Like everyone else, I listened to DeSantis’s botched Twitter Spaces launch, but then reached some conclusions about the trajectory of his campaign at New York:
Before long, the laughter over the technical glitches that marred Ron DeSantis’s official presidential campaign launch with Elon Musk on Twitter Spaces will fade. We’ll all probably look back and place this moment in better perspective. Political-media folk (not to mention DeSantis’s Republican rivals and Democratic enemies) tend to overreact to “game changing” moments in campaigns when fundamentals and long-term trends matter infinitely more. Relatively few actual voters were tuned in to Twitter to watch the botched launch, and even fewer will think less of DeSantis as a potential president because of this incident.
It mattered in one respect, however: The screwed-up launch stepped all over a DeSantis campaign reset designed to depict the Florida governor as a political Death Star with unlimited funds and an unbeatable strategy for winning the GOP nomination. The reset was important to rebut the prevailing story line that DeSantis had lost an extraordinary amount of ground since the salad days following his landslide reelection last year, when he briefly looked to be consolidating partywide support as a more electable and less erratic replacement for Donald Trump. For reasons both within and beyond his control, he missed two critical strategic objectives going into the 2024 race: keeping the presidential field small enough to give him a one-on-one shot at Trump and keeping Trump from reestablishing himself as the front-runner with an air of inevitability about a third straight nomination.
To dissipate growing concerns about the DeSantis candidacy, the top chieftains of his Never Back Down super-PAC let it be known earlier this week that they had a plan that would shock and awe the political world, based on their extraordinary financial resources (fed by an $80 million surplus DeSantis transferred from his Florida reelection campaign account). The New York Times wrote up the scheme without questioning its connection to reality:
“A key political group supporting Ron DeSantis’s presidential run is preparing a $100 million voter-outreach push so big it plans to knock on the door of every possible DeSantis voter at least four times in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — and five times in the kickoff Iowa caucuses.
“The effort is part of an on-the-ground organizing operation that intends to hire more than 2,600 field organizers by Labor Day, an extraordinary number of people for even the best-funded campaigns….
“The group said it expected to have an overall budget of at least $200 million.”
In case the numbers didn’t properly document the audacity of this plan, Team DeSantis made it explicit. The Times report continues:
“‘No one has ever contemplated the scale of this organization or operation, let alone done it,’ said Chris Jankowski, the group’s chief executive. ‘This has just never even been dreamed up.’” …
At the helm of the DeSantis super PAC is Jeff Roe, a veteran Republican strategist who was Mr. [Ted] Cruz’s campaign manager in 2016. In an interview, Mr. Roe described an ambitious political apparatus whose 2,600 field organizers by the fall would be roughly double the peak of Senator Bernie Sanders’s entire 2020 primary campaign staff.
Clearly opening up the thesaurus to find metaphors for the extraordinary power and glory of their plans, one DeSantis operative told the Dispatch they were “light speed and light years ahead of any campaign out there, including Trump’s.”
Now more than ever, DeSantis’s campaign will have to prove its grand plans aren’t just fantasies. Those doors in Iowa really will have to be knocked. Thanks to Trump’s current lead, DeSantis will absolutely have to beat expectations there and do just as well in New Hampshire and South Carolina before facing an existential challenge in his and Trump’s home state of Florida. And while DeSantis had a good weekend in Iowa recently, picking up a lot of state legislative endorsements even as Trump canceled a rally due to bad weather that never arrived, he’s got a ways to go. A new Emerson poll of the first-in-the-nation-caucuses state shows Trump leading by an astonishing margin of 62 percent to 20 percent. And obviously enough, Iowa is where DeSantis will likely face the largest number of rivals aside from Trump; he’s a sudden surge from Tim Scott or Mike Pence or Nikki Haley or even Vivek Ramaswamy away from a real Iowa crisis.
Door knocking aside, a focus on Iowa, with its base-dominated caucus system and its large and powerful conservative Evangelical population, will likely force DeSantis to run to Trump’s right even more than he already has. The newly official candidate did not mention abortion policy during his launch event on Twitter; that will have to change, since he has a crucial opportunity to tell Iowa Evangelicals about the six-week ban he recently signed (similar, in fact, to the law Iowa governor Kim Reynolds enacted), in contrast to Trump’s scolding of the anti-abortion movement for extremism. DeSantis also failed once again to talk about his own religious faith, whatever it is; that will probably have to change in Iowa too. He did, however, talk a lot during the launch about his battle against the COVID-19 restrictions the federal government sought to impose on Florida even during the Trump administration. That will very likely continue.
The glitchy launch basically cost DeSantis whatever room for maneuvering he might have enjoyed as the 2024 competition begins to get very real — less than eight months before Iowa Republicans caucus (the exact date remains TBD). He’d better get used to spending a lot of time in Iowa’s churches and Pizza Ranches, and he also needs to begin winning more of the exchanges of potshots with Trump, which will only accelerate from here on out. All the money he has and all the hype and spin his campaign puts out won’t win the nomination now that Trump is fully engaged, and it sure doesn’t look like the 45th president’s legal problems will represent anything other than rocket fuel for his jaunt through the primaries. So for DeSantis, it’s time to put up or shut up.
Lott said “when Strom Thurmond ran for President, we voted for him.” The “we” meant white Mississippians, since black Mississippians in 1948 were carefully dissuaded from voting by poll taxes and outright intimidation. Lott, who voted against the Voting Rights Act in Congress, sounded particularly interesting on that line.
Republicans have been trying to excuse Lott on the ground that he was just being nice to Thurmond on his birthday, but that won’t wash one bit. Thurmond was not entitled to be told on his birthday that he deserved to win the 1948 election, particularly since he had long since repudiated his segregationism. Logically, that means that even Strom Thurmond no longer claimed the candidate of the States Rights Party should have defeated Harry Truman.
And Lott wasn’t exactly whispering in Thurmond’s ear. The Senator, who was on camera and whose remarks were being recorded, had no right to tell everybody else in America, while ostensibly talking only to Thurmond, that a segregationist victory would have improved their lives. Many such victories in the south hadn’t improved the lives of southerners. They didn’t improve Medgar Evers’s.
Finally, Republicans attacking Reid now claim Democrats “brought Lott down.” Democrats had as little power to take away Lott’s post as Majority Leader as Republicans now have to take away Reid’s. It was his own party members who turned on Lott at that time, including President Bush. Non-racist Republicans, too, were appalled (particularly Bush, who had been energetically trying to erase his party’s racist reputation).
And as I look around various comments sections, I notice that those who identify themselves as African Americans overwhelmingly say they weren’t offended at all — that Reid spoke the truth. They aren’t focused on the word “negro,” they’re focused on the facts. Yes there is something called a black dialect (an entire academic discipline, Ebonics, is devoted to its study). Yes, white people are indeed more likely to vote for a lighter skinned black man who sounds more like themselves. And yes, Obama does sound more southern before certain audiences. So did Hillary Clinton.
Some of the reaction to this event is simply pusillanimous. Even Harold Ford Jr. tied himself into a pretzel on Chris Matthews trying to defend and attack Harold Reid simultaneously. I’ll be really glad when Obama campaigns for Reid if he lams into Michael Steele’s hypocrisy. And if the President can also find a thing or two to say regarding John Cornyn’s pretensions to be a defender of black America, that would be simply lovely.