Monday, October 23, 2023

DeSantis Implosion

My political predictions are just that — predictions — and they’re not based on much more than gut feelings, but I think I’ve got this one right: that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign would be pretty much over by October 2023, and he won’t make it beyond the Iowa caucuses next winter.  This recent article in the New York Times bears that out.

In early May, as Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida prepared to run for president, about a dozen right-wing social media influencers gathered at his pollster’s home for cocktails and a poolside buffet.

The guests all had large followings or successful podcasts and were already fans of the governor. But Mr. DeSantis’s team wanted to turn them into a battalion of on-message surrogates who could tangle with Donald J. Trump and his supporters online.

For some, however, the gathering had the opposite effect, according to three attendees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to damage their relationships with the governor or other Republican leaders.

Mr. DeSantis’s advisers were defensive when asked about campaign strategy, they said, and struggled to come up with talking points beyond the vague notion of “freedom.” Some of the guests at the meeting, which has not previously been reported, left doubtful that the DeSantis camp knew what it was in for.

Four months later, those worries seem more than justified. Mr. DeSantis’s hyper-online strategy, once viewed as a potential strength, quickly became a glaring weakness on the presidential trail, with a series of gaffes, unforced errors and blown opportunities, according to former staff members, influencers with ties to the campaign and right-wing commentators.

Even after a recent concerted effort to reboot, the campaign has had trouble shaking off a reputation for being thin-skinned and meanspirited online, repeatedly insulting Trump supporters and alienating potential allies. Some of its most visible efforts — including videos employing a Nazi symbol and homoerotic images — have turned off donors and drawn much-needed attention away from the candidate. And, despite positioning itself as a social media-first campaign, it has been unable to halt the cascade of internet memes that belittle and ridicule Mr. DeSantis.

These missteps are hardly the only source of trouble for Mr. DeSantis, who is polling in a distant second place. Like the rest of its rivals, the DeSantis campaign has often failed to land meaningful blows on Mr. Trump, who somehow only gains more support when under fire.

But as surely as past presidential campaigns — such as Bernie Sanders’s and Mr. Trump’s — have become textbook cases on the power of online buzz, Mr. DeSantis’s bid now highlights a different lesson for future presidential contenders: Losing the virtual race can drag down an in-real-life campaign.

I think the problem goes deeper than whether or not his team knows how to use the internet. The problem is the product they’re trying to sell.

According to someone I know who has been in the candidate’s presence more than once and who is politically inclined to support a Republican candidate, Ron DeSantis hasn’t got the personality or the stage presence to make the case.  Others have noted that he’s a pretty much charisma-free in person and when he’s out meeting voters, and that the message he has — Fight The Woke — is an abstract in search of meaning.  Put that together in the race against the rest of the field, and, in Broadway terms, that show closes out of town.

DeSantis has chosen, for whatever reason, to run as if he’s running against Joe Biden, not Trump, and therefore leaving himself vulnerable to whatever scorched-earth tactics Trump and his minions will use.  He’s also a bully and a coward — redundant, I know — and used his mean-spirited and legally-challenged tactics in Florida — shitting on the vulnerable minorities such as immigrants, the LGBTQ+, and Others in his quest to eradicate “the Woke” — that he has no positive message to counter the authoritarian goals of Trump.  In fact, he’s echoed them.  In all of this, he has yet to give anyone outside of his bubble a reason to vote for him instead of just voting against the other guy.  That doesn’t win a primary.

On the up side, he’s term-limited as governor, and when he’s done he’ll either try to run against Rick Scott for the Senate or for a seat on the couch at Fox News.  But he’ll never make it to the White House.

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