A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
Why Ron DeSantis Won’t—or Shouldn’t—Run for President
By David Corn January 14, 2023
Bumper stickers supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on sale at a Trump rally in Conroe, Texas, in January 2022. Jill Colvin/AP
Donald Trump cannot accept rejection. Donald Trump is fueled by vengeance. And this is why, as of now, it would be foolish for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to run for president in 2024.
It is fashionable these days for pundits to guffaw about Trump’s declining influence within the GOP. In polls asking Republican voters to state their preference for next year, DeSantis often beats the former guy, occasionally by a hefty margin. Last month, Trump, who in November announced his third White House bid, hit record lows for his approval rating among all voters (31 percent) and GOP voters (70 percent). Axios noted, “A raft of new polls shows former President Trump is losing juice among core Republican voters—a rare but unmistakable drop in base support that would jeopardize his 2024 comeback bid.” Trump’s own supporters and allies mocked and scorned him for his grifty NFT trading card venture. (Fortune reported this week, “The trading volume of Donald Trump’s Digital Trading Cards, which feature images of the former president dressed as a superhero and as an astronaut, has fallen off a cliff, according to data from CryptoSlam.”) Trump is “fading fast,” former GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan told CNN on Thursday. “He is a proven loser." Yes, Rep. Kevin McCarthy fulsomely hailed Trump for helping him (barely) prevail in the chaotic House speakership contest. Even with that, the conventional wisdom is that Trump is trending in the wrong direction. With a touch of glee, New York Times columnist Charles Blow observed days ago, “Donald Trump is essentially being put out to pasture” by the GOP.
Yes, but. And this is the but: Trump remains dangerous. To the nation, to the GOP, and to DeSantis and other potential Republican rivals. That is because, as January 6 demonstrated, if Trump cannot be king, he will burn down the palace— with everyone in it, especially those who denied him the crown.
No matter what the polls say now, DeSantis or any other GOP aspirant who enters the race against Trump will have a tough time. Hitting below the belt is what Trump does best. He is not bound by rules or decency. He demonstrated this during the 2016 GOP sweepstakes. Conventional politicians were no match for his mean-spiritedness and constant streams of lies. One by one, he bested the pipsqueaks, several of whom had been touted as powerhouse candidates of depth, intelligence, and talent. (Jeb!) None of them could figure out how to compete against a scoundrel who refused to follow political conventions (as low as they might be). And then there were none.
It's easy to argue that a forewarned DeSantis will be a forearmed DeSantis. Trump’s tricks are now well known, and, like an old boxer, he seems to have lost a step or two. Surely, a savvy and crafty fellow like the Florida governor can figure out how to rope-a-dope or sidestep the Marauder of Mar-a-Lago. Perhaps. But there is no telling if DeSantis can devise the right footwork before he gets in the ring with Trump. And Trump will do whatever it takes to destroy DeSantis. He will approach him as an existential threat and fire away. Again and again and again. He will make up stories about DeSantis. He will hurl horrible and baseless claims at him. He will go for blood.
Trump will force DeSantis—or any other opponent—into the gutter. And this is the problem for his rivals: Trump likes being in the gutter. He wears it well. That’s a talent, and it’s not possessed by many politicians—or people. My father used to tell me: Never get in a fight with a skunk; you both end up stinking, but the skunk likes it.
Can DeSantis withstand such a pummeling? Can he wrestle with a skunk without becoming too malodorous? The polls pitting Trump against DeSantis are worthless until the Trump treatment begins. Who knows how Republican primary voters—the base—will react to such an ugly face-off? Will they be moved by Trump’s accusations (whatever they may be) about DeSantis? Given Trump supporters’ endless and bottomless credulity regarding his claims about himself, his political opponents, and just about everything, it’s probable that a sizable bloc of Trumpish voters will buy his bunk and join his jihad against DeSantis or any other GOP foe. Of course, the dynamics of the race will be shaped by how many GOP candidates sign up for this spectacle. If other credible contenders beside DeSantis show up for this free-for-all, the we’ve-had-enough-of-Trump vote will be divided.
But let’s assume the pre-season reviews that depict DeSantis as a dynamo candidate pan out. Say he finds a way to dance around Trump’s assaults and escapes being damaged or tarnished. Say Republican voters dump Trump for this new anti-woke, libs-trolling, immigrant-kidnapping prince of the right. That will be when DeSantis’ troubles will really start.
Does anyone believe Trump will abide primary contest results that cast him as a loser? He will claim once again that he is the victim of a rigged system. He will challenge tallies. He will denounce the RINO establishment and blame the Deep State, the media, and who knows who else. He will accuse DeSantis of conspiring with dark and nefarious forces. He will not recognize DeSantis as the legitimate GOP nominee. Trump will send a message to his voters: You cannot support this man and his party: not with votes, not with money. Some will shrug and move on. But millions of Republican voters will fall for Trump’s latest con.
