Let's face it, DeSantis is (probably) running for president in 2024

Let's face it, DeSantis is (probably) running for president in 2024
AP Photo/John Raoux

I agree with Philip Klein’s conclusion in this post but not necessarily his reasoning. Klein claims that the fact that DeSantis is throwing roundhouses at Disney, one of his state’s most important businesses, over the “don’t say gay” bill is evidence that he’s not planning a long-term future there:

Alienating Disney isn’t typically a swift move for an ambitious politician from Florida, it’s true. But given his strong standing in the polls and the universal belief that Florida is trending ever redder, I think DeSantis might reasonably calculate that battling with “woke corporations” is a net plus for him on Election Day this year. Especially in the context of “don’t say gay,” the logic of which is likely to be popular even with many centrist voters. “Young kids shouldn’t be subject to classroom commentary about topics as delicate as sex and sexual orientation” is a proposition even parents who don’t consider themselves culture warriors can get behind. My guess is that DeSantis is happy to have a prominent foil like Disney on the matter so that he can go on offense about it. It’s a winner at the state level even if he has no national ambitions.

But he clearly does. And as difficult as it’ll be for him to challenge Trump for the nomination in 2024, he has no choice but to do so if he wants to pursue those ambitions. The dynamics of American politics are such that he won’t be viable in 2028 if he waits. He’ll be old news, out of office in Florida for two years already by the time the primaries begin. He’ll have “missed his moment,” to borrow a phrase often used to describe Chris Christie’s fateful failure to challenge Mitt Romney in 2012 when he had some proto-Trump credibility with the base as a pugnacious populist. Christie is a good attack dog and would have made Romney sweat in debates. The GOP base was eager for an anti-Romney too, which is why so many different candidates surged briefly in the polls during that primary season before Republicans settled on Mitt. Christie could have forged a coalition of Romney-skeptic populists and centrist Republicans impressed by his ability to work with Democrats in New Jersey. But he chose to wait.

Then he ran in 2016 and got obliterated, dismissed as a RINO and as a far inferior version of Trump. A smart guy like DeSantis looks at that and wonders to which exciting new Republican star he’ll be deemed inferior if he waits until 2028.

It’s 2024 or bust, then, and I’m sure he knows it. But he’s going to delay admitting that for as long as possible, not wanting to bait Trump into taking shots at him until it’s unavoidable. A feud with the MAGA-in-chief is one of the few things that could put DeSantis’s reelection bid in real jeopardy:

He needs to lie low about 2024, hope to win big this fall, then spend 2023 hammering his key credential: Electability. DeSantis is a far more electable politician than Trump is. And the clearer the evidence of that becomes, the more even many Trump fans will begin to wonder why they shouldn’t play their strongest hand against the Democrats with the White House on the line.

At NRO today, an exasperated Charles Cooke is already wondering. Why the hell would the GOP nominate Trump, he asks, when it can get the upsides of Trump without the downsides by nominating some other populist?

And please don’t tell me that the GOP should choose Trump again because “he fights.” The Republican Party now has a whole host of other candidates who “fight,” and none of them come with Trump’s baggage, his torpidness, his ill-discipline, his self-indulgence, his abject disregard for our constitutional order, or his pathological, unyielding, surrealistic dishonesty. What, pray tell, did Donald Trump say as president that Ron DeSantis wouldn’t have? What law did he sign that Greg Abbott would have vetoed? Which of the judicial picks that the Federalist Society prepared for him would have been rejected by Tim Scott or Marco Rubio or Kim Reynolds? Trump’s apologists tend to cast him as an unfortunate package deal: You want the policy, you get the lunacy, too. But that isn’t true anymore — if it ever was. Embrace the glorious future, in which you are no longer obliged to tie the agenda you favor to a hand grenade.

Also important: That none of the other candidates have lost an election to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and then disgracefully lied about it for a year; that none of the other candidates have inspired a riot in the service of that lie; that none of the other candidates have sat in their country club for the last two years issuing unhinged press releases, delivering impotent endorsements, and attempting to undermine Mitch McConnell, the most effective Republican senator of the last 50 years. Yes, some of the criticisms of Donald Trump were unjust — as have been some of the open-ended investigations into his conduct — but Trump is hated by an awful lot of Americans for good cause, and there is absolutely no reason for those Americans to be asked to sweat their vote again next time around. The GOP does not lack options. It does not need to return to this well.

He fights! But DeSantis fights too. He’s fighting with one of the most influential companies in America at this very moment in support of a social conservative priority. You could get the same pugnacity minus the daily rhetorical embarrassments, Putin slobber, and occasional coup attempts by nominating him. Seems like an easy call if you care about flipping swing voters, who are very much open to voting for Republicans but far less open to voting for Trump:

Multiple polls show the GOP scoring higher on the generic ballot against Democrats than Trump scores in head-to-head match-ups with Biden, a guy who’s currently polling in the vicinity of 40 percent job approval. A party that prioritizes policy would unquestionably nominate someone else in 2024 to boost its chances of victory. A personality cult would nominate Trump to help him avenge his, and their, endless list of grievances because that’s more important than wielding power. We’ll find out which the GOP is when, not if, DeSantis announces that he’s in.

Read this Politico piece today in lieu of an exit question. None of the GOP’s 2024 hopefuls are taking hard shots at Trump yet (apart from Never Trumpers, who stand no chance of winning). But jabs are being thrown here and there. Not everyone eyeing a presidential run someday will be happy to wait ’til ’28 just because Trump insists that they do so.

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