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The DeSantis-campaign implosion was inevitable

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended his campaign. His loss was inevitable, because Republican voters want Donald Trump.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:


Trump’s for the Asking

I wrote back in May that the Republican primaries would be over before they really began. Too many of the candidates were featherweights or no-hopers, and even the more substantial challengers couldn’t bring themselves to go after Donald Trump, despite flaming indictments falling from the skies and covering him in a layer of dirty ash. My prediction is one step closer to fulfillment now that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has bowed out, leaving Nikki Haley as the last alternative standing.

The reality, however, is that the 2024 GOP primary was never going to end any other way. When the former speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy rehabilitated Trump, and the Republican Party once again lost its nerve in the face of its extremist base, the nomination was Trump’s for the asking.

None of this excuses DeSantis from presiding over one of the most comically inept campaigns in modern history. Not every candidate is at ease in public settings among ordinary voters. (Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush come to mind.) But DeSantis aimed a kind of annoyed hostility even at his own voters. As Curt Anderson and Alex Castellanos wrote a few days ago in Politico, the DeSantis campaign introduced the candidate to the nation “as a bright but socially awkward introvert, a nerd who did not enjoy people—which was a problem since voters tend to be people.”

Worse, instead of running as a competent governor, he chose instead to present himself as a dislikable bully, perhaps as part of his overall attempt to emulate Trump. His commitment to democracy was never more than a few inches deeper than Trump’s, as he made clear in a strange, acronym-laden culture-war campaign. His inability to understand national politics led him into clumsy misfires, such as officially announcing his candidacy online with Elon Musk and David Sacks, a face-plant rooted in the fundamental error of mistaking the internet for reality.

The Florida governor is now likely finished in national politics. Few candidates ever get a second chance—or, more important, a second bite at the donors—after such a disaster. DeSantis and his allies amassed at least $150 million, but the candidate put it all in a big pile, and then, like the political equivalent of the Joker, lit it all on fire. But at least the Joker seemed to be having a good time when he did it; DeSantis has been projecting irritation and unhappiness since his first day on the trail.

Of course, the last remaining anti-Trump, non-MAGA Republicans had all of their chips on DeSantis. The editors over at National Review, for example, were early DeSantis boosters, and some of their writers are now blaming—wait for it—the Democrats for DeSantis’s failure. The Democrats, you see, understood that indicting Trump would make him more popular with the GOP base, and they wanted to run against Trump rather than much stronger candidates such as DeSantis and Haley, so they interfered in the Republican primary by prosecuting Trump.

I am not making this up.

Let’s leave aside the obvious problem that there was good reason for multiple grand juries to indict Trump, who himself cannot stop babbling about things that are almost certainly crimes. Such theories are also insulting to Republican voters, because they deny the possibility that those voters have any actual agency. In this telling, GOP base voters are like mindless fish who can all be forced to swim in the same direction by little jolts of political electricity being stuck in the water around them.

Less febrile explanations for Trump’s lead in the polls might include the overcrowded field. The GOP primary contenders were mostly a gaggle of long-shot candidates who likely ran as a branding exercise or as vice-presidential aspirants, despite their national weaknesses. (You may have heard, by the way, that Senator Tim Scott is engaged—which he announced a day before suggesting that he’d be open to taking the No. 2 spot on a Trump ticket.)

In the end, however, the problem in the GOP primary was not DeSantis’s soap-sculpture personality, or Chris Christie’s bluster, or Vivek Ramaswamy’s insufferableness (which, for a time, made DeSantis seem statesmanlike), or anything else to do with the candidates themselves. Donald Trump is going to win because that’s what Republican voters want. These voters still refuse to accept that multiple elections after 2016 have produced little but disaster for Trump and those he has tried to anoint for other offices. They want Trump back on the ballot, and they crave a rematch with Joe Biden, not for any specific policy reasons but out of sheer spite.

The few establishment Republicans left refuse to admit any of this, because they are in denial about how much their party—or what they stubbornly believe to be their party—is in Trump’s grip. (As my friend Jonathan Last pointed out today, the DeSantis and Haley campaigns have been “mental crutches” for such Republicans.) These GOPers have been trying since 2016 to get out of a trap of their own making: They enabled the extremism of the Republican base by arguing that national salvation requires Republican victories at any cost—even if that means standing with a man under multiple indictments who’s been found liable for sexual abuse, who thinks his fellow citizens are “vermin,” and who promises to rule as a dictator if given even the tiniest of chances.

