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Looking Forward To A Trump v DeSantis Blowout? Here’s a Preview

Financial Times U.S. correspondents James Politi, Lauren Fedor and Caitlin Gilbert wrote that a DeSantis SuperPAC, Ready for Ron, “is planning to spend $3.3 million over the next six months to boost his national profile, adding to expectations that the Florida governor will challenge Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024… These will include $2.3 million in national television advertisements, at a rate of spending of $100,000 per week until the end of June, as well as about $1 million in independent spending on phone, mail and digital promotion of a DeSantis candidacy… Its chief political strategist is Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican consultant.”

The trio of writers noted that “DeSantis has faced growing calls to throw his hat in the ring after he cruised to re-election as governor of Florida by nearly 20 points in last November’s midterm elections. But he has so far side-stepped questions about 2024 and said he is focused on the upcoming legislative session in Florida, which ends in May. In the first days of his second term as governor, DeSantis has said he will push the state legislature to enact a permanent ban on certain coronavirus-related measures, including vaccine and mask requirements in schools and businesses. DeSantis has also doubled down on his commitment to preventing state fund managers from considering environmental, social and governance, or ESG, factors in their investments.”

Dan Backer, a lawyer and counsel to Ready for Ron, said the purpose of the ad spending was to create “the backbone of a real ground game” for DeSantis and “convince DeSantis that he has the grassroots support to run and win in a general election.”
He added that Ready for Ron wanted to “bring in a whole host of people who aren’t part of the current universe,” including those who are not part of Trump’s base of conservative voters, which has dominated Republican campaigns in recent years.
…Backer said he expected DeSantis to launch his candidacy only after the end of the Florida legislative session, and that he would bet on it happening after the Labor Day holiday in early September. He said outside spending should help “offset any competitive advantage that any other campaigns may or may not have” between now and then.
While DeSantis has been gaining traction, doubts still linger about his national appeal, in terms of winning over the base in the primaries and independent voters in the general election.

And then, of course, there’s the Trump factor. Yesterday, Rolling Stone carried a story by Asawin Suebsaeng about how Team Trump is plotting to kick DeSantis in the nuts, basically painting him “as an establishment hawk who'll put Social Security on the chopping block.”

He reported that Trump’s “determination to obliterate his ascendent rival underscores just how unwilling Trump is to pass the torch and surrender his stewardship of the GOP— even if it shreds the party. As Trump and his ideological heir DeSantis vie for control of the Republican Party, the victor in that power struggle will help determine the precise kind of extreme politics that modern conservatives see as their future: the authoritarian personality cult of a Trump, or the more disciplined MAGAism of a DeSantis… Trump and his advisers are plotting a new scorched-earth campaign against DeSantis as soon as he declares his 2024 candidacy.

