DeSantis: January 6 is Christmas Day to the media

Not to belabor a point, but if the anniversary of the insurrection is Christmas for the press then Trump is Santa Claus. He left this present under their tree this morning to remind the country why January 6 remains politically salient:

To watch Biden speaking is very hurtful to many people. They’re the ones who tried to stop the peaceful transfer with a rigged election. Just look at the numbers. Does anybody really think that Biden beat Obama with the Black population in select Swing State cities, but nowhere else? That he would lose 18 out of 19 bellwether counties, and 27 out of 27 “toss up” House races, but somehow miraculously receive the most votes in American history with no coattails? That he would lose Florida, Ohio, and Iowa and win, even though it has never been done before?…

Never forget the crime of the 2020 Presidential Election. Never give up!

He’s issued four — one, two, three, four — separate statements today (so far!) alleging “rigged” or “corrupt” elections. DeSantis seems not to care. Or he doesn’t care publicly, at least. Standard operating procedure for Republican politicians is to grumble in private about how Trump is hurting the country and then go out in front of the cameras and carry his water.

Increasingly DeSantis reminds me of Ted Cruz circa 2013. He’s a well-credentialed Ivy Leaguer eyeing a presidential run and calculating that pandering relentlessly to righty populists is his ticket to the nomination. The lyrics are different — in 2013 it was “constitutional conservatism” that was in vogue while now it’s populist nationalism — but the melody is the same. DeSantis has developed a fine ear for what the base wants to hear and seems increasingly willing to push the envelope in telling it to them. His public exhortations to get vaccinated last year have been crowded out over the last six months by rants against mandates and the “Faucian bio-surveillance state,” his way of getting anti-vaxxers to forgive him for his pro-vax stance. Today, in scoffing at commemorations of January 6, he hinted darkly about the role the FBI might have played that day. He’s goosing conspiracy theorists, in other words, to maintain his pride of place in the 2024 pack in case Trump doesn’t run.

Republican primary voters will give you a little bit of leeway on litmus tests in the name of appealing to the center, but only so much. DeSantis understands that. Being pro-vaccine won’t disqualify him in 2024 or 2028 but being loudly and consistently pro-vaccine in his rhetoric might. Being anti-insurrection won’t disqualify him either (“It was totally unacceptable and those folks need to be held accountable,” he said on January 7 last year) but being critical of the insurrection today as Democrats and the media gorge on the GOP’s disgrace might. He’s figured out the way to stay on MAGA’s good side, devoting most of his rhetorical energy to validating their grievances irrespective of whatever position he might hold on an issue personally. If you want to be the populist champion in the next presidential cycle, today’s a day to hand-wave away what happened, grumble about the press, and innocently suggest that the whole thing might have been part of a federal plot. Anything less is politically hazardous.

In fact, these clips are an excellent illustration of the point I made in this morning’s post about how utterly Republicans failed to repudiate Trump after the insurrection. If our politics were more rational, no one would have a stronger incentive to bash him on the anniversary of January 6 than Ron DeSantis. He’s the only figure in the party at the moment who even theoretically presents an obstacle to a third Trump nomination. If he were addressing a constituency that hadn’t lost its way civically, he would have used this presser to indict Trump for “stop the steal” and the violence that followed and demand that the GOP turn the page on the ugliness of that episode by seeking new leadership. But DeSantis’s constituents have lost their way, so telling them that would be tantamount to political suicide. His only play is to make feeble excuses for his rival by complaining that the media is obsessed with the same topic that, uh, Trump himself is obsessed with. Trump owns the party and so he owns DeSantis too.

I’ll leave you with this clip, and with apologies to Ted Cruz for the DeSantis comparison above. He showed more nerve in commenting on January 6 yesterday than DeSantis did.