As I’ve written many times, Trump is motivated by spite. In public talks and speeches Trump gave in the years before he ran for president, he hailed retribution as an essential element of success. His top advice for people who wanted to succeed was this: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”
Apply that to Trump losing the nomination to DeSantis. He will not preach party unity and do whatever is necessary to help DeSantis land in the White House. (Remember Trump’s approach to the special Senate elections in Georgia in early 2021?) He will be bent on crushing DeSantis. At that point, the only thing worse for Trump than losing his White House bid would be for DeSantis to win his.
Would Trump form a third party or continue running as an independent candidate? I doubt it. That would take too much organizing. But it’s not difficult to envision him promoting his own grievances and doing whatever he could to subvert DeSantis. The skunk would keep on skunking. In the general election, the Florida governor could end up essentially having to run against both the Democratic nominee and a deposed and enraged mad-king. No matter Trump’s standing in the polls then, if he could swing a modest percentage of his supporters against DeSantis—or even only encourage them to sit it out—that could doom DeSantis.
This boils down to an obvious point: Running against Trump will be a miserable endeavor. If DeSantis manages to survive the primaries and triumph, he will not be free of Trump. This broken man will continue to try to make life hell for DeSantis and the GOP. He will blow up whatever he can blow up. His attitude toward DeSantis will be, if I lose, you will lose bigger. There likely is no path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for a Republican that avoids Trump’s DEFCON-1 assault.
Who needs this? DeSantis is young. He can have a clearer and (likely) Trump-free shot at the White House in 2028. Does he or anyone else in Republican politics want to go through all this pain? (The answer for Liz Cheney is probably, hell yeah! But if she leaps in, it will be to smack Trump not to win primaries.)
Certainly, a more severe decline in Trump’s political support—or maybe a Trump indictment—might fundamentally alter the landscape and create a smoother road for DeSantis. External events can do so, as well. For the moment, though, Trump retains the power, ability, and inclination to turn the 2024 GOP primary and the subsequent general election into a mega (and MAGA) shitshow, with no regard for the fortunes of the party or any other candidate. Can DeSantis stand in front of Trump’s firehose of crap for 18 months or so and emerge as the new leader of the United States? I know what Trump would say.
Got anything to say about this item—or anything else? Email me at email@example.com.
The Many Faces of the George Santos Scandal
I’ve covered politics for decades, and I have never come across a congressional campaign that provides more fertile ground for investigative reporting than that of George Santos. In recent days, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo each published major scoops on Santos and his mysterious political and personal finances. I did so, too, with my Mother Jones colleague Noah Lanard. We published a piece that focused on Santos’ effort to make money with a curious company he formed with colleagues from a company that had been shut down after it was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of operating a Ponzi scheme. Their aim was to rake in big bucks helping a Republican challenger to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A principal in this endeavor was a veteran GOP operative named Nancy Marks, who also happened to be the treasurer of Santos’ congressional campaign. As such, she oversaw the Santos campaign’s dubious practices that have raised many questions. Lanard and I noted in the article that Marks’ “story, which has yet to draw much public examination, is an important component of the Santos tale.” Expect to hear more about her.
If you want a glimpse into the bizarre and unexplained world of Santos’ mystery millions, give our story a read. Looking at what public records reveal about Santos’ campaign money and his personal finances, I see a flood of leads for reporters…and for law enforcement investigators. Anyone with subpoena power should have a field day with Santos and his campaign and business dealings. I would not be surprised if he ends up trading his current position in Congress for a residence in a much different government facility.
Dumbass Comment of the Week
After I heard the following remarks from Long Island liar George Santos, I told the judges they could take the rest of the week off.
“I’ve lived an honest life. I’ve never been accused, sued of and, uh, bad doing.” Is lying about lying worse than plain ol’ lying? Is Santos delusional? Or is he just letting it rip. I mean, once you’re caught prevaricating about being a volleyball champion (and a Baruch College graduate, and an NYU graduate, and a Goldman Sachs employee, and a Citigroup employee, and a Jew—and much more), why not lie all the time about everything? The most dishonest man in Congress—which is quite a feat—claims to have lived an honest life. Of course, Rep. Matt Gaetz just nodded along.
Yet it would be too easy to hand Santos this week’s award. He might even put it on his résumé but call it the Smartest Comment of the Week. So let’s move on to another contender.
