Americans, Know Thine Enemy

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The One Thing Trump Has That DeSantis Never Will

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

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Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is in a trap of his own devising. His path to the Republican presidential nomination depends on convincing Donald Trump’s base that he represents a more committed and disciplined version of the former president, that he shares their populist grievances and aims only to execute the Trump agenda with greater forcefulness and skill. But it also depends on convincing a G.O.P. elite grown weary of Mr. Trump’s erratic bombast (not to mention electoral losses and legal jeopardy) that he, Mr. DeSantis, represents a more responsible alternative: shrewd where Mr. Trump is reckless; bookish where Mr. Trump is philistine; scrupulous, cunning and detail-oriented where Mr. Trump is impetuous and easily bored. In short, to the base, Mr. DeSantis must be more Trump than Trump, and to the donors, less.

Thus far, Mr. DeSantis has had greater success with party elites. By pairing aggressive stances on the culture wars with free-market economics and an appeal to his own competence and expertise, Mr. DeSantis has managed to corral key Republican megadonors, Murdoch media empire executives and conservative thought leaders from National Review to the Claremont Institute. He polls considerably higher than Mr. Trump with wealthy, college-educated, city- and suburb-dwelling Republicans. Mr. Trump, meanwhile, retains his grip on blue-collar, less educated and rural conservatives. For the G.O.P., the primary fight has begun to tell an all-too-familiar story: It’s the elites vs. the rabble.

Mr. Trump, for his part, appears to have taken notice of this incipient class divide (and perhaps of the dearth of billionaires rushing to his aid). In the past few weeks, he has skewered Mr. DeSantis as a tool for “globalist” plutocrats and the Republican old guard. Since his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury, Mr. Trump has sought to further solidify his status as the indispensable people’s champion, attacked on all sides by a conspiracy of liberal elites. While donors and operatives may prefer a more housebroken populism, it is Mr. Trump’s surmise that large parts of the base still want the real thing, warts and all.

By Sam Adler-Bell

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