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The Resistance Resists ... DeSantis!
Those most opposed to Trump are now busy clearing the way for him.
“I am drunk on Schadenfreude … There is nothing better, not in this world or the next.” Those were not the words of Donald J Trump on Wednesday night, reviewing the shambles of Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign launch on Twitter. They were Jonathan V Last’s — of the “Never Trump” site, The Bulwark.
He wasn’t alone. The MSM chorus dedicated to obliterating the only currently viable alternative to Trump as the GOP nominee was close to deafening. “DeSantis’s Big Moment Goes Awry With a Twitter Meltdown,” crowed the NYT. The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser exulted that DeSantis was “an out-of-his-depth forty-four-year-old who was going to get eaten alive.” Bulwark mucky-muck Charlie Sykes mused, “Surely there have been worse clusterfucked campaign launches than the one we saw last night, but so far, no one can remember any of them.”
Sykes also called DeSantis “Meatball” (a Trump insult) and “Florida Beta Man.” Bill Kristol wryly noted how the name DeSantis could generate lots of puns along the lines of “DeSaster,” or “DeBacle.” He also praised Trump as the “Alpha” of the primary race. JVL referred to Ron’s “Tiny-D Energy.” The Lincoln Project summed up the mood by directly speaking to DeSantis: “We’re sure going to love watching you crash and burn.”
And, to be fair, they weren’t wrong on the launch. Using Twitter for it was bizarre — horrid visuals, useless optics, on a platform loved by very online elites but alien to the vast majority of normie Americans DeSantis needs to reach. And although I once had some small hopes for Elon Musk’s Twitter, I sure don’t now. His platform is a shit-show, in all meanings of that word, and so was the DeSantis event. A shrewd pol would have kept Musk far away. Yet DeSantis effectively made his own announcement a hostage to the tech tyrant’s amour propre. Sad!
And if DeSantis wants to be the anti-woke candidate, he has to do better than telling us that DEI and SEL and ESG are just as bad as CRT. That’s an insane amount of insidery jargon. He has to do more than simply repeating the word “woke.” He has to appeal beyond the GOP base to the moderates and independents who still believe in individual freedom, merit, colorblind racial policy, personal responsibility and letting kids grow up shielded from progressive fanatics.
DeSantis has to engage the majority who are fine with trans adults but don’t believe young children can consent to sex changes and who think sports are sex-segregated for a good reason; those who support non-discrimination laws but don’t believe in hiring people because of their race and sex; those who want their kids taught the basics of math and reading — not that America is a white supremacist country and must be dismantled; those who oppose police abuse but not the police themselves; those who supported a short-term lockdown but not open-ended social death.
And DeSantis has to remind people, as Peggy Noonan puts it today, that “his calling card [is] that in a time of true national crisis — a historic pandemic, the sharp rise of woke ideology — he provided strong leadership under which his state thrived.”
Is DeSantis capable of this? Judging from Wednesday night, no. Perhaps this was because he’s in a primary campaign and thinks a narrow, online, wingnut focus is the safest bet. But key to his primary bid is his ability to convince Republican voters that he can reach beyond the Trump base in ways that Trump cannot. So far: not happening.
Does that mean his campaign is over before it’s begun? I don’t know, but I doubt it. There’s a long way to go. He has raised a lot of money. He retains a couple of strong cards: against Trump, he’s fresh, and against Biden, he’s young. Those advantages will continue to matter. He has a strong record in Florida — on Covid (not as brutal a shutdown), the economy (two percent unemployment), immigration (mandatory E-Verify!) and the fight against successor ideology. He built a 20-point majority in his state, which has to count for something. And I find myself rooting for him against Trump not out of any affection or much admiration, but simply because I believe Biden is a lot weaker than many Democrats seem to think, and because my primary goal is preventing a second Trump term. I fear that Biden is fast becoming the Yuri Andropov of the Democratic Party — and can’t actually beat Trump next time.
I also believe that the rapid corrosion of the core beliefs that sustain liberal democracy is the deepest underlying crisis we face. Wokeness is incompatible with a free society as we know it; it is in fact designed to destroy it, and replace it with identity-based collectivism. Biden will accelerate this, we now know. And Trump’s record in ensuring the cultural dominance and legitimacy of the far left is clear.
So why are so many center-right Never Trumpers celebrating what appears to be a major positive development for Trump? David Frum finally felt the need to explain why he and others are so keen to clear the way for Trump’s return:
What kind of alternative would DeSantis be? We did not want Trump’s abuse of power for selfish advantage replicated by a president who differed from Trump only by arriving at the office on time instead of watching television until 11 a.m.
Seriously? Trump attempted a coup; he committed obstruction of justice; he was impeached twice; he abused the separation of powers; he has vowed to pardon criminals who support him; he is utterly irrational; he lies with staggering abandon; he vows to execute drug dealers without a trial; he supports war crimes; he has enriched himself at the public trough. DeSantis has done and said nothing like any of this; he has governed aggressively within the bounds of his constitutional limits but he is not a sociopath and not a wannabe dictator-for-life. The notion that there is no difference between him and Trump except punctuality makes a mockery of everything Frum has written about Trump in the past.
He continues: “We did not want more strenuous disdain for allies — Ukraine today, who knows who else tomorrow?” Did I miss DeSantis’ vowing to get rid of NATO, like Trump? And what does “disdain for allies” mean? Yes, DeSantis is not a neoconservative in the Frum mode. But who on earth is anymore? And compared to Kim Jong Un’s pen-pal who has vowed to end the Ukraine war in 24 hours, and who personally trashed almost every democratic leader in the West? Please. Frum again:
We did not want a more systematic and shrewd exploitation of tensions in American society, more deft manipulation of resentments along lines of race, faith, sex, region, and educational attainment.
