoid being defined by the endless ephemeral scandals pumped out by the press. DeSantis, while decades younger, has little charisma and shows nothing of Trump’s killer instinct or his street smarts.