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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

I watched as much as I could stand of the GOP’s Fantasy Island debate. I did see Nikki Haley’s well-publicized rant, which, who knows, may have clinched her a veep slot. The others yammered on much as expected, though I was a tad surprised at Christie’s weak performance, other than his ChatGPT zinger. Nowhere in evidence were any inklings of a candidate with Liz Cheney’s principled commitment to democracy or Adam Kinzinger’s decency. As for the elephant in the room, there should have been a really big empty chair. If you want to read a fresh take on the Republican front-runner, check out Drew Westen’s TDS strategy white paper, “All the President’s Mental Disorders.” Otherwise, there are plenty of debate takeaway screeds out there, including “34 Things You Missed at the First Republican Debate,” “Who Won the First Debate, “The Fox GOP Debate Melted Down When the Word “Climate” Was Mentioned,” “Republican Debaters Agreed on One Thing: They Hate Vivek Ramaswamy,” and “Who won, who lost and who fizzled in the first Republican debate.” All in all, not an impressive night for the political party that was once rooted in conservative principles, instead of personality cult derangement.

However, there are many other political articles worth reading, such as NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall’s “Trump Voters Can See Right Through DeSantis,” in which he writes: “DeSantis has turned out to be a stiff on the stump, a man without affect. He speaks in alphabet talk: C.R.T., D.E.I., E.S.G. His attempts to outflank Trump from the right — “We’re going to have all these deep state people, you know, we’re going to start slitting throats on day one” — seem to be more politically calculated than based on conviction….[Joan C.] Williams described DeSantis’s approach to campaigning as “a clumsy color-by-numbers culture-wars formula” accompanied by a speaking style “more Harvard than hard hat, as when he talked about ‘biomedical security restrictions’ in his speech to the Republican Party convention in North Carolina (whatever those are??).” Linda Skitka, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois-Chicago, wrote to Edsall by email that “DeSantis, “is very specific and consistent about policy, and he is too extreme for many on the right. To ice the cake, he appears to be really bad at retail politics — he just isn’t likable, and certainly isn’t charismatic. Together, I don’t think DeSantis can compete to overcome these obstacles, even if he were to start using Trump-like rhetoric.” Edsall quotes Cornell political scientist David Bateman, who observes that everything about DeSantis “seems calculated. He’s the Yale and Harvard guy now complaining about intellectuals and elites. He’s talking about wokism and critical race theory, when no one knows what those are (even Trump noted no one can define woke, though he yells against it himself). When he tries to be as visceral as Trump, he just comes off as weird. DeSantis saying he’s going to start “slitting throats” reminded me of Romney’s “severely conservative.” While DeSantis’s is a dangerous escalation of violent imagery, they both sound bizarre and unnatural.”

Edsall continues, “Bateman suggested that insofar as DeSantis is seen as “an establishment Trump, who I expect most voters will see as fully aligned with G.O.P. orthodoxy but even more focused on the priorities of racial and social conservatives (taking over universities, banning books, or attacking transpersons), he starts to look more like a general election loser.”….Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, argued in an email that DeSantis has adopted an approach to the nomination fight that was bound to fail: “DeSantis’s strategy, and that of any candidate not named Trump, should be to consolidate the Maybe Trump voters. But DeSantis has seemed like he was going after the Always Trump voters with his aggressive language (“slitting throats”), his comment that Ukraine was just a “territorial dispute,” his suggestion that vaccine conspiracy theorist RFK Jr. would be a good candidate to head the Centers for Disease Control, and his doubling down on whether slavery might have been beneficial to some enslaved people.”….Robert Y. Shapiro, a political scientist at Columbia, elaborated on the difficulties facing DeSantis’s bid to position himself to the right of Trump. “The DeSantis strategy is weak in that there are not enough Republican voters to be gained to the right of Trump,”….Dianne Pinderhughes, a political scientist at Notre Dame, wrote by email that an image of DeSantis at a campaign event captured for her the weakness of his campaign for the nomination.“He has no affect,” Pinderhughes wrote. “My favorite example is a photo of him. He’s surrounded by a group of people, campaign supporters, but every face in the photo is flat, unexcited, unsmiling (including of course the candidate).”

I’m still a bit surprised that there is not more grumbling about Trump chickening out of the first debate, not that he had much to fear from the 8 munchkins. Perhaps it is more understandable in light of his complicated legal problems, which merit more media coverage than the Milwaukee drivelfest. Stephen Collinson rolls it out well in “Trump’s looming surrender will kill the buzz of the first GOP debate” at CNN Politics: “The idea that the front-runner for a major party nomination would boycott the first televised clash between candidates, then the next day surrender to authorities over his fourth criminal indictment would have been unthinkable at any previous moment in history. But that’s the reality as an unprecedented presidential election unfolds under the shadow of Trump’s criminal peril – and his extraordinary strength in the GOP primary that, at least for now, allows him to ignore all the normal rules of campaigning….the melee in Milwaukee was like a prize fight that lacked the reigning champion, as Trump stayed home, reasoning that he is so far ahead in the GOP primary that he had nothing to gain by showing up. At best, the debate turned into an audition for second place in a race that, on the current trajectory, looks likely to catapult Trump to his third consecutive Republican nomination….the ex-president might have won by staying away – even if his unwillingness to submit to debating his policies before voters on live television smacks of the same contempt for democracy that has landed him with four criminal indictments….Trump, exploiting his unrelenting support among GOP primary voters, has pulled off the feat of wielding multiple indictments as a political shield….the spectacle of Trump’s big jet with his name on the side heading to Georgia for processing at the Fulton County jail will soon overshadow the rest of the race….”

One comment on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. MartinLawford on

    Drew Westen has failed to notice something obvious about the practice of evaluating the mental health of a politician one has never met. When Westen, Bandy Lee and her colleagues, and the psychiatrists cited by “Fact” Magazine find a politician mentally unfit for public office, he is always a Republican.


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