Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign is getting off to a flaccid start

Ron DeSantis
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He hasn’t even officially announced, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is already looking like a loser in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

DeSantis was supposed to be the great Trump slayer upon which the party’s power players were placing all their bets. Instead, he’s turned out to be a bumbling, amateurish politician who isn’t even liked by Republicans in his own state.

DeSantis, who seems to believe he was ordained by God for the moment (he actually ran a re-election ad that said just that last year), apparently thought that none of the standard rules of politics applied to him. He also underestimated Donald Trump’s willingness to smear him.

The official announcement from DeSantis is expected to come next month, although the campaign machinery is already well in place. DeSantis has about $100 million in the bank, and he’s already hitting the campaign trail. Last weekend, he was in Iowa, the first state where voters will weigh in on their choices next year. (Trump was supposed to be there but bailed.)

But the drumbeat leading up to DeSantis’ announcement feels more like an obituary than a celebration. And that’s thanks in large part to DeSantis himself.

The governor’s efforts earlier this year to introduce himself to leaders around the country (and in Europe) was a flop. He used the cover of a “book tour” for the latter, and it was universally panned as “amateurish.” Business leaders in London described their meeting with him as “horrendous” and “low wattage.”

DeSantis compounded the problem by providing sloppy responses to big issues, like the war in Ukraine and abortion, which caused at least one former big donor to say he was closing his wallet to the governor. Other business bigwigs are taking a similar tack, viewing DeSantis as “a really weak option” to Trump at best.

At the same time, all the stories about DeSantis’s personality began to emerge, none of them flattering. Some of them were silly, like the story about eating pudding with his fingers, which became the basis of a really clever MAGA attack ad.

But others illustrated a man who is, to put it kindly, a jerk who doesn’t know how to schmooze. Since that’s the grease of politics, that has cost him dearly. Pointedly, the majority of the Florida Republican congressional delegation has endorsed Trump. These are the folks who should know DeSantis best. Indeed, some served in Congress with him.

Instead, they and other Congressional colleagues tell tales of him never contacting them, cutting them, and sending staffers to ask for their endorsement. In a testament to just how persuasive a personality DeSantis is, Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas walked out of a meeting with the governor and promptly endorsed Trump.

As difficult as it is to believe, Trump has actually learned a thing or two about politics. He’s running a sharper campaign this time around, and DeSantis is the victim of that. He’s targeting DeSantis’ weaknesses, like his past support for privatizing Social Security, knowing full well that’s a death sentence at the ballot box.

Even Trump’s appearance on CNN last week was aimed at DeSantis. The governor won’t talk to mainstream media, remaining cosseted in the Fox News bubble. Trump was showing how he could take control of the mainstream media while DeSantis just hides from it.

The other thing that is working against DeSantis is, ironically, his effort to differentiate himself from Trump. He’s doing it by trying to out-Trump Trump. That means taking very specific positions on a series of issues – banning LGBTQ+ books from school libraries, attacking trans youth, going after Disney, signing into law a stringent abortion ban.

Would Trump disagree with any of these issues? Probably not, if it meant being president. But Trump is also incredibly mealy-mouthed. He blusters about how terrible groups of people are and how something must be done, but he doesn’t usually offer up specific policy solutions. He makes sweeping statements like, “Build the wall” or “I’ll end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours.”

Trump is not running on a record. He’s running on a vibe. DeSantis is running on a record. It’s the difference between a preacher and a politician.

Finally, DeSantis hasn’t even begun to run into the Trump buzzsaw. Trump has hinted that the governor was a “groomer,” and that would probably be the least of it if Trump felt DeSantis was closing in on him.

DeSantis was always going to be a flawed candidate. Republicans who thought otherwise were engaged in wishful thinking. It’s still early in the process, and he can always recover. But Trump doesn’t let his enemies recover. He buries them. The humiliation of Ron DeSantis may only just be beginning.

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