Trump's line of attack on DeSantis is uncharacteristically stupid

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Donald Trump is not stupid.

His opponents have always underestimated him because of the colloquial way he talks–sounding vastly different than most people in the highly educated class. Not sounding educated, they assume he isn’t and by extension isn’t smart.


But in recent weeks Trump has been acting as if he is stupid, and I have to say I am surprised.

Trump has been attacking Ron DeSantis on the COVID lockdown issue, arguing that the governor’s reputation as a freedom fighter is unearned. Trump even implies that DeSantis was something of a COVID fascist, while Trump himself was fighting to reopen the American economy.

That is a profoundly stupid line of attack. Not just because it isn’t true–in politics, truth is malleable–but also because it directly contradicts most people’s settled impression of what actually happened in 2020. Nobody actually believes that Ron DeSantis was somehow a secret Andrew Cuomo or Gretchen Whitmer.

So the attacks won’t work, except as a signal to Trump’s hardcore base that they should dislike DeSantis.

In exchange for achieving that nearly worthless goal, Trump is going to pay a very high price. Not only will he annoy people who think highly of DeSantis, which is the vast majority of the Republican Party and many Independents as well, he opens up a line of attack upon himself at what is his most vulnerable political point: his own actions during the height of the COVID pandemic.

During the pandemic, the media started going after Trump as if he were recklessly pursuing a “let ‘er rip” strategy. They did so because they thought at the time that this would be an effective line of attack.


The reality, though, is that Trump was nearly the opposite. He became an acolyte of Dr. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, promoting them and their advice while criticizing anybody whose opinion differed from theirs. It took many months for Trump to sour on their advice, and by then he had solidified their prominence in the public’s eye.

He stood on the platform with them, empowered them with his authority, praised their wisdom, and attacked their critics. And it is all on tape.

All this is fairly fuzzy in Republicans’ minds, largely because Trump became a skeptic late in the game, and because the media attacked him as irresponsible for months. If you were to ask many Republicans today about Trump’s COVID policies the answer would be something like “he made mistakes early on, but corrected them.”

By attacking DeSantis along these lines Trump is going to remind Republicans of just how huge those mistakes were, and Trump’s opponents have the receipts. It has already begun, and the volume will increase over time, putting Trump back on his heels.


The criticism won’t come from Governor DeSantis himself. He has chosen the wise strategy of not even acknowledging the criticism from the former president. This implicitly relegates Trump to second-tier status, along with all the other ankle-biters who constantly attack him.

Republicans love DeSantis partly because he so deftly dismisses his critics, and Trump unwisely jumped into the same pool as all the media critics and Leftist simps who ineffectually attack him.

Early on I think Trump embraced Fauci because he thought Fauci was right, and partly because Trump is a famous germophobe. Everybody has quirks, so germophobia is fine. But he let it color his judgment about what others should do. In fact, several times during the early months of the pandemic Trump actually argued that many of the restrictions put in place should continue beyond the crisis. Given that most people hate those restrictions, reminding them that they originated with and were enthusiastically endorsed by him is not smart.


Focusing on COVID as his primary line of attack on DeSantis is stupid, and stupid is not Donald Trump’s default mode. Whatever else you think of him the former president has proven himself to be incredibly savvy over the years, both in promoting his own interests and in undercutting anybody who stands in his way.

But not this time, for some reason.

The only reason I can imagine is that there is so little to attack the governor on, and Trump has spent a lot of time and effort praising the governor in the past. He isn’t wrong that he helped make DeSantis, which also makes his attacks look superficial and solely self-serving.

Trump has earned my respect for his performance as president for the first 3 years of his term. I was a skeptic, and he won me over despite my misgivings about his character. He was hardly flawless, but his performance was solid and occasionally inspired. I still marvel at the Abraham Accords, which are reshaping Middle East politics. No other president could or even tried to achieve anything similar.


But he seems to have run out of savvy. His most effective political tools during the campaign were Twitter and Facebook, and he is stuck on Truth Social, a relative wasteland filled with Trump sycophants whose votes he already owns. He needs to expand his base, not solidify it. Truth isn’t where that can happen.

In order to succeed in achieving his goal of regaining leadership of the Republican Party he needs to find a positive message, and he has a wealth of material to work with–his own performance as president.

Choosing to focus on Ron DeSantis is a serious mistake, not 4-D chess — especially in the easily rebutted ways in which Trump has chosen to do so.

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