Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appear before the House Armed Services Committee in July 2020. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

The easiest genre of political punditry is explaining why something that seems like it should have happened … didn’t.

Politics at the national level is conducted by professionals, after all. Not always smart professionals, but smart enough that when a seemingly obvious course of action isn’t taken there’s usually a coherent reason. All the pundit needs to do is find it.

Take Ron DeSantis’ strategy of trying to out-populist Donald Trump instead of wooing traditional conservatives in this year’s Republican primary. In hindsight it seems nutty that he focused on fishing for votes in a big lake of cultists rather than a smaller lake where the fish were more likely to bite. But I (and maybe I alone) have always found that comprehensible: DeSantis reasoned correctly that one can’t win the GOP nomination without making significant headway with Trump fans, so he focused his energy there. If the cult was unwilling to budge, there was no point bothering to court the rump conservative minority.

In politics even the bad ideas are, in fact, ideas. To find examples of a candidate sabotaging himself or herself for wholly illogical reasons, you’re usually stuck with Trump or one of his similarly crankish disciples.

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