In today’s episode of the ongoing collapse of the DeSantis campaign, we have a new moment which we might see as the severed segments of Dead Bounce Ron roiling and twitching around, much like a worm that has been cut into pieces but continues to wiggle and move about almost as if nothing had happened. Yesterday in response to a question about ersatz candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., DeSantis said that while he wouldn’t choose Kennedy as his vice president, he would consider him to run the FDA or CDC.
This is of course a ridiculously inane suggestion. But the key is that it was immediately attacked even by many of DeSantis’s erstwhile allies or the kinds of Republicans he needs to gain the support of to remain in the race.
There are two issues to discuss.
The first is that while a lot of Republicans are happy to humor, amplify or contribute money to RFK Jr., either as a purported symbol of endangered free speech or to troll Democrats, even those people are seldom willing to support his actual views on vaccines and various racist or ridiculous conspiracy theories. In other words, there’s an established if tacit set of rules for playing the Republican Robert F. Kennedy Jr. game and Ron just stumbled right over all of them. The criticisms amount to, “WTF, dude? We’re having some fun with this guy. But we’re not going to put this idiot in charge of federal medical or pharmaceuticals policy.”
The second point is closely related to the first. DeSantis is extremely wooden and rigid when it comes to navigating culture war politics. The best example is his attempt to run hard to Trump’s right. The initial idea — or at least the common understanding of it — was that DeSantis would argue that unlike Trump he’d actually enacted a lot of Trumpite policies rather than failing because of governing chaos and incompetence. That’s different from running to Trump’s right. But it’s a distinction the importance of which was apparently lost on DeSantis.
But it’s more than that. There is no shortage of true haters in the GOP. But the electoral sweet spot for Republicans on gender and identity issues today is made up of Republicans and right-leaning voters who mainly want to slow down. These are people who are essentially saying, “We just did gay marriage. Now I’m hearing about people who aren’t men or women; kids have sex change operations. It’s too much change. Slow down.”
You don’t have to credit this viewpoint to recognize that it is politically and electorally distinct. These people don’t want to see the kind of raucous hater videos DeSantis has been putting out. Or at least they aren’t comfortable with the story this kind of messaging is implicitly telling about them.
And here we get to the final piece of the puzzle. Fewer and fewer Republican elites and gatekeepers have any interest in defending DeSantis’s goofs or cleaning up his messes. Many are at least privately pissed at him for blowing it, for wrecking what they thought was a golden opportunity to usher Trump off the stage. What that gets you is that just as DeSantis is struggling to get his footing really anywhere, the whole GOP cheering section is more willing and even eager to smack him down over every goof. That’s exactly what happened with these RFK Jr. comments. Ron is gasping for air and struggling to climb back into the boat and the folks in the boat are hitting him with paddles and prying back his fingers to keep him in the water.
Meanwhile, DeSantis reportedly crashed and burned on a fundraising jaunt through the Hamptons, according to The New York Post, even as RFK Jr. made bank on Hamptons Republicans eager to fund his trolling operation. According to the Post, DeSantis was reduced to cutting the minimum contribution in half — essentially offering discount fundraisers — and ended up having to scrap two events for lack of interest.
Of course, it’s the Post. So who knows? But why spoil a good story?