"Fool's errand": GOP strategist "pauses" formation of DeSantis 2024 PAC after search at Mar-a-Lago

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

I hope President DeSantis hears about this and freezes this guy out of the party over it, holding a grudge to his dying day.

He probably will. Abusing institutional power to carry out grudges is sort of his bag.

I’m on record as believing that the 2024 “DeSantasy” isn’t over. Just be patient, let the Trump/DOJ saga play out, and hope that DeSantis blows the roof off in November’s gubernatorial race. Republican voters will draw their own conclusions about which of the two is more electable, the governor who turned Florida into a solid red state or the septuagenarian who’s facing legal trouble in multiple jurisdictions.

But some aren’t waiting around before throwing themselves from the DeSantis train and trying to clamber aboard the Trump train. Like this dude:

“Trump has an absolute viselike grip on the Republican electorate, and if he wants to be the Republican nominee in 2024, he will be,” said GOP strategist John Thomas. He said he had been helping to organize a political action committee to support a potential presidential bid by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis if Trump doesn’t run, but recently put those plans on pause…

“We definitely pumped the brakes,” after the FBI search, said Thomas, speaking of the preparations to support a DeSantis bid in 2024. He said he reasoned that Trump would seek reelection and that “at this point, it would be essentially a fool’s errand for DeSantis to attempt to run.” The Mar-a-Lago search, he added, “turned Trump into a victim” and fed the “us-versus-them psychology” that fires up Trump’s base.

“Any pathway for DeSantis to primary him from the right just closed completely shut if Trump decides to run,” said one Republican operative to The Hill about the Mar-a-Lago search. “Our voters now want revenge, and I suspect that will manifest into them concluding the best way they can get revenge is by sending Trump back to the White House.” It’s true, GOP voters are certainly foolish enough to nominate a widely disliked two-time loser of the popular vote over a successful governor to spite the libs. Which is why Trump, not the DOJ, announced to the world that the search had taken place: Contra the theories that the feds aimed to embarrass him, he correctly saw the operation as a way to boost his popularity by presenting himself as a martyr to his base.

I don’t disagree that his chances at the nomination have improved since it happened, or that he was and remains a solid favorite to win. I just think the commentariat should bear in mind that DeSantis also has cards he can play to boost his own popularity among Republican voters before he has to make a decision next year. He’s a governor; he can start and wage a culture war in more meaningful ways than Trump can at the moment. For instance, Trump can blather all day long on Truth Social but can he boast that he’s just been enjoined by a federal judge for violating the First Amendment?

Nothing proves one’s commitment to fighting wokeness like being willing to infringe the Bill of Rights. And how about this endorsement, offered by a hardcore anti-vaxxer who’s underwhelmed by Trump’s vaccine advocacy and wants a Republican who’s more ambivalent on the subject?

All DeSantis needs to do to get back in the race is make a few grand gestures using his gubernatorial powers to show righties that he’s more of an Orbanist than Trump is. Maybe issue an executive order purporting to ban Democrats from voting. Or send state troopers to seize control of the Magic Kingdom and declare it the property of the state of Florida. Get creative. The entire reason populists are swinging back behind Trump after the Mar-a-Lago search is because they see reelecting him as the only way to punish his, and their, enemies. Punishing the enemy has always been the core appeal of Trumpism, way beyond “building the wall” or whatever. And DeSantis grasps that: There’s no clearer example in the last few years of a politician aiming to punish his side’s enemies simply for being enemies than rescinding Disney’s special district after the company criticized the “don’t say gay” bill.

He just needs to stoop a bit lower over the next year to convince MAGA that he hates their cultural enemies even more than Trump does.

Although, admittedly, if Trump ends up being charged with a crime anywhere, that might be checkmate:

DeSantis could be leaving himself a small opening: If the various investigations into Trump never amount to anything, DeSantis might still have room to challenge the former president. But if Trump is actually indicted for a crime related to the Capitol attack on January 6, or to whatever classified documents he’s allegedly taken from the White House, last week’s rally-round-the-king moment offered a glimpse of what we can expect. Every Republican politician, including any potential challengers, would be forced to choose between defending Trump and siding with Joe Biden’s corrupt, leftist “deep state.” “The prosecution of Donald Trump would be the most catalyzing moment available to the former president,” Jolly said. “That’s a harder case for DeSantis to get into the race.”

Having criminal charges against Trump extinguish the party’s last, best chance to move on from his cult of personality feels like a fitting end to the story of the GOP’s gradual corruption since 2015. For all of DeSantis’s theatrical transgressions against the establishment, only one man will have proved so transgressive as to actually have been indicted for his behavior. The fact that the base is now so nihilistic and amoral that they might reward him for being criminally charged makes me think Trump had it slightly wrong when he said all those years ago that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes. That used to be true; now he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and gain votes. Sorry, Ron.

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David Strom 4:01 PM on October 05, 2022