Scarborough: Ron DeSantis is taking over the GOP

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

A notable leftover from yesterday via Mediaite that supports a hunch I’ve had. Namely, that the more intense the interest among Trumpers in DeSantis becomes, the louder the cheerleading for him will get among the right’s hardcore anti-Trumpers.

Which seems odd at first blush. DeSantis is an ardent Trump supporter. He won the gubernatorial primary in Florida in 2018 with a jokey ad about teaching his own young children to become MAGA. He even winked at the possibility of election fraud last November when the votes in swing states started trending the wrong way. He’s been so loyal that members of Trump’s own family have floated him as a potential 2024 nominee if you-know-who doesn’t run. Why would a guy like that appeal to diehard Trump-haters like Morning Joe?

If you read this post over the weekend, you know why. It’s because DeSantis is the only figure in the party right now who stands even a small chance of steering it into post-Trumpism. That means the same culture-war fights that the MAGA base loves but prosecuted by a more capable, and more traditionally conservative, politician. A politician who probably wouldn’t try to overturn the results of a national election he lost. Probably.

The latest example of DeSantis out-Trumping Trump:

DeSantis said students need to be taught that communist and totalitarian governments are evil.

“Why would somebody flee across shark infested waters, say leaving from Cuba, to come to southern Florida? Why would somebody leave a place like Vietnam? Why would people leave these countries and risk their life to be able to come here? DeSantis said. ”It’s important that students understand that.”

The new law will require the development of a K-12 civics curriculum that, among other things, would include “portraits in patriotism” that tell the personal stories of civic-mindedness. Among those stories will be “first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States.”

Never Trumpers are forever being accused by MAGA of foolishly believing that the GOP will revert to Romney-ism once Trump himself passes from the scene. I don’t know a single NTer who actually thinks that, though, myself included. What Never Trumpers believe is that Trump is more a symptom than a cause of the Republican base’s drift into authoritarian populism; they’re not coming back to pre-Trump conservatism for many years, if ever. It’s the culture war, not the tea-party sermons about shrinking spending, that they cared about all along. Under those circumstances, the best one can hope for is to replace a charismatic nationalist demagogue with a somewhat less charismatic, less demagogic, more authentically conservative figure at the top of the party. DeSantis won’t run for president under the banner of smaller government (unless it’s a minor banner beneath the one about culture war) but I expect that he’d govern that way based on his Florida track record. More importantly, he wouldn’t threaten America’s democratic traditions as president, or in defeat, the way Trump did.


So, forced to choose between Trump and a more Reagan-esque, civically minded version of Trump, Never Trumpers will take the latter every time. And as more of them come to realize that that’s realistically the choice before them in 2024, the more enthusiastic about DeSantis they’ll become. Scarborough’s interest in him is a sneak preview.

…Although there may be a more devious, possibly counterproductive reason for him to tout DeSantis. Jonathan Last wrote yesterday about the risk to the governor of being praised the way Scarborough praises him here, when he quotes a longtime friend in the party as saying, “I haven’t seen anything since Reagan in ‘80. He was unbelievable.” At some point the clamor about DeSantis as the Next Big Thing will bruise the tender Trump ego and the consequences will be ugly.

Here’s a secret: If you want to destroy the presidential hopes of Ron DeSantis you don’t do it by attacking him.

You do it by celebrating him as The Smart Version of Trump.

Ron DeSantis could get caught with a dead hooker or a live boy and it wouldn’t matter one bit to Republican voters.

But if Molly Ball does a favorable profile of DeSantis and puts him on the cover of Time magazine with the headline “The Smart Version of Trump,” MAGA will turn on him in a Miami minute.

Trump certainly will turn on him. But would MAGA? When do we reach the stage of DeSantis-mania among the GOP base where Trumpers might disobey an order from their leader to turn on the governor because their loyalties are already divided between him and Trump? Scarborough’s talking up DeSantis here partly as a way to taunt the former president by suggesting that he’s old news but by doing that he also risks having Trump launch his anti-DeSantis phase before DeSantis has built enough of a base of his own to survive it. That’s the tricky part of this for Never Trumpers hoping to somehow maneuver DeSantis into supplanting Trump. They want him to take down the alpha gorilla, but pushing him into a fight before he’s big enough to win it is destined to end badly.