In the past two months, Trump has talked to political allies about effective ways to pummel DeSantis on both personal issues— recurring concerns about his “likeability” and supposed charisma deficit— and on policy matters such as DeSantis’ hawkish foreign policy, trade stances, COVID-19 posturing, closeness to the party’s “establishment,” and the past votes to slash the social safety net, sources familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone.
Trump has participated in a handful of discussions on this topic so far, but campaign advisers are trying to keep the finer details of their oppo blitz under wraps for now. Still, that hasn’t stemmed Trump’s enthusiasm for going after DeSantis— his former MAGA-friendly ally— whom the former president now sees as his greatest intra-party foe. In recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly quizzed some of those close to him: “What else do we have on [Ron]?” he has asked, according to two sources who’ve heard his query.
On a host of issues, Trump and his lieutenants are itching to portray DeSantis as the “establishment” figure— the one who is preferred by the supposedly squishy party bigwigs like Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. One of Trump’s biggest impacts on the GOP was largely shelving the budget-slashing austerity economics of former Speaker Ryan and ushering in a free-spending, debt-ballooning era that combined tax cuts for the rich, with a rhetorical cease-fire on threats to the bennies of the masses— ranging from Social Security to Medicare.
One area in which Trump and his allies smell that kind of weakness in DeSantis is on Social Security (even though President Trump himself displayed an openness toward eventual significant cuts to popular entitlement programs).
“In a Republican primary, only Donald Trump could effectively go after Ron DeSantis for wanting to cut Social Security,” a Republican close to the 2024 Trump campaign tells Rolling Stone. “Trump has a track record of saying the right things on this issue both when it comes to a general election and also Republican voters in a primary. DeSantis’ record in the House [on this topic] is very much of the Paul Ryan, privatize Social Security platform, which is just not where our voters are now.”
For Trump, DeSantis may be easy to paint as a heartless budget-slasher. During his stint in the House from 2013 to 2018, DeSantis was a founding member of Freedom Caucus— the hardest of the hardline members of the GOP conference. “He was part of the team,” Freedom Caucus founder and former Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon tells Rolling Stone. Salmon further praises DeSantis as “one of the most principled people I ever got a chance to work with.”
At the time before the rise of Trumpism in 2015 and 2016, those principles were all about constraining government spending by repealing Obamacare and pursuing “entitlement reform.” In 2013, during DeSantis’ first year in office, he voted for a far-right budget resolution that sought to balance the federal budget in just four years— twice as fast as a competing measure by Ryan that got the Republican budget wonk lampooned as a “zombie-eyed granny starver.”
The draconian cuts DeSantis voted for would have raised the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare to 70. It would have weakened Medicare by offering seniors “premium support” instead of comprehensive health coverage. And it would have eroded Social Security by giving recipients miserly annual adjustments for inflation. Taken together, the two measures would have cut these bedrock safety-net programs for seniors by more than $250 billion over a decade.
Furthermore, two people who’ve spoken to Trump in the past couple of months about how DeSantis is the “establishment” candidate— a claim Trump likes to hurl, even though Trump is the literal leader and standard-bearer of his own party— say that the ex-president has brought up foreign policy as a means to differentiate himself from the Florida Republican. During at least one dinner late last year, the former president told a longtime associate that DeSantis was fine with “endless wars,” according to a source with direct knowledge of the exchange.
On foreign policy, Trump represented a partial break with the interventionist neoconservative foreign policy that had defined the GOP since the George W. Bush era. Trump trashed GOP hawks like John McCain, hectored NATO allies to cough up more cash for their own defense, played footsie with Vladimir Putin, regularly lambasted U.S. commitments in Afghanistan and Syria (even as he’d escalate military involvement abroad), and forged an open bromance with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
DeSantis has a far more conventional Republican profile. That starts with his decorated military service— during the Global War on Terror he served as a JAG officer at Guantanamo, and deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, as the top legal adviser to SEAL Team One.
MAGA politicians are frequently Russia apologists, seeing Putin as an avatar of the kind of authoritarian Christian nationalism they’d prefer to install in the United States. But on Russia, in particular, DeSantis sounds like a throwback, McCain-style hawk, blasting Putin as an “authoritarian gas station attendant… with some legacy nuclear weapons.”
And when it comes to other aspects of his international and domestic platform, the former president has been using a familiar playbook, and appears to be sticking to it. In a throwback to 2016, he’s described DeSantis in several private conversations in recent weeks as: “Bad on trade.”
True to his belligerent brand of politics, Trump made trade wars a centerpiece of his administration. In a display of executive power, Trump slapped tariffs on everything from solar panels to washing machines to steel— offending geopolitical foes (China), frenemies (India), and allies (Canada) in equal measure. For Trump, hiking taxes on cheap imports became a politically potent— if economically incoherent— display of economic nationalism.