Right-wing commentator Hugh Hewitt used to cultivate the image of a reasonable and responsible conservative, a fellow dedicated to rightist policies but one who could engage in productive and honest debates. All that went poof after Donald Trump became president and Hewitt joined the Trump Toady Club. Which brings us to a recent tweet from him: “Bottom line: @SpeakerMcCarthy and @HouseGOP need to articulate quickly and concisely repeat daily—even hourly—what exactly they must have in a bill to raise debt limit. I personally hope they adopt the summary line: ‘We won't raise the debt limit until we close the border.’”
This is akin to saying if you don’t make the house impregnable, we will burn it down. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling and forcing the US government to default could spur a calamitous financial crisis. In 2021, Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi issued a report noting that if Republicans blocked lifting the debt ceiling the consequences could include 6 million lost jobs and the obliteration of $15 trillion in household wealth. Even if Zandi is off by 90 percent, that would be a disaster for many Americans. Yet here is Hewitt, no longer so reasonable and responsible, urging newbie House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his fellow Republicans to take the nation hostage and threaten to annihilate the economy. That hardly seems a conservative approach.
This week’s winner is another scandal-struck Republican who landed where standards don’t exist: the House GOP caucus. Remember Ryan Zinke, Trump’s first interior secretary who was bounced? The inspector general for the Interior Department found that he broke ethics rules and lied to investigators. Yet the Trump Justice Department declined to bring charges against him, and Zinke, who served a term as the representative for Montana’s at-large congressional district before joining Trump’s Cabinet, won back that seat in November, lies and ethics violations be damned.
This week, he hit the House floor to support the GOP’s new committee to investigate the “weaponization” of the federal government. Investigating government abuse—particularly that of national security and law enforcement agencies—is an admirable task. Why didn’t the IRS audit Trump? Why did several agencies fail to take steps to prevent the January 6 riot? And, if you want to go back a few years, why did the national intelligence community fail to thwart Russia’s attack on the 2016 election? But what Republicans have in mind is scrutinizing—and hobbling—investigations that inconvenience them and Trump, such as the probes of Trump’s theft of sensitive government documents and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. They also would like to use this committee to advance their conspiracy theories about the Deep State plotting with Big Tech, the media, and libs to undermine Trump and the right. This might even include investigating the previous Trump-Russia investigation to bolster Trump’s false narrative that it was a hoax.
Zinke, playing the martyr, noted that he has “a lot of experience firsthand” as a supposed victim of a Deep State plot. He went on to say:
Despite the Deep State's repeatedly [sic] attempts to stop me, I stand before you as a duly elected member of the United States Congress and tell you that a Deep State exists, and it’s perhaps the strongest covert weapon the left has against the American people…The Deep State runs secret messaging campaigns with one goal in mind: to increase its power to censor and persuade the American people…[T]hey want to wipe out the American cowboy completely…and turn Montana into a national park.
From framing Trump and Russia to wiping out the American cowboy—damn, that Deep State has depth. Yes, there are policy debates about land use in the West, and Zinke is free to oppose conservation and support the extraction industries. But suggesting the Deep State is involved in brainwashing the public about this and scheming to destroy an American icon is crazy. Clearly, he’s a guy trying to explain away his own scandals by claiming he was framed by a sinister government underworld and, thus, he demonstrates the old adage that all politics is personal.
Linda Eustis wrote in to politely chastise yours truly:
Thank you so much for what you do. However, I am very upset with journalists, including you. I believe it is very harmful that the press spends so much time covering the minority—the extremists, the outrageous, the liars, the power-hungry, the wackos. They have to be covered, of course, but please would you spend a little more time covering the problem-solvers in Congress? They are there, but almost invisible in the press. We need hope; we need to fight cynicism, or we will give up. I am so sick of hearing about Red and Blue, that we are becoming more polarized, that people hate each other, blah blah blah. This is not my experience. Discussing politics can be difficult. However, in my daily life, the vast majority of people I deal with care about other people, are kind to strangers, and don't wish harm to befall other people. Congress is not working well, but there are many people who are there to get things done for the American people. Could we please hear just a little bit more about them, pretty please?
Linda, I hear you. I do believe that the tribal politics of Washington are not a full representation of American society, though the nation is more divided now along political-cultural lines than in recent times. My job, for better or worse, is to cover the nation’s capital where polarization does reign supreme. True, President Joe Biden managed to pull off some bipartisan successes in the past two years—and that deserves ongoing attention—but the GOP war on civility, discourse, truth, and sanity has not been much affected by these achievements. And all of that—especially the efforts to thwart democracy—deserves extensive reporting. Yet you’re probably right. Reporters tend to cover stories that are dramatic, especially those that involve a threat. We warn rather than praise. Consequently, we might overlook such matters as problem-solving and cooperation. I don’t expect there will be much of that in the coming year. But I will keep a watch for it.
