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The Sweep: How Teflon Ron Is Repelling Trump’s Attacks
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The Sweep: How Teflon Ron Is Repelling Trump’s Attacks

The more the former president goes after DeSantis, the more viable he looks.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis arrives at a press conference on January 18, 2003. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.)

Heavy Apps

#TeamAneurysm takes a turn in the spotlight. The best reporting happens when a journalist tells a story that everyone assumed has already been told. McKay Coppins wins the award this week for his piece in The Atlantic, “Republicans’ 2024 Magical Thinking.”

Press them hard enough, and most Republican officials—even the ones with MAGA hats in their closets and Mar-a-Lago selfies in their Twitter avatar—will privately admit that Donald Trump has become a problem. He’s presided over three abysmal election cycles since he took office, he is more unstable than ever, and yet he returned to the campaign trail this past weekend, declaring that he is “angry” and determined to win the GOP presidential nomination again in 2024. Aside from his most blinkered loyalists, virtually everyone in the party agrees: It’s time to move on from Trump.

But ask them how they plan to do that, and the discussion quickly veers into the realm of hopeful hypotheticals. Maybe he’ll get indicted and his legal problems will overwhelm him. Maybe he’ll flame out early in the primaries, or just get bored with politics and wander away. Maybe the situation will resolve itself naturally: He’s old, after all—how many years can he have left?

That’s right. The big GOP strategy to defeat Donald Trump in 2024 is … “actuarial arbitrage,” as former Rep. Peter Meijer put it. Or #TeamAneurysm as one GOP strategist put it to me a while back. Everyone wants the guy out. Nobody knows how to do it. So they’re hoping Jesus will take the wheel. And in the meantime, they’re planning their trips to Iowa and New Hampshire as if it’s already a done deal. 

It goes without saying that there are a lot of problems with this strategy. First and foremost being … it’s not a strategy. And to the extent it is one, it’s a proven loser. The GOP tried deus ex machina in 2015, and it resulted in President Trump. 

But it also misses how much the Trump team is struggling. Back in 2015, Trump was the new hotness. No record to tie him down. Everything that came out of his mouth was unexpected. He could be and say whatever he wanted. But that’s not true this time around. Just look at his attacks on Ron DeSantis. 

Here’s the odd thing. As you may remember, Trump was president during the first year of the pandemic. Operation Warp Speed, under his leadership, produced a vaccine faster than anyone thought was possible, saving untold lives and allowing the rest of us to get back to normal. Toward the end of April 2020, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp started to reopen businesses in his state, and it was Trump who said he “‘strongly’ disagreed with what Kemp was doing and accused him of violating the federal guidelines.”

But that’s not the record Trump wants to run on. 

Back in 2015, Trump was Barack Obama circa 2007. The voters and the media couldn’t get enough and they were hungry for new energy. Now, in 2023, he’s Hillary Clinton. And DeSantis is the underdog alternative to the “you-must-accept-me” juggernaut.

Sure, DeSantis is the most viable alternative because people believe he is the most viable alternative. The bubble could burst. But DeSantis is also benefiting from the fact that he doesn’t have to respond to Trump’s attacks. Nobody expects him to. He ignores Trump in a way that GOP candidates couldn’t get away with in 2015. And he isn’t expected to announce until the end of Florida’s legislative session—perhaps as late as Memorial Day. And because he’s so far ahead of every other non-Trump candidate in the polls, the field is all but frozen until he gets in—regardless of how many other candidates actually do jump in between now and then. And the more Trump attacks him, the more viable he looks. It’s hard not to be envious of the guy.

In the meantime, Trump is the only announced GOP candidate and his campaign events are feeling a bit flaccid. 

Entree

Let Kamala be Kamala? The vice president’s team thinks this will be their boss’s time to shine. From Politico’s Eugene Daniels:

She no longer is tied to the whims of an evenly split Senate, where she had been called to cast more than two dozen tie-breaking votes. And they say she no longer feels her every move is being eyed in the context of a potential 2024 Harris presidential campaign since her boss is highly likely to seek another term. 

“Now that it looks like he’s running, she’s really being treated like what I would call a ‘normal vice president,’” said one former Harris aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “There’s just less attention, which I think actually frees her up to focus on excelling and not have to worry about the relentless scrutiny.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to this except that the conversations around Biden’s age haven’t subsided (he’d be 86 at the end of a second term) and the special counsel investigation into his removal and retention of classified documents at his home has robbed him of one of his best angles of attack against Donald Trump: that Biden is the responsible, drama free one.

And then pile onto all of that this weird exchange from Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Boston Public Radio over the weekend: 

Host: [Should Biden run again?]

Warren: Yes. He should run again. And he is running again.

Host: [Should Harris be his running mate?]

Warren: I really want to defer to what makes Biden comfortable on his team. I’ve known Kamala for a long time. I like Kamala. I knew her back when she was an attorney general and I was still teaching and we worked on the housing crisis together, so we go way back. But they need— they have to be a team, and my sense is they are—I don’t mean that by suggesting I think there are any problems. I think they are.

Record scratch … What?! That’s like when your girlfriend says, “Did you have fun with the guys last night?” And you say, “Definitely.” And she says, “Mike’s wife called and thought he was over here. That’s weird right?” And you say, “It was a really fun night. I’ve known Mike for a long time. Mike always threw great parties back then and I always showed up. But you know, it was Mike’s night. Not that I’m saying anything weird happened. I don’t think it did.” Translation: You’re sleeping on the couch, and your buddy is in hot water.

So what does all of this mean for the Democratic side? 

Ask rank-and-file Democrats whether they want Joe Biden as their 2024 nominee, and the answer is pretty clearly no … until you ask them who else they think can take his place. This Saturday Night Live skit summed it up perfectly and it’s hilarious. 

But if Biden did step aside, there are options besides Harris. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has never hid his presidential ambitions. California Gov. Gavin Newsom will be the first to tell you how great California Gov. Gavin Newsom is. But there are dark horses like Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear or even former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. And no doubt you’d see some of the 2020 field come back to play again—Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, who knows. 

But the world looks very different from 1991 or even 2007. In particular, I think it is much harder for a governor to get through either party’s primary for the very reason that most governors have to govern—which requires prioritizing and compromising—two things that neither party’s base seems to want to hear much about. 

That’s also why DeSantis and Newsom stand out in 2024. Both have governed with a lot of fan service and without a lot of regard to what would actually, you know, work. Newsom got his legislature to pass a COVID-19 misinformation bill, which punished doctors who “disseminate misinformation or disinformation related to COVID-19” defined as “false information that is contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care.” In short order, a court enjoined the law from going into effect, finding it “grammatically incoherent” and too vague to enforce. DeSantis’ Stop WOKE Act has been stopped by two different injunctions for violating the First Amendment by attempting to ban disfavored viewpoints in classrooms. 

On the flip side, you’ve got Beshear, a Democrat elected statewide in deep red Kentucky. Back in the day, that would have been a recipe for higher office—an old school liberal with a proven track record of winning over independents and voters from the other party. But there’s a reason nobody is touting Beshear as the next Bill Clinton. It’s not 1991. And all of the things that have allowed Beshear to run successfully and govern his state are deal breakers in his own party. 

Dessert

Don’t make things harder than they need to be. 

Sarah Isgur is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in northern Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she had worked in every branch of the federal government and on three presidential campaigns. When Sarah is not hosting podcasts or writing newsletters, she’s probably sending uplifting stories about spiders to Jonah, who only pretends to love all animals.