The guy she backed in 2016 was a former game-show host. It doesn’t get any less tested than that.
Actually, scratch that. The guy she supported in 2016 was Ted Cruz. Only after he was run off the field by the untested game-show host did she switch to Trump.
Voters like “untested” candidates, it turns out. Fresh blood! Unspoiled by Washington.
I’d say that someone who’s spent four years as governor of the country’s third-largest state (plus six years as a member of Congress) is pretty well “tested,” particularly in light of the many arrows that have been fired at DeSantis by his detractors in the media. His management of COVID was cited early as the antithesis of Andrew Cuomo’s by a skeptical press, yet DeSantis is now en route to an easy reelection while Cuomo is fuming amid an unwanted retirement. What more should he have to do to prove that he’s “tested” besides successfully enacting his agenda, shrugging off media efforts to hobble him, and winning a second term comfortably?
Still, this criticism is newsworthy even if it’s weak. It’s a sneak peek at how Trump might look to tear down DeSantis in 2024, especially now that Conway has wormed her way back into Trump’s heart. He reportedly didn’t like hearing her say that he lost the election in 2020, but amends have now been made and she seems to be back in his good graces. Which tells you a lot about Kellyanne: She’s plenty sharp enough to know that both the party and the country would be better off with DeSantis as nominee, but because her bread is now buttered by TrumpWorld she’s required to start undermining him, however casually.
The point is, she’s likely to be advising you-know-who again in 2024. And if she does, she’ll be making this argument against DeSantis on any TV station that’ll have her.
Mrs. Conway said Mr. DeSantis is an “unbelievably strong” governor but said he wouldn’t have been elected without Mr. Trump’s support against a relatively weak Democratic opponent in 2018.
She also issued a warning of sorts to GOP donors that Mr. DeSantis is untested on the national stage.
“He obviously is highly favored by donors and grassroots,” Mrs. Conway said. “But I will say this — I love the donors. They’re very successful people in life. They’re often wrong about who’s next. People say ‘I want DeSantis,’ and they don’t know him that well. And they have to realize that whether it’s DeSantis or Joe Blow or Donald Trump or Charlie Hurt, if you have an ‘R’ after your name, they’re coming for you. So what everybody thinks is unconquerable and indomitable and electable, the media and the hard Left, they will tear that person apart. And we don’t know what people are made of until they’re put into that arena.”
For argument’s sake, grant that she’s right that Trump has been “tested” and DeSantis has not. Her guy lost the popular vote twice, got impeached twice, was creamed in House races in the 2018 midterms, and oh, right, tried to stage a coup to stay in power. At what point do we say that Trump failed the “test”?
Conway may have an ulterior motive in raising doubts about DeSantis, actually. Sure, she’s hoping to catch on with Trump 2024, but it sounds like she has a back-up plan if that ends up not happening for whatever reason. If Trump doesn’t run, she told a podcaster yesterday, he should think “very deeply about supporting his vice president, because they were a magical, magnificent, marvelous team.” She’s on the Pence train! Which makes sense from a standpoint of self-interest: DeSantis has his own political crew in Florida but Pence might reasonably turn to Conway for campaign help, having spent four years alongside her in the Trump White House.
Could a Trump-endorsed Pence beat DeSantis in a primary? I’d put the odds at … 10 percent, maybe? Although that’s 10 percent more than the odds I’d give him without Trump’s endorsement. The “Hang Mike Pence” party is going to nominate Mike Pence only very reluctantly, even with Trump’s support. I think Pence would need a Trump-less and DeSantis-less field to stand a real chance.
The surest sign that a rising Republican star has begun to gain national traction is the emergence of op-eds claiming that he’s worse than whoever the previous title-holder of “Worst Republican in America” might be. Today Max Boot baptizes DeSantis by warning that he might be … worse than Trump:
Smart and disciplined but reclusive and unpleasant: Who does that remind you of? That’s right: Richard M. Nixon. And I don’t mean the Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency, implemented affirmative action, went to China and took other surprisingly liberal steps. DeSantis has never shown any similar willingness to challenge his base. I’m thinking of the Nixon who smeared his opponents (he accused Adlai Stevenson of having a “Ph.D. from Dean Acheson’s cowardly college of Communist containment”) and warred with the press (“You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore,” he said in 1962, “because gentlemen, this is my last press conference”). I’m thinking of the Nixon who employed the government against his “enemies list,” catered to White bigotry (the Southern strategy) and exacerbated social divisions in an attempt to mobilize the Silent Majority against liberal elites…
In short, DeSantis is engaged in one of the most alarming assaults on free speech and academic freedom since the dark days of McCarthyism in the 1950s, when Nixon rose to power. His actions may not be as blatant as inciting a mob to attack Congress, but his record reveals a troubling pattern of authoritarianism and vindictiveness that would be extremely dangerous in the Oval Office.
Just because DeSantis is smarter than Trump doesn’t mean that he is any less dangerous. In fact, he might be an even bigger threat for that very reason.
Click the link and read Boot’s piece for examples, mindful that he’s not the first critic to discern an authoritarian streak in DeSantis. I see it too. From forcing businesses to eschew vaccine passports to punishing corporations for criticizing his agenda, DeSantis is willing to bully private actors who cross his base on culture-war hobbyhorses. But, whatever his faults, the fact remains that he hasn’t tried to stage a g-ddamned coup that would have ended America as we know it had it succeeded. Forced to choose between him and Trump, I’ll take the new guy, thanks.