Can Haley provide Republicans with an exit from the Trump joyride? No, because—again—few GOP voters want to get out of the car. I admit, however, that I am surprised by her survival in the primary process so far; back when I first wrote about her campaign, I noted that Haley was polling somewhere between Mike Pence and a dust bunny—and that’s saying something, because GOP voters really hated Pence.

But I don’t want to indulge yet more wish-casting about Haley. Could she take down Trump in New Hampshire tomorrow, beat him in her home state of South Carolina, and then pull several inside straights to keep winning on Super Tuesday? It’s not impossible; I am a recreational gambler, and I’ve seen some weird things happen at the tables. People who should have been cleaned out hours earlier somehow catch a card or a lucky roll of the dice. But Haley defying all of the polls and then beating Trump in the South and the West is so improbable, and requires so many black-swan events, that the chances are negligible.

Haley herself isn’t helping make her case. Like other GOP candidates, she seems deeply anxious about criticizing Trump; when she takes a poke at him, she sometimes adds a reflexive both-sides comment about Biden. And she still doesn’t seem to understand the dictates of a primary race itself: When CNN’s reporter Dana Bash asked her about the shot DeSantis took at her on his way out, Haley had a great chance to appear confident and in charge as the last person standing in a two-candidate contest. Instead she went into a wonky ramble, using national airtime to fight with a guy who’s not even running anymore.

American democracy would have been better served by any Republican defeating Trump—yes, even DeSantis—followed by something like a normal presidential election, in which the candidates actually argued about policies and visions for the future. But the ongoing adoration of Trump should tell Haley and other Republicans that GOP primary voters couldn’t care less about policy. They want Trump on the ticket, and they will not be denied.

Related:


Today’s News

  1. The Supreme Court, in a 5–4 vote, granted the Biden administration’s request to temporarily allow Border Patrol agents to cut or remove razor wire that Texas installed along the U.S.-Mexico border.
  2. Thousands of faculty members in the California State University system started a five-day strike today, on the first day of spring-semester classes. Their demands include wages that keep pace with the cost of living and expanded paid parental leave.
  3. Donald Trump and Nikki Haley are ramping up their efforts ahead of tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary, where they will continue vying for victory in the Republican race.

Evening Read

Illustration by Ben Kothe / The Atlantic. Source: Getty.

When Writing About Your Children Is a Form of Betrayal

By Naomi Huffman

In 2009, the English author and critic Julie Myerson published The Lost Child, a memoir that lays bare the details of her teenage son’s drug addiction and their subsequent estrangement. The book incited a vehement debate about Myerson’s adequacy as a mother that seized British media. Other writers claimed that she had violated her son’s privacy and his right to tell his own story. One critic suggested that by writing the book she was “perpetuating the abuse of a young man that began when she and her husband exiled him from their lives.” Another called the book “a betrayal of motherhood itself.”

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic


Culture Break

A still from Reacher, showing Jack Reacher with a bloody face
Brooke Palmer / Prime Video

Watch. Reacher (available on Prime Video) gives audiences an addictive dose of violent simplicity, James Parker writes.

Read. “The Pianist Upstairs,” a poem by Erica Funkhouser published in The Atlantic in 2005, expresses Funkhouser’s disillusionment with the notion that art can heal.

Play our daily crossword.


P.S.

Some of you who follow me online know that I’m a computer gamer—I’ve actually mentioned it in past editions of this newsletter as well. I’ve been playing the much-honored new game Baldur’s Gate 3. (Hey, I admit it: I’m basically a teenager with my own credit card.) The eye-popping beauty of the game made me realize that, years ago, I was pretty happy with games that had 256 colors and a soundtrack mostly consisting of beeps and boops, and now I routinely expect astonishing levels of detail and color.

This is a small example of what’s called “hedonic adaptation,” a phenomenon in which people get used to certain standards and then view anything less as unacceptable. If you’ve been sleeping in a queen-size bed, for example, you’ll feel like a full-size is small; if you’ve been eating prime beef, everything else tastes like leather. You should be aware of it, because hedonic adaptation is how citizens become convinced that living with anything less than what they expect is a failure of democracy. It’s a by-product of living in a great time in history—but if we’re not aware of how it inflates our expectations, it can undermine our sensible understanding of government.

But I’m still going to go out to buy an even better graphics card.

— Tom


Stephanie Bai contributed to this newsletter.

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