Ron DeSantis is already pulling punches on Trump. That’s bad news for Republicans | Opinion
Ron DeSantis tried to do a very modern thing Wednesday when he announced his presidential candidacy on Twitter.
But he sounded like a candidate from another time, and not just because of the technical disaster that plagued the platform (the only part of the event anyone will actually remember).
No, DeSantis sounded like he was straight out of 2016. And that’s bad news for Republicans.
The Florida governor unleashed a torrent of criticism of incumbent Joe Biden. But he said almost nothing about the first contender he needs to beat: Donald Trump. It’s early, but if this is an indicator that he’s going to try to beat Trump by not talking about him, the GOP is stuck with Trump — and probably another loss to Biden.
Republicans tried this the first time Trump ran. They either ignored his surge, assuming he would flame out, or strategized to target other contenders in the hopes they’d be the last person standing to take on Trump for the 2016 nomination.
How did that work out for Ted Cruz? Or Marco Rubio? Or Jeb Bush?
This time, Republican contenders must convince Republican voters that Trump’s time is through, that he cannot win and that their policy priorities will suffer if they don’t step away from the former president.
DeSantis waved at it in his brief speech, delayed several minutes by Twitter’s failure to prepare for the large traffic DeSantis’ event drew.
“There is no substitute for victory,” he said, repeating his mantra that the party has suffered from a “culture of losing.” He added that Republicans must “look forward, not backwards,” a jab perhaps at Trump’s obsession with the 2020 election.
Not good enough.
There’s so much to work with, but the elements DeSantis should emphasize most can be summed up as: age and rage.
DeSantis is 44; Trump turns 77 next month. It’s an energetic 77, to be sure, and either would contrast well with President Joe Biden, who seems older in every (rare) public appearance.
Republicans desperately need to make in-roads with younger voters of all races and minorities in particular. A vigorous young governor can reframe conservatism as tackling the problems that vex young families, including our weak education system. Nearly everyone has an opinion on Trump, while DeSantis can make a brand new case.
As for rage, this is the singular argument against Trump: He turns off too many people. His lack of personal discipline and willingness to say anything at any time may excite the MAGA base for whom “owning the libs” is the pinnacle of presidential achievement. But there are many more voters who just can’t fathom another four years of cringing at something their president said or did.
A race against Biden is going to come down to a handful of states and a small number of swing voters in each. The Washington Post recently reported on a swing-state focus group in which voters uncertain about Biden’s age and fitness for office nonetheless swung — hard — to the incumbent if Trump is the GOP nominee.
It’s one focus group, and candidate DeSantis can’t spend too much time talking about electability. But he’s got to get his party interested in winning again and make voters understand that Trump, whatever their feelings about him, is not likely to pull it off.
The case must be made that Trump is a four-time loser. He lost the popular vote in 2016 and won the presidency on a once-in-a-lifetime break of a small number of voters in three states.
In 2018, Republicans got crushed and lost control of Congress. In 2020, Democrats swept, and they used control of the federal government to pass sweeping legislation. Republicans looked poised to ride a backlash to big majorities in Congress. But Trump’s poor choices in candidates helped lead to an unexpected strong election for the party in power.
Every day, it seems, there’s a new reminder of why winning matters. Consider the news that Biden’s Education Department is coming down hard on a Georgia school district that dared to try to exert control over which books it could have in its library. Fixing that and other executive actions will take focus and discipline, not picking daily fights with whoever has slighted you online.
In other words, imagine the damage a second-term Biden (or first-term Kamala Harris) Education Department could do with four more years.
To beat Trump, Republican challengers will have to make the case directly that Trump isn’t up to that kind of job. Any that won’t do so directly should clear a path for someone who will.