Douthat’s Elegy for Meatball Ron

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 19: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Unite and Win Rally in support of Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano at the Wyndham Hotel on August 19, 2022 in Pittsbur... PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 19: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Unite and Win Rally in support of Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano at the Wyndham Hotel on August 19, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During his visit to the state, DeSantis urged Republican voters to stand behind Doug Mastriano. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Ross Douthat makes several decent points in this column on 2016 déjà vu before coming around to what seems to be his real point: Trump’s getting a leg up because “the press” actually wants him back. “[A]t some half-conscious level the mainstream press really wants the Trump return. It wants to enjoy the Trump Show’s ratings; it wants the G.O.P. defined by Trumpism while it defines itself as democracy’s defender.”

To be fair to Douthat, he does say leading up to those lines that if Trump is renominated it’s ultimately on GOP primary voters. Fair enough. But I really don’t buy this. Yesterday, HuffPost’s S.V. Date wrote that the U.S. press has failed its responsibilities by not putting front and center in all coverage of the man the reality of Jan. 6. This is true. Every general press account of Trump should begin with a descriptor something like “Donald Trump, the former president who staged an unsuccessful coup after being defeated in the 2020 election …”

But even this failure isn’t the same as wanting him back. I simply don’t think this is true even for the silliest and most conventional of national political reporters.

What I do think we see from the more engaged commentators and especially opinion columnists is a certain hearty welcome to any news of DeSantis’s implosion. Indeed, I’d class myself in this group. I’m always up for the latest Meatball Ron rake stomp.

But that’s not about Trump. It’s about DeSantis. Just at a personal level he’s a pretty unappealing guy. He’s framed his campaign persona around the once-looked-down-upon qualities of being a bully and a strutting braggart. (Remind you of anyone?) Finally, even if you buy into a lot of the Republican political program, you have to be really, really hardcore into the Trumpist predation mindset not to see clearly that DeSantis has used some of the most vulnerable people in his state as pawns, game board pieces really, to click every hot button in the Trump Era GOP program.

As I apparently said in a recent podcast, DeSantis’s campaign platform basically amounts to being an asshole. And, let’s be honest, that’s a strong platform in GOP circles. Look at Trump. But it doesn’t rub everyone the right way. Of course, there’s something specific with the press. DeSantis insists on staying in a bubble into which only the most obsequious reporters are allowed to enter. He’s struggled with any real scrutiny from the national press.

Put these all together and there’s definitely a lot of people out there experiencing a vicarious glee at DeSantis’s collapse. But most of those people did the same with Trump. Or at least they cheered his various reverses and pratfalls. The problem was that none of it was Trump’s undoing. The Republican base just couldn’t quit the guy. They supported him too much. The bond with Trump was unbreakable.

Here we get to the heart of these complaints. A certain kind of Republican insider and moneyman wants everyone else to prop DeSantis up. He’s like the egg in a picnic egg race. He’s fragile. Don’t break him. A lot of work went into this guy. We need him to get to the end of the race intact! Why are you throwing him up and down?

Is it Saving Private DeSantis or DeSantis the Egg? He’s some mix of those two.

The problem of course is that DeSantis is no savior from Trumpism. He’s just as bad as Trump. If he’s not, he’s trying to be. He’s simply the candidate of Trump supporters who want a Trump who can run a more successful election, one who’s not so banged up. That’s DeSantis. Or at least it used to be.

I know a lot of people who oppose Trump and DeSantis do think the press is playing this role, making the same mistakes they did in 2016 and bringing him back. Maybe. But I don’t think it’s a matter of wanting Trump. If anything it’s built into the conventions of contemporary political reporting. Nobody should feel like they need to prop up Ron DeSantis to demonstrate some sort of anti-Trump bonafides. Trump’s command over Republican primary voters is on Republican primary voters alone, just as DeSantis’s collapse rests wholly on his padded shoulders.

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