What Trump needs to understand about criticizing DeSantis
New York City District Attorney Alvin Bragg is rumored to be ready to bring a sham indictment against former president Donald Trump for allegedly paying porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign to be quiet about a former affair. As of this writing, whether or not this happens remains to be seen. In the interim, political figures across the spectrum have weighed in on the matter, including Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
Behaving eerily like leftist thought police, some staunch Trump-supporters had demanded that Governor DeSantis voice his unequivocal and unquestioning support for the former president. DeSantis did respond to inquiring reporters and spent almost three minutes (start at 22:30) defending Trump and knocking Bragg for using a seven-year-old non-crime to push a political vendetta against a former president. Of those three minutes, he spent nine seconds subtly digging at the impropriety of Trump's extramarital proclivities. To the extent that he attacked Trump, he simply restated the allegations against him, stating, "I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair."
DeSantis responded, but in a way that wasn't an exact carbon copy of how some Trumpists felt he should have. Brianna Lyman of the Daily Caller thinks DeSantis "tanked" his 2024 chances. Conservative think-tank cog Alex Bruesewitz accused DeSantis of "refusing to stand" with Trump.
Refusing to stand with Trump? Despite having "stood with" Trump for the near entirety of his response? And this, despite the fact that Trump has launched unprovoked and libelous attacks at DeSantis for months? I thought demanding unquestioned loyalty to mortal men was a tenet of totalitarian societies, not of self-described American conservatives.
As someone who voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020 (and will vote for him again if he's our nominee in 2024), I voted for him not on the premise that he was an unfairly tarnished saint. I voted for him with the full knowledge that he was a womanizing, money-flaunting braggadocio with a thin ego who played fast and loose with basic decency. If you're not lying to yourself, you did, too. As a president, I celebrated him. As an in-law, I'd disown him.
Think about the optics of this. For months, Trump has been taking cheap shots at DeSantis. DeSantis has methodically avoided responding in kind, and nonchalantly dismisses Trump's criticism as just part of the job. Trump thrives when he is respected, feared, pondered, pursued, revered, and even to a certain extent hated and loathed. But he can't handle being ignored, and it drives him crazy when DeSantis does it so effectively. Furthermore, that DeSantis does not just instantly respond in knee-jerk fashion shows that he controls the debate, that he stays focused and on-message, and that he decides whether or not to respond at the time and place of his, not Trump's, choosing.
Take, in stark contrast, Trump's reaction to DeSantis's criticism this week. Trump instantly lashed out. He took the bait...hook, line, and sinker. And whatever one thinks of the validity of either DeSantis's criticism or Trump's response, one thing is clear: DeSantis controls Trump, not vice versa, at least in the sphere of public discourse. DeSantis can easily ignore Trump, whereas Trump revealed that he hangs on to, and is influenced by, DeSantis's every word.
A good general will arrange logistics, move pieces, and exert discipline and patience until the fortuitous opportunity arises on a favorable battlefield. The goal is to get your enemy to react rashly to you, not for you to react rashly to your enemy. Well, in this first battle, DeSantis just routed Trump.
In his counter-response, Trump warns DeSantis that "sometime in the future," he will be unfairly attacked with false accusations. You don't say. Because DeSantis has already been unfairly attacked with false accusations...by Trump himself. It was Trump who last month reposted a meme of an out-of-focus young man who sort of looks like a young Ron DeSantis with three young women, with the caption "Here is Ron DeSantimonious grooming high school girls with alcohol as a teacher." Seriously? Did Trump get this meme from Christine Blasey Ford?
The lesson for Trump from this ugly episode is this: if you're gonna dish it out, you'd better be able to take it. Trump ascended to the presidency at least in part due to his successful rhetorical attacks on opponents. He has made ripping out the throats of his critics not just an incidental, but a central component of his political personality. And it worked well enough against the likes of Jeb!, the court eunuchs at CNN, and other besuited snails. But his opponents are adapting to this, most notably in the figure of DeSantis but soon to be others who are witnessing in real time how to put Trump off balance. And since this is Trump's singular trick, he has two pathways forward. He can upgrade his tactics to meet the evolving tactics of said opponents, or he can learn to rise above criticism, when appropriate, so as to not be led around like a dog by it. It is unclear whether he possesses the will, much less the ability, to do either.
Both Trump and DeSantis supporters are in wholehearted agreement that Bragg's prosecution is an egregious abuse of power, undeniably motivated by politics. Trump should focus exclusively on exposing the potential prosecution for the Stalinist show trial it is, and Bragg as the Soros-funded leftist puppet he is. Instead, he's wasting energy and credibility venting at a possible contender, and only because he's a possible contender, who he less than a month ago insinuated was a booze-peddling child rapist.
In short, it's well past time Trump grew up. Those of us who went out on a limb to elect him, and who stayed on that limb for years thereafter defending him, are beyond tired of his sophomoric petulance. Fight the corrupt left, not successful conservatives. Win on the issues. And if the slightest criticism sends you into apoplectic fits, then don't hurl it with such reckless aplomb.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.