How, I wonder, would David describe the imposition of critical race, queer and gender theory in public high school curricula? The enforcement of systemic race and sex discrimination across the entire federal government and much of corporate America? The creation of sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants? The introduction of sex changes for children before puberty — and mandatory pronoun choice in pre-K? Or the enabling of mass fraudulent migration? These culture war initiatives are apparently not “deft manipulation of resentments.” But opposing them is. Heads the far left wins. Tails the right loses.
David French tries to make a similar argument for rejecting DeSantis:
I believe we can walk and chew gum at the same time, opposing Trump while upholding a vision of state power that limits its ability to “reward friends and punish enemies” so that all Americans enjoy the same rights to speak, regardless of their view of the government.
How Frum puts it: “Never Trump Republicans want a free trade, free market economics conservative.” But unless Ronald Reagan returns from the dead, or we magically get transported back to 1987, this isn’t anything close to a realistic option. French — someone who knows much better — even equates a state legislature setting public school curricula with a violation of free speech — and ignores every free speech challenge from the left. Then there is the specious argument that since DeSantis is not beating Trump right now, he cannot beat Trump ever. But that’s absurdly premature — a piece of rationalization, not analysis.
With Frum and French and many alleged Never Trumpers, it seems, they’d rather risk a second Trump term than compromise an iota of their defunct neocon vision of what conservatism should be. That has zero practical relevance for today’s Republican Party, and suggests they’ve learned absolutely nothing from how Trump came to dominate the American right, and how best to counter him. Putting up another Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio isn’t going to cut it. Which is to say: I love both Davids, but, on this topic, they are not serious people.
And so Trump’s chances of returning just increased dramatically this week. And the “resistance” is near drunk with joy. Tells you something, no? And nothing hopeful.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: a pod with Sam Ramani who updates us on the ever-evolving war in Ukraine; many tough dissents — as well as praise — on “The Queers Versus The Homosexuals”; a robust reader discussion on veganism; five quotes we loved this week; 22 pieces from other Substackers we enjoyed on a wide range of topics; a dazzling psychedelic Mental Health Break; an ornate view from Mumbai and a drabber one from New Orleans; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge from a quaint locale. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a “fairly longtime Dishhead”:
Like many recent dissenters, I nevertheless “just can’t quit you!” Although I think your latest take on transgenderism and the critical theory crowd — who I also find nauseating — is over the top, I find myself drawn back to you. But why? I think it's your straightforward defense of “normal” gay people like myself from the lens of defending liberal (small L) values. You don’t know me, but you made it easier for me to feel like my lack of queerness didn’t mean I had to live a closeted life or conform to queerness. I’m just myself — virtually normal, if you will.
Also, despite my distaste for your newfound kinship with people who I see as reactionaries on the far right, and what I think are your sometimes borderline racist thoughts, I think your heart is in the right place 99% of the time. Know Hope.
Back On The Dishcast: Sam Ramani
Where are we in the war between the West and Russia in Ukraine? We asked Sam back to help us figure it out. He’s a tutor in the Department of Political Science at Oxford and a member of the Royal United Services Institute in London. He’s an expert on Russia’s wars in Chechnya and Syria, and he’s been to Russia and Ukraine many times in the course of getting his International Relations DPhil. His forthcoming book is Putin’s War on Ukraine: Russia’s Campaign for Global Counter-Revolution. I learned a lot in this conversation and so will you.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find two clips of our convo — on whether Russia or Ukraine is winning, and the EU’s surprising response to the war. That link also takes you to commentary on last week’s vegan episode with John Oberg (which overflows into a second page!), as well as many reader dissents over my latest piece on the transqueer revolution.
Browse the Dishcast archive for another conversation you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: Ben Smith on the history of new media, Tabia Lee on her firing as a DEI director, Patrick Deneen on a post-liberal future, and David Grann on an 18th-century mutiny that’s a “parable for our own turbulent time.” Please send your guest recommendations and pod dissent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dissent Of The Week: Transfixed By Trans
A longtime reader quits the Dish:
Andrew, I cannot take your obsession with trans kids any longer. There are so many other issues you could be covering in your weekly essay: the debt ceiling, McCarthy’s tenuous leadership, China, baseball’s new rules, climate change, the Pope, and on and on. As the mother of a trans son who was miserable from age 8 on — and the friend of many other parents of trans kids who were miserable or even suicidal (one at age 6) — I cannot bear your ignorance and fear any longer. I will miss the VFYW and the contest.
I’m sorry you feel this way. As I said in the piece: “We should counter hostility and prejudice toward trans people. We should treat gay kids and kids with gender dysphoria with tenderness, care, and love.” But I confess I am obsessed when gay kids are having their heads filled with notions like “you are in the wrong body,” and when so many are irreversibly sterilized before they have even had a chance to grow up. Have you read Time to Think?
I’m also against crude bans on transing children. I’d prefer a European compromise whereby these medical experiments on children can continue — but only with carefully screened patients in rigorous clinical trials. But the American medical establishment refuses to acknowledge any concerns at all, and has recently abolished any lower age limit for transing children.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting about 20 of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as the surge in UK immigration, fire-ant torture, and the deaths of Martin Amis and Tim Keller. Below are a few examples:
Abortion restrictions in red states are likely to cause a dearth of good doctors in general.
Tara Ella, author of The Trans Case Against Queer Theory, dissents with the Dish.
You can also browse all the substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: email@example.com.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The deadline for entries is Wednesday night at midnight (PST). The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for this week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today.
See you next Friday.