DeSantis: MAGA Understudy or Saboteur?
Since my foray into politics, I have come to understand that our system comprises insiders and outsiders and that Donald Trump was the consummate outsider. He was opposed by the system on both sides of the political aisle. Admittedly, I counted myself amongst the opposition. It was only when faced with a choice of yet another Clinton, whom we were told held a 95% chance of victory, that I felt a throw-away vote for Trump was in order. To my surprise, the bastard actually won. He wasn’t supposed to win.
Having come up through the ranks of the Ron Paul Revolution, I was keenly aware of a system whose entire existence is to perpetuate itself. Politics has been referred to as theater, and I would consider that an accurate description. As in theater, politics employs playwrights, directors, actors, stage managers, set designers, etc. We call them by different names, campaign managers, consultants, pollsters, activists, and politicians themselves. The goal of telling a story and arriving at a predetermined resolution aligns. Nothing is happenstance.
In 2012, Mitt Romney was a made man. Before he ever declared his candidacy, he was crowned the frontrunner by a captured press. They sold the public on the foregone conclusion that an LDS candidate from deep blue Massachusetts was the most electable candidate in the deep red Bible belt. Having squeaked Romney through the 2012 primaries, the party went out of their way to deny the insurgent Ron Paul a speaking opportunity at the Tampa convention that he had earned utilizing a legitimate delegate acquisition strategy. Then they went out of their way to ensure that it never happens again by changing the game’s rules. It’s not all that different from what both parties are doing now by trying to change Electoral Act loopholes that Mike Pence claimed didn’t exist in January 2021.
Similarly, Hillary Clinton was a made woman in 2016. It wasn’t until the contents of her leaked emails and in former DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile’s book, Hacks, that we were made aware of an arrangement to trade the party’s presidential nomination for paying off the DNC’s debts. Favorability extended beyond press coverage and went as far as burying Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign. They also notoriously preloaded the Clinton campaign with debate content.
It’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around what happened in 2020, but the post-mortem all but gives up the jig. There is little question that Joe Biden is in the sunset years of his career, and to suggest that his mind and speech are dulled would be an understatement. While Donald Trump performed two and three stadium-filling campaign stops daily, Biden called a lid by lunch after speaking to a handful of unenthusiastic voters in chalk-outlined COVID circles. Without rehashing the totality of the carnage to follow the election, the results belie the statistical probabilities and don’t match the electoral patterns we’ve established for 245 years. Then the insiders gave us an outline of how they made Biden President in Time magazine. Joe Biden was a made man.
If politics is theater, then Washington, D.C. is Broadway. It is the pinnacle of political destinations. It demands the highest-paid actors, and its sponsors demand the largest returns. It is because of this that the casting of the leading role is so tightly controlled. To understand who the chosen lead is, merely look at who gets the airtime. Who is sold to the public by corporate donors as the best person for the role? In 2012, it was Mitt Romney. In 2016, it was Hillary Clinton. In 2020, it was Joe Biden. Who will it be in 2024?
If I’m a betting man, Ron DeSantis stands unopposed. Despite seven governors rejecting COVID lockdowns, it was DeSantis alone as the model for COVID response, even though DeSantis did issue lockdowns. Despite seven governors banning indoctrination in the classroom, DeSantis received the bulk of the airtime with a phony “Don’t Say Gay” campaign. Despite twenty-five U.S. states allowing the permitless carry of firearms, Florida still does not. Despite abortion being all but banned in twelve conservative states, the best DeSantis mustered was fifteen weeks. When it came time to tackle immigration, DeSantis was left borrowing from Texas’ border to grab headlines in Martha’s Vineyard.
DeSantis’ red flags are harder to find than most, but there are a few head-scratchers. At a time when conservatives are pushing back against a totalitarian, global climate agenda, DeSantis established Florida’s first Chief Resiliency Office to tackle climate change. His first appointee was Julia Nesheiwat, a member of both the World Economic Forum, as well as the Council on Foreign Relations. In addition, DeSantis signed climate resilience legislation that was strongly promoted by left-wing insurance lobby Zurich Advocacy and the World Economic Forum. The same organization was happy to announce its presence at DeSantis’ inauguration. For a guy who likes to rail on Davos, passing Davos-inspired legislation and hiring their people raises some eyebrows.
DeSantis is not a foreigner to the good old boys’ club either, having come up through the Ivy Leagues at Yale and Harvard. He was a standout baseball player at Yale, as was our forty-first President George H.W. Bush, whom their field is named after. DeSantis was also a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale, just as notable members George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were. For a fraternal organization, that's an impressive list of notable Republican membership.
In a conversation about MAGA politics, DeSantis is the lone heir apparent of the MAGA movement in rhetoric and airtime. While his good looks, charisma, and forthright temperament make him an attractive choice for the lead role as President of the United States, his résumé takes a backseat to the publicity. A deeper dive into the casting crew raises eyebrows as well. To date, DeSantis has raised more than $142 million for a statewide race, largely from a small but wealthy national insider audience. Speaking of a national audience, it cannot be discounted that every time Trump endorsed a Republican primary candidate around the country, DeSantis has shown up to speak on their behalf and co-opt the MAGA brand while remaining at arms-length from Trump himself.
The RNC would give everything in its arsenal to quash the MAGA brand. They already have. This is a playbook that we’ve seen before when the RNC set out to shut down the Tea Party movement of the early 2010s. They stuffed the movement full of phonies like Scott Brown and Pat Toomey so that they might steer the ship of American conservatism in their own moderate direction. They were successful.
Suppose Ron DeSantis is a legitimate heir to the MAGA movement. In that case, I see one of only two options moving forward: Donald Trump declines to carry the torch forward, maybe out of age or tiring from the unending harassment from the D.C. regime, and passes the torch to Ron DeSantis. Donald Trump carries the torch he lit, and DeSantis gets in line, preparing for twelve years of MAGA dominance. In politics, as in theater, nothing is happenstance.
Image: Gage Skidmore