What to make of Ron DeSantis?
As children, we were told that participating matters more than winning or losing. However, as an adult, one learns that there are no trophies for participating and often no silver medal for finishing second.
The recent GOP primary debate had participants who were has-beens, pretenders, or hopefuls.
President Trump leads his immediate rival Ron DeSantis by about 40 points, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
Trump rightly understood that he would have diminished himself had he stood on the crowded stage and exchanged jabs with those who either worked under him or were there due to his endorsement.
There was also the risk of an unfavorable occurrence on that stage would become silly anti-Trump meme material.
Trump saw no gains in participating in the contest.
Instead, Trump collaborated with Tucker Carlson, and released an interview at the time of the debate.
Both Tucker and Trump have been wronged by Fox News.
By the end of the night, both Tucker and Trump had their revenge.
The interview got over 256 million views on Twitter, while the Fox News debate was watched by 12.8 million people.
Ep. 19 Debate Night with Donald J Trump pic.twitter.com/ayPfII48CO— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) August 24, 2023
Even attendees at the debate were watching the interview on their phones.
Trump's arrest in Georgia stole the remaining limelight from the debate.
Now for Governor Ron DeSantis, who desperately needed a triumph at the debate.
DeSantis needed to replicate Trump's performance during the 2015 GOP primary debates, where Trump eviscerated the then-frontrunner, Jeb Bush, and others to become the sole focus.
But DeSantis has neither the showmanship nor the wit to knock out other contenders.
His appearance at the debate, much like his other public appearances, was respectable but not remarkable. It seems that his heart is not in it.
It causes one to wonder why DeSantis is running in the first place.
Perhaps DeSantis's advisers convinced him that he is Trump without the "baggage," the candidate MAGA-supporters dream of.
His re-election in 2022 probably added to his delusion of national electability.
Trump was blamed for the GOP's underwhelming performance during the 2022 midterms even by some sections of conservative media. They even projected Trump as the past, while DeSantis was called the future of the GOP.
But anyone who has been paying even casual attention knows that this is untrue.
Trump and his supporters know that the 2020 presidential election was an unfair contest.
There was coordinated suppression of the Hunter Biden story by the media, Big Tech, and intelligence services. The Zuckerbucks scandal resulted in Democrat "activists" infiltrating sacrosanct election infrastructure and promoting mail-in ballots. In the end, 69% of voters nationwide cast their ballot nontraditionally — i.e., by mail and/or before Election Day.
Trump did well during his tenure as president, ensuring prosperity in the U.S. and peace across the world. All of this despite the establishment's attempt to unseat and destroy him. This sinister campaign is likely to continue.
Hence, Trump-supporters feel he deserves another chance, and this time, he will be much more effective because of the lessons he learned during his first term.
The relentless witch hunts by the establishment also played a huge part in cementing the bond between Trump and his supporters.
DeSantis should have grasped this and played it smartly.
He should have announced in early 2022 that he does not intend to run but instead remain focused on Florida.
This would have created a mystery around him and allowed pundits to build "what-if" scenarios. Experts would have opined that DeSantis would have done very well had he run. DeSantis could have reacted by smiling and reiterating that he had no presidential ambitions.
Irrespective of what he really thought, DeSantis should have spoken favorably about Trump and appeared at rallies with him. Perhaps Trump would have made him his running mate, which would have been a big boost.
DeSantis should never have breathed a syllable about his presidential ambitions to a soul.
By doing so, he would have retained the goodwill of Trump-supporters. They probably would have seen him as the only viable alternative to Trump if Trump was prevented from running.
Instead, DeSantis campaigned without officially declaring, a move that is amusing for a few days but annoying when it lasts for months. When he did launch, whatever interest existed had already diminished.
At times, an effective campaign speech at a launch can arouse interest, but that didn't happen.
In an era of audio and visuals, DeSantis opted for an audio-only Twitter spaces platform. The unstable platform crashed, and the speech was never heard. The "launch" became a subject of ridicule.
This wasn't a launch for DeSantis, but instead a crash on the runway during take-off.
DeSantis didn't get a second chance to make a first impression. His trailing in the polls has brought him the blemish of being a loser, which never helps a candidate.
His body language and hesitation during the debate and his appearance make it obvious that he is under pressure.
His usage of the term "listless vessels" to describe some MAGA-supporters appeared desperate and petty. This was the kind of attitude that contributed to the destruction of Hillary Clinton.
Does DeSantis not comprehend the fundamental principle that you cannot win over people by insulting them?
We know that President Trump is a fierce adversary with a gift for wit. But Trump has never ever mocked voters, even those who do not vote for him. Trump always strikes at those who have the means to fight back — they are counterattacks and not unprovoked attacks.
So does DeSantis have a path to victory?
Even if DeSantis attempts to be confrontational and target Trump, it won’t work.
Currently, the U.S. political establishment is using all its might to baselessly target President Trump. At such a stage, any harsh attacks on Trump will be perceived as siding with the enemy.
What's worse for DeSantis is that Trump continues to dominate the news cycle media.
DeSantis is hence running in a contest where he cannot frontally target his chief opponent. Worse, he cannot even steal a smidgen of attention from his chief opponent.
Forget about the juggernaut of Trump; DeSantis could not even steal the limelight at the debate from candidates he has bested in the polls.
DeSantis could have skipped this contest, much like how Trump skipped the debate, since it is fraught with serious peril and victory is unlikely.
But that didn't happen.
Unlike Trump, DeSantis seems unaware of the principle in The Art of War that states, "He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.”
Such strategic thinking is an essential quality for any leader. Voters will be watching this.
But a poor presidential run isn't DeSantis's only concern.
Floridians are unlikely to be pleased by their absentee governor. In time, his approval ratings in Florida are likely to plummet. This means the foundation that made him a viable candidate is beginning to weaken.
This could be the beginning of the end of a promising political career.