Michele Coxon emailed to share a rather different perspective:
I just finished your book, American Psychosis, (in two days) and now understand why I feel like I am always holding my breath. It is a book to keep on the history/entertainment/horror shelf to be re-read often as a reminder of how this cancer has been fomenting for so many years, finally for the tumor to be raising its ugly head! Sorry to use such an awful metaphor but a cure doesn't seem to be in sight and that scares the hell out of me. Thank you for the book, for your commitment to the truth, and for being such a brilliant activist who speaks for so many of us feeling impotent to counter the far right (all of them). If they weren't so scary, it would be funny! I don't think anyone could make any of this up.
Thanks, Michele. We do face severe political challenges, but I enjoyed writing a history that shows we have done so in the past—and we survived.
Then there was this note from Harry Freiberg:
The Republican establishment is far-right, conspiracy-driven extremism. The outliers are just more so.
Simply put. I noticed that too often during the House speakership fight, reporters and commentators referred to the battle as a confrontation between conservative GOP members and moderate Republicans. I might have even used the m-word myself. However, there are few, if any, GOP moderates these days. Half the Republicans who voted for Kevin McCarthy were election deniers who promoted Trump’s Big Lie and voted to block the certification of Joe Biden’s victory—as did McCarthy himself. That is, they are anti-democracy extremists. The divide during the speakership battle was between Trumpish Republicans who didn’t want to blow up their caucus and those who were willing to do so. This is not an ideological distinction.
Kathryn T. Van Sciver had this suggestion:
I haven’t seen this term used elsewhere, but I think you need to call it… QAnonsense.
Sharon Dennis asked:
What is your prediction on how long McCarthy will last?
Making such a prediction would entail rendering a rational assessment of the GOP hostage-takers who have disproportionate influence within the Republican House caucus—and I don’t think that is possible.
Responding to a previous note from Sharon Dennis, in which she reported it was financially difficult for her to subscribe to the premium edition of Our Land, Slaven Radic wrote, “Is it possible to donate a subscription to Sharon Dennis?” That is very kind of Slaven, and the Our Land team will follow up.
Peter Greenwald sent a pic:
Your Moxie looks like my Augie (23 lbs, 5 years old).
I showed it to Moxie. She disagreed. “My snout is far shapelier,” she said.
Theresa Thayer also had a comment about Moxie. She emailed, “I devour everything you write,” but she wanted to convey this: “Love to Moxie. Thanks for including her. When events seem particularly bleak, I read her first.” I told Moxie this. She said, “Naturally.” Speaking of which…
“Moxie, why are you wearing those? It’s not that cold.”
“My ears are very sensitive.”
[Muttering] “What a drama queen.”
“I heard that.”
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
January 10, 2023: Our split-screen America; Wakanda Forever and Babylon (thumbs down) and The Fabelmans and Armageddon Time (thumbs up); and more.
January 7, 2023: The other GOP civil war; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Glenn Greenwald); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
January 4, 2023: The House GOP and a year of hope or horror; a noirish novel of the East Village in the 1990s; Brian Ray and the “coolest” song of 2022; and more.
December 23, 2022: The connection between Trump’s taxes and the January 6 report; the weirdest congressional scandal in a long time; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Sen. Josh Hawley)—and Year (Donald Trump); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
December 20, 2022: Have a merry (cracked) Christmas—a playlist; and more.
December 17, 2022: The GOP: still crazy after all these midterm elections; Mark Meadows’ lies; Elon Musk and the latest Big Lie of the right; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Shane Vaughn); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
December 13, 2022: Rachel Maddow and the rhymes of history; Amazon Prime’s The Peripheral does justice to William Gibson’s novel; twangy Americana from a new duo called Plains; and more.
December 10, 2022: Why the GOP establishment cannot save the GOP from Trump; Michael Pertschuk, thank you and RIP; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Rep. Paul Gosar); the Mailbag, MoxieCam™; and more.
December 6, 2022: How Trump-Russia denialism lead to Elon Musk’s dangerous #TwitterFiles failure; a Twitter exit strategy; Sonic Youth’s “Superstar”; and more.
December 3, 2022: The GOP and Nazis, nothing new; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Madison Cawthorn, for the last time?); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 30, 2022: What I learned during my Thanksgiving in Italy; why Andor may be the best Star Wars spinoff; and more.
November 17, 2022: Herschel Walker should release his medical records; giving thanks early; The Last Movie Stars reveals Paul Newman’s and Joanne Woodward’s most notable performances—their own lives; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 15, 2022: Is this the end of Donald Trump?; where were you when the Senate was called (I was with Jackson Browne and Tim Robbins); and Neil Young and Crazy Horse keep on riding with a new album; and more.
November 12, 2022: The 2022 midterms and the state of Trumpism; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Special Election Edition); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.