For the last two or three months we’ve had this on-going spectacle of major media continuing to portray Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the arch-rival and potential slayer of ex-President Trump, even after it’s become increasingly clear he has really no chance at all of winning the nomination. In fairness to DeSantis, it’s unlikely that anyone stands a chance, unless the judicial system or mortality remove Trump from the stage. But it’s only with DeSantis that you have the yawning gap between perception and reality. Everyone knows Pence and Scott aren’t happening.
Now we’re seeing the first signs of the Bigs catching on.
Tara Palmeri, consummate insider D.C. journalist now writing for Puck News, spent some time trying to cover DeSantis in New Hampshire during his recent visit and found him awkward, incapable of the basic blocking and tackling of retail politics, unable to sustain eye contact and generally weird. You may have seen some of the cringeworthy videos from his Florida jaunt. Palmeri sums it up like this: “It was my first personal observation of what DeSantis’s critics mean when they call him a paper tiger — a superficially perfect test-tube Republican candidate who, on closer inspection, is probably not ready for prime-time.”
This is notable for two reasons. To date, most prestige reporters questioning DeSantis’s candidacy have focused on the growing polling gap between DeSantis and Trump, his unwillingness to attack Trump and his inability to find his footing against Trump’s growing media presence and mounting attacks. That’s looking at the campaign chess board and seeing that the pieces aren’t arranged for a DeSantis win. Palmeri’s comments are about seeing the guy in person and realizing he’s out of his league.
If DeSantis is such a hopeless clown, that raises the question of how it is that he’s serving his second term as governor of the country’s third largest state after a thundering reelection victory. It’s a good question without a totally straightforward answer. But it comes down to Florida not being the country at large, without the national press scrutiny that is much harder to keep at bay. But it’s just as much about the relationship to Trump. DeSantis’s rise from a backbench congressman was based on being a loyal Trump soldier. In 2018 he pushed this image to humorous effect, filming campaign ads about reading his toddler son bedtime stories about building the wall. In 2022 to a great degree he still operated in this role, albeit without the comparable obsequiousness. We can’t take his almost 20-point margin away from him. But the facts speak for themselves.
For the purposes of understanding our unfolding national predicament it’s just more confirmation that DeSantis is highly unlikely to be the Republican nominee. His story is shaping up to be a one-man Rosenkranz and Guildenstern, a mix of malevolence and comedy destined for a bad (political) end.