Donald Trump can’t think he needs any help repelling Ron DeSantis’ gestating presidential ambitions, now entering their third trimester. I’ve got this, Trump must be musing, having just posted three new videos ripping the Florida governor as “disloyal,” a “Mitt Romney lover” and, narrowcasting to Iowa caucus voters, an enemy of ethanol.
Checking the fresh Fox News poll, which expands Trump’s lead over the unannounced 2024 hopeful (now 54 percent to 24 percent), he seems ready to coast on his tested campaign strategy of insults, rallies, anti-establishment rhetoric, political transgression and wild social media rumpusing.
Voters like hearing the oldies as much as music fans do, but 2024 isn’t 2016. Trump fatigue is real. He isn’t the insurgent he once was. He’s lost two midterms as well as a reelection bid against an aging exemplar of the progressive faith. Plus, he has all those legal problems, including, you know, his indictment. But it’s still the early innings of the campaign with plenty of ball left to play. So, seeing as this column extended advice to DeSantis earlier this week on how to beat Trump, it seems only kosher to grant the former president the same favor.
The advice-to-DeSantis column urged him to ignore Trump’s weaknesses — his porn-star hush money liability, his vulgarity and cruelty, his serial lies. Instead, DeSantis should take aim at Trump’s strengths, such as his border wall vows, his North Korea diplomacy, his so-called populism and so on. Savaging Trump’s positives might not alone turn the election, but playing offense instead of defense would give DeSantis the agency he needs to win.
Agency is the very thing Trump must deny DeSantis. By continuing to attack DeSantis by name, Trump elevates him from wannabe to genuine contender. Blasting DeSantis with a hailstorm of criticism will only raise the governor’s name recognition and direct fatigued but curious Trump voters toward an alternative. Bad idea.
If ever a presidential candidate needed to run a Rose Garden campaign in which the incumbent denies his opponent the attention he needs to gain voter share, it’s Trump. Trump’s not the incumbent, you say? That’s not the way he sees the “rigged” 2020 election. By running for the restoration of the crown, Trump can avail himself to a virtual Rose Garden campaign of proclamations, press conferences and media events. He might even think about skipping the primary debates as beneath him, though it might be too tempting for him to pass up a format in which he excels.
By making Joe Biden his 2024 opponent instead of Ron DeSantis, Trump would rob DeSantis the dignity of being a competitor. Added to that is the fact that attacking Biden every time he opens his mouth instead of DeSantis would play to Trump’s advantage by making 2024 be seen as a Trump-Biden rematch rather than a double-elimination tournament. There is so little policy difference between Trump and DeSantis that when Trump whacks him it’s almost as if he’s whacking himself. It leaves everybody, even pundits, a little confused. But when Trump whacks Biden, a slow-moving target if ever there was one, his supporters feel the full force of his rage. And they smile.
As the pseudo-incumbent president, Trump must never allow the DeSantis name to pass through his lips. By starving his opponent of equal billing, Trump could turn DeSantis into a no-name nobody unworthy of consideration. But that doesn’t mean Trump should ignore DeSantis. Just the opposite. This would only require a slight modification of Trump’s current strategy.
Instead of relying on lame nicknames like “Meatball Ron,” “Ron Desanctimonius,” and “Shutdown Ron,” Trump could disparage and diminish his opponent with a steady stream of oblique but stinging references. “There’s this kid from Florida…” Trump could say. “Have you heard about this Florida RINO who thinks he can be president?” “There’s this Jeb Bush Republican who wants to take your Social Security away.”
By taking advantage of DeSantis’ status as a relatively unknown nationally, Trump could portray him as an old school Republican who was for the Covid shutdown before he was against it, as a humorless whiner, as a paint-by-numbers, flip-flopping politician unworthy of graduation from governor to president, and just another palooka like the line-up Trump vanquished during the 2016 primaries.
Trump, who possesses the comic timing of a Vegas headliner, could make a running joke out of DeSantis, coloring him like a blank slate into whatever picture he wants. No offense meant to supermarket managers, but DeSantis looks like one, and Trump should capitalize on his lookist talents by ridiculing DeSantis’ very person — his whiny voice, his knickers-in-a-twist mien before the microphone and his dull rhetoric. Do we really need to remind Trump of his great skills as a political bully? As the original prophet who lived on locusts and wild honey in the desert, he should act like it!
DeSantis understands that voters crave fresh meat with their elections, hence his campaigns against DEI programs, critical race theory, LGBTQ issues, “woke” this and that, and his support for book bans and school choice. Trump’s policy shop has lagged in coming up with new issues upon which he can rage, which has made him a little bit of a copycat candidate. It might not be too late for Trump to carve a piece of this action out for himself, but surely the fellow who came up with the Wall and the Muslim ban can do better. His idea for futuristic “Freedom Cities” built on government land and sporting vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles is a good start. Who doesn’t want to live like the Jetsons? But one new idea he seems ready to advocate, the invasion of Mexico to destroy the drug cartels, might not be the ticket. For one thing, he can’t very well damage what wall he did build with an assault on our southern neighbor. Whatever he decides, he must stop resting on his demagogic laurels! A nation hungers for political entertainment!
Trump should remind voters that he was a president who kept America out of war, helped calm the Middle East, took on China, got Europe to pay its NATO bills, helped defeat ISIS, moved the embassy to Jerusalem and jawboned the Iranians. Trump can sketch DeSantis as a governor, a mere road-paver, and not a president you can go into war with. What, Trump might ask aloud, has the pudgy Tallahassee briefcase-toter accomplished? Fought Disney for months upon months and got beaten thanks to a legal loophole?
Treat DeSantis like a shadow. Invent some new issues to campaign on. Hammer Biden at every rally and TV appearance. And prepare for November 2024.
I look like a supermarket manager, too. Note to the Federal Election Commission: This is not an in-kind campaign contribution. Send new Trump policy ideas to [email protected]. No new email alert subscriptions are being honored at this time. My Twitter feed longs for another Carly Fiorina campaign. My Mastodon account is as pasty as Ron DeSantis. My Post account always votes for Harold Stassen. My RSS feed would never vote for a Harvard Law School graduate.