Quietly, DeSantis is far more mainstream on trade. While taking rhetorical swings at “Communist” China, DeSantis has been solicitous of top U.S. trade partners as Florida’s governor, recently hosting a trade conference with Japan in Orlando.
In recent huddles with longtime confidants, Trump has signaled his intention to cudgel DeSantis for the former congressman’s role in advancing a Pacific-rim free trade pact called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). In a 2015 vote, DeSantis voted to give president Obama “fast track” authority to pursue that trade deal with dozens of Asian nations. He joined an unusual bipartisan coalition with some far-left Democrats— including former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Rep. Earl Blumenaur, who represents Portland, Oregon. In Trump’s words, this makes DeSantis somehow “pro-Obama” on trade policy.
Whatever the policy merits of the trade deal, it was bad politics amid rising economic nationalism. Public opinion broke so sharply against TPP that even Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton ran against it in her 2016 presidential bid, and Trump spiked U.S. participation shortly on his first full day in office, having crusaded against it as a “bad, bad deal for American businesses, for workers, for taxpayers.”
But in perhaps his most brazen effort to brand himself as Trumpier than Trump, DeSantis has for months tried to fully ingratiate himself to the anti-vaccine factions of the GOP. It’s a move that Trump— as he told at least one Republican strategist late last year— sees as completely “phony,” given how DeSantis has tried to have it both ways on the coronavirus shots. Several people currently working to get Trump reelected tell Rolling Stone that Trump and his campaign fully intend to troll this hypocrisy in a primary.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis’ approach to controlling the spread of the deadly disease was not much different from governors in blue states, including a move to quarantine visitors from states like Louisiana. And in 2020, he praised then-President Trump for the administration’s determination to cut through red tape to speed the development of vaccines. In May 2021, DeSantis encouraged citizens to get their jabs, telling the public: “The vaccines protect you. Get vaccinated and then live your life.”
But DeSantis has since flip-flopped to cater to the kind of hyper-partisan vaccine rejection that has been championed by many in the MAGA base and in conservative influencer communities. By Jan. 2022, he refused to even say whether he’d received a COVID booster shot (a stance Trump called “gutless”) while insisting vaccination was a “personal decision.”
DeSantis also appointed a prominent vaccine skeptic as surgeon general, who infamously advised young men not to get mRNA vaccines. These days, instead of barnstorming Florida to get the state’s vulnerable population vaccinated, DeSantis holds himself out as crusader against health mandates. This week, he introduced a “Prescribe Freedom” package of legislation to permanently ban mask mandates in schools and businesses, and prohibit “employers from hiring or firing based on mRNA jabs.”
On DeSantis’ end, the MAGA-molded governor has become a star among influential conservative media for delivering a “red wave” in the 2022 election, swaying many top Republican donors and conservative voters who are open to moving on from Trump’s excesses and baggage. Though DeSantis has refused to respond directly to Trump’s ongoing jabs, the governor has occasionally stressed the contrasts between himself and Trump, typically by attempting to get to Trump’s right on select issues, such as pandemic restrictions. However, DeSantis has declined to name Trump when doing so, and has falsely claimed that there’s no tension or feud between him and the ex-president.
“Strategically, I would say DeSantis is probably well inoculated on some of these attacks from Trump,” says David Kochel, who served as a chief strategist in 2016 for Jeb Bush, who of course fell to Trump. “On the pandemic, DeSantis can say,‘You kept Dr. Fauci around, I would have fired him; you locked us down, I opened Florida back up,’” Kochel says. The strategist adds that attacking DeSantis on substance doesn’t play to the former president’s strong suit. “Trump is never at his best when he’s talking about policy; he’s at his best when he’s going after people about culture wars, which DeSantis has kind of perfect pitch on.”
Similarly, Kochel says Trump will have a hard time casting DeSantis as a tool of the establishment. “It’s going to be tricky [because] Trump is the establishment now. He’s the one who ran an administration, recruited a bunch of candidates to look and sound like him. The way Trump went after Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, I do not believe that’s going to work against Ron DeSantis.”
Assessing the odds of Trump’s strategy to take down DeSantis, Kochel simply says: “It will be tough.”


1 Comment

Jan 21, 2023

the only thing I don't already know about nazi voters is if they worship trump as a deity and will support him whether murdoch or other media do or not... or are they seeking the greatest evil to vote for.

that's what we'll find out when trump vs. desantis vs. abbott vs. haley vs... materializes.

Once the nazi voters decide who they prefer (once the primary picks their nom, they'll all fall in behind him), we'll know whether they're voting for their god or their hitler (it could be both I suppose).

They could sell 300 million belt buckles that say: "Trump ist Gott und ist mit uns"... like the SS used to have belt buckles that said only 'Gott…

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