I wrote a few days ago that Ron DeSantis’s long campaign collapse was likely the most ignominious and vertiginous in the presidential primary era, which dates in stages from the 1960s and early 1970s. Some skeptics pointed to Jeb! in 2016 or Rudy Giuliani in 2008. But on a closer inspection neither flameout measures up to Ron’s. As evidenced by his legendary “Please clap” mix of exhortation and lament, Jeb! had an uncanny degree of self-awareness about the impending collapse of his succession plans that would cheat him of the prize. Giuliani had the political press in his hands. But his attempt to corner the 9/11 market was never enough to overcome his heterodoxy on issues like gay rights or serial-philandering in an earlier version of the Republican Party where those things mattered. His strategy of sitting out the early primaries and waiting until Florida, while a nice foreshadowing of Florida’s future as the home of Trumpism, was always correctly identified as a way to post-date the end of his campaign. Even the 9/11 brand was too long in the tooth by 2007. Joe Biden was able to make him a punch line with his famous one-liner.
The truth though is that DeSantis never had a chance. His humiliation was preordained and basically certain. Professional Republicans were at least a bit soured on Trump after the 2022 election, which seemed to make clear what 2018 and 2020 had strongly suggested: that Trump is an electoral loser. For professional Republicans there’s a bit more to it though. They’re completely down with Trump and Trumpism, as the last seven years have shown clearly enough. But they’re always going to have an eye out to move on. Part of what it means to be a political professional is to have a wandering eye for the new political horse, the new candidate, the new rising star, which is the usual path to professional advancement. More generously, it’s why you get into political work in the first place.
A Republican Party ruled by Donald Trump is one in which true advancement and greatness is always stymied and, to the extent it exists, always subject to his whims.