Last week, your humble correspondent opined that a “public rift” between former President Trump and Governor DeSantis was nothing but a media creation. I stand by that story – at the time I wrote it there was very little evidence of “a public feud.” All the media had was their usual suspects: anonymous sources and speculations.
That said, knowing Donald Trump, it was unreasonable to expect he was going to take a potential challenge in stride, should one arise. It was inevitable that once a challenger emerged, the former President would employ the same campaign tactics that helped him win the nomination in 2016. What was reasonable, though, was to expect that he would wait until the challenger does declare his intentions to run – or at the very least before Mr. Trump himself did so officially. And certainly that he wouldn’t sabotage his own party on the eve of the all-important midterm elections. Mr. Trump, however, crashed that hope shared by those of us rooting for the good of the country.
When President Trump left office, I was almost convinced that no matter how wronged he felt, he would still prioritize his love for the country over his personal grievances. His behavior after the election was erratic and destructive, but that could be easily explained by how unfairly he was treated during his Presidency. The former President wisely rejected calls to create a third party, which would split the Republican party and destroy its chances of ever winning. In return, Republicans embraced Donald Trump as their leader, counting on him to energize his base for the midterm elections. That symbiotic relationship between Trump and Republicans seemed like a constructive compromise.
It was obvious Mr. Trump was planning a political comeback, and I was fully ready to support him. I respected and appreciated how effective his first Presidency was, despite the headwinds that he faced, even from his own party. However, political fortunes are fleeting, and should a better candidate arise, I hoped President Trump would do what’s best for the country rather than for his own ambitions. He was a great President who always prioritized his country, and I was sure he would do it this time around.
That hope, to my great disappointment, proved to be in vain. Since he left office, Mr. Trump remained focused on his loss to the point of obsession. No matter if you believe that he was cheated of victory, as I do – repeating that claim ad nauseum got stale quickly. There is not one person remains who hasn’t made up their mind about the 2020 election. You either believe the election was fair, or you don’t. The former President was not going to change anybody’s mind by constantly regurgitating the “stolen election” claims every time he went out in public.
That was, however, what Mr. Trump chose to do. Once he started campaigning for the midterms, he made it a central issue. He endorsed only the candidates who were willing to publicly back that claim – essentially, making it a central issue of their campaign. Instead of projecting a positive message for the future, Mr. Trump rallies increasingly became a recital of past grievances. Instead of helping the candidates he, himself, picked, Mr. Trump chose to denigrate them, putting the spotlight squarely on himself. But at least he did not openly sabotage his own party – until two days before the election.
That attack on a sitting governor running for re-election was completely out of place. Everybody knew that Governor DeSantis was emerging as a potential rival, but the timing left everybody scratching their heads. The presidential campaign hasn’t even begun – why would you “pre-emptively” attack someone, taking the focus off the election to blunt Republicans’ momentum? Donald Trump all but revealed that he was planning to announce his candidacy next week – surely there was enough time for blackmail after the election?
Most pundits shrugged it off as “Trump being Trump,” often acting on impulse. Initially I did as well, but today, I am wondering if that was a calculated move. A ginormous victory would give Ron DeSantis a lot more power within Republican circles. By “pre-emptively” attacking the Governor, it is conceivable Mr. Trump was trying to sabotage the Governor’s campaign, producing a smaller margin of victory. Regardless of whether the attack was a calculated move or a dumb mistake, it spectacularly backfired. Governor DeSantis enjoyed a historic victory, delivering Florida as a solidly Republican state for the first time. In contrast, most candidates picked by Donald Trump performed very poorly (here, here, and here.) Today, it is clear that the former President’s power with voters is diminished.
While Trump’s endorsement did not sway the voters, neither did his criticism. The very effective governors who found Trump’s disfavor – Brian Kemp and most recently Ron DeSantis – cruised to an easy victory. That shows how little Trump’s opinion means outside his rapidly shrinking base. No matter how eccentric Trump was, what reasonable people liked about him were his policies. Name calling and insults were a nice touch for some, but that alienated a lot more people than it attracted. Today, with “Trump being Trump” no longer fresh and new but rather old and annoying, Trump’s coalition of support is falling apart. On the contrary, Ron DeSantis’ effective policies turned an evenly divided state solidly red – even the most reliably Democrat counties. After his historic victory, Ron DeSantis increasingly looks like the unifier people are desperately searching for.
With the disaster also known as the Biden administration, former President had a unique chance of a strong political comeback. Should he prioritize the good of the country over his ego; should he focus on the future rather than the past; should he change his stale offensive demeanor for a new and improved optimistic humor; should he embrace a strong ally rather than sabotage him – Mr. Trump would have all but assured his nomination.
Instead, former President chose a destructive path. Feeling threatened by an emerging challenger, he chose to smear, blackmail, and backstab him before the campaign even begun. Should Mr. Trump decide to join forces with Governor DeSantis, it is my strong belief (or at least a good chance) that the Governor would accept a VP nod, unifying the party and making a strong force in 2024. But since Ron DeSantis will not go along with making the 2020 election a central issue of the campaign, Mr. Trump decided to cast him aside as a rival instead of an ally. Because the midterms revealed that the former President is a weak link, that almost assures Ron DeSantis will – and should – challenge him.
After Republicans desperately failed to deliver the red wave, we were hoping for, it is Donald Trump who will take the blame, whether he likes it or not. He still has a chance for a comeback, although the time is desperately running out for him. That would involve humbly taking some of the blame for midterms, foregoing “the stolen election” mantra, and extending an olive branch to Ron DeSantis. Based on how things stand today, this is unlikely to happen.
President Trump’s effective policies and his tireless work for the country earned him an unprecedented support. Unfortunately, because he chose to be stuck in the past instead of moving the country forward, his support will continue to erode, making him angrier and more destructive. As of today, Republicans are looking at a bloody primary sawing hatred between Trump’s “die-hard” supporters and those who think the party needs a new leader. This is the fight Mr. Trump will lose, but it very well may happen that he will drag the party with him.
Good luck to us all.