The Ukiah Daily Journal
He's Trump without the craziness
As the old adage puts it: Be careful what you wish for. Democrats have been watching Donald Trump's unraveling influence with undisguised glee. Recent reports trumpet Trump's troubles in attracting party bigwigs to a campaign rally in South Carolina, while evangelical leaders are distancing themselves from his bid for a second term.
“He's fading fast,” former GOP speaker Paul Ryan told CNN. “He is a proven loser.”
Added New Hampshire's popular Republican governor, Chris Sununu, “He's done his time. He's done his service. We're moving on.”
It's not just that Republican officials are abandoning Trump. They're increasingly besotted with Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, 32 years younger than Trump and an easy winner last fall, when other Republicans endorsed by the former president lost badly.
“There's an argument to be made that someone like Desantis could beat (Trump) in a primary today,” noted Sununu, and polls support him. In a recent Wall Street Journal survey, Republican voters preferred Desantis over Trump by 52 to 38. A USA Today poll found an even larger margin: 56 to 33.
“Ay,” as Shakespeare's Hamlet noted, “there's the rub.” Trump might be fading too fast. Every Democrat knows that Joe Biden would be a weak candidate in 2024, but as he prepares to announce his reelection bid, he boasts two virtues: He's proven that he can unite a fractious party, and that he can beat Trump.
Desantis could be a far tougher foe. At 44, with a telegenic wife and three adorable young children, he highlights Biden's age. More seriously, he shares Trump's shrewder political instincts but lacks Trump's fatal flaws — the narcotic narcissism, the endless grievances and the growing detachment from reality, all of which drive away moderate swing voters, who decide national elections.
“He's Trump without the craziness,” says Republican pollster Whit Ayres.
“Ron Desantis is a master class in how to speak to the base; how to antagonize Democrats in a way that, I think to a lot of Republicans, looks entirely reason-based,” one Republican donor told The Hill. “He's not doing these incoherent rants like Donald Trump did. He's methodical, and that's why he's coming up as fast as he is.”
Desantis' latest lesson in cultural warfare came last week, when he ordered Florida schools to reject an Advanced Placement course in African American studies crafted by the College Board, saying, “We want education, not indoctrination.”
This comes after numerous previous actions by the governor to denounce “wokeness,” mainly by shutting down discussion about issues like the country's history of racial repression and any Lgbtq-related topics in public schools.
“That is somebody pushing an agenda,” Desantis thundered in deriding the College Board's proposed course. And he should know, because that's exactly what he's doing. He's copying the Trump playbook, seizing on wedge issues that divide the country into warring camps: Us versus Them, Good versus Evil, the Feckless Secular Elites against the Hardworking God-fearing Folk. As the governor boasted in his inaugural address, “Florida is where woke comes to die.”
Some of his more extreme ideas have been successfully challenged in court, including legislation to muzzle the state's college professors. Federal District Judge Mark Walker was especially critical last November, stating, “The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints. Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy `academic freedom' so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves. This is positively dystopian.”
Dystopian and dangerous. Desantis is channeling Trump, only more effectively, doing in Florida the exact things that he accuses the left of doing: policing thought, indoctrinating ideologies and enshrining orthodoxy. If wokeness dies in Florida, so does dissent. The state's House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell called the rejection of the AP course “cowardly” and told the Associated Press, “Imagine how boring and closed-minded we'd all be if we only met ideas that we agreed with.”
Even so, the left wing of the Democratic party keeps handing Desantis fresh ammunition in the form of wrongheaded ideas and slogans like “defund the police.”
Trump is the past and Desantis is the future. Democrats better hope the future doesn't arrive too soon.