Reviews | Unprepared Republicans flock to presidential race
On Wednesday, the charmless and clumsy Ron DeSantis entered the presidential race. In the 2024 Republican primary elections, he consistently comes in second place behind Donald Trump. He built his legend on an easy re-election as Governor of Florida and an easy path by which he enacted a list of regressive, regressive anti-revival laws, thanks to Republican supermajorities in the Florida Legislature.
He holds up his track record as proof of his effectiveness, but he has only won a series of fights in which his opponents had their hands tied by being in the minority.
Yet many Republican commentators and donors, desperate to get out of Trump’s toxicity, landed on DeSantis when looking for alternatives. They inflated his ego, convincing him that his big feet in Florida made him fearsome.
He seems to be banking on Trump fatigue, or perhaps Trump’s legal troubles piling up so high that even the former president’s staunchest supporters are coming to the conclusion that he’s too cluttered for the day. ‘to take with. If he can’t get past Trump, he’ll wait to catch him limping.
He is not alone on this path. Candidates (or potential candidates) Mike Pence, Asa Hutchinson and Chris Sununu – all current or former governors – occupy the same path. They are the icebreaker cohort in an emergency: If Trump finds himself on the way to jail and Republicans have to snatch a last-minute replacement, they hope voters will see them as solid surrogates.
They are positioning themselves as candidates who can deliver on Republican political priorities without the baggage and drama of Trump — but Trump’s drama is what many of his supporters are addicted to. The policies are welded to the character.
Trump allows his supporters to feel and express their full range of emotions: he entertains them; he channels their rage; it reflects their oppressive impulses; he is an oracle of their self-perceived victimhood and warrior model against a government and culture that they believe is turning against them.
Trumpism is a total self-experience, spiritual in its depth, so Trumpism without Trump would be like preaching Christianity without Christ.
And then there’s the other Republican way, in which racial absolution without racial repentance is offered. It is occupied by candidates of color who advance a version of this simplistic and opaque absolution: “America is not a racist country”.
Let’s be clear: is every person in America racist? No. Is race the primary consideration and determinant of all negative outcomes for people of color? No. But was racism a fundamental tenet of our country? Does racism still permeate American society and its institutions? Yes.
And racism abhors its own name; he hates being called what he is.
In recent election cycles, Republicans have embraced candidates who delivered some version of that message — Herman Cain in 2012, Ben Carson in 2016 — even as their party was rightly condemned for its anti-Barack Obama in level of fake scandal. obsession, which was always colored by race.
And now they have two candidates who used those exact words: When she launched her candidacy in February, Nikki Haley said, “Trust me, the first minority female governor in history: America is not a racist country.” And when he announced his candidacy on Monday, Tim Scott – whom she nominated to her Senate seat – repeated a line he had uttered in a 2021 speech: “America is not a racist country “.
Scott’s political positions — which straddle the Republican MAGA wing and the lame Jack Kemp wing of the party — are not his selling point. It sells a narrative, however distorted – a frozen smile for a fanatical party.
Haley is also on this path.
She and Scott use their own personal and political successes, not as outstanding examples of obstacle clearance, but to discuss the height of obstacles and question the will of other racers.
They, too, are likely waiting for the legal thunderbolt to strike, for Trump to become politically incapacitated, and for the Republican primary field to be wide open.
But Trump will fight to the last breath, perhaps not because he wants to be president again, but because he wants to guard against becoming a prisoner.
All Republican challengers are ruled by ambition, but Trump is now ruled by a more powerful force: panic.
Yes, if he is re-elected, he will be able to claim that he finally beat Biden. But he’s also aware that if he regains the presidency, he regains the power to blunt the ongoing federal investigations swirling around him and force a crisis on any state criminal proceedings, such as the one that could materialize in Georgia.
He wants to complicate any potential prosecution by angering his supporters, making rule-of-law-abiding institutionalists think about the consequences of penalizing a president. Trump has shown he has no qualms about breaking up the country to save himself, that patriotism is far behind self-preservation.
Trump has spent his life swaddled in creature comforts, however gilded and awkward. He has broken the rules so often that he seems to have forgotten that the justice system has a seriousness that few can escape forever.
Now, with the prospect of being shamed and possibly even chained, he will spare nothing in his quest to clear Republican ground – and none of his opponents seem ready for it.
If you thought the last two election cycles were ugly, buckle up: this one will probably be worse. All creatures are fiercer when backed into a corner.