The Republican establishment thought it could have Donald Trump’s political appeal without Donald Trump himself.
That’s why many of the most prominent voices in conservative politics and media have lined up behind Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, as the presumptive leader of the Republican Party in the 2024 presidential race. He combines traditional, elite credentials and orthodox conservative views with a pugilistic, Trumpish affect. DeSantis, goes the thinking, could hold Trump’s working-class supporters and reclaim suburban Republicans who decamped for bluer pastures in the 2020 presidential election.
To be the nominee, of course, DeSantis has to win the nomination. And to win the nomination, he has to topple Trump, who remains the largest orbital body in Republican politics. Trump’s pull is so powerful — his influence is so great — that he basically compelled much of the Republican Party, including would-be rivals, to defend him in the wake of his indictment by a Manhattan jury.
Besting Trump, in other words, will require a certain amount of skill, finesse and political daring.
DeSantis has to find an avenue of attack on the former president and actually take the shot, knowing that he could alienate legions of Republican voters in the process. He has to somehow persuade Trump supporters that he could do a better job — more effective and less chaotic — without disparaging Trump to the point where he, DeSantis, is no longer viable. And he has to do all of this before Trump can build steam and roll over him like he did his rivals in the 2016 Republican primary.
The problem for DeSantis is that it might already be too late.
According to a recent Fox News poll, more than 50 percent of Republican voters support Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, compared with 24 percent for Gov. DeSantis. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 51 percent of Republican voters support Trump, compared with 40 percent for DeSantis. And according to a recent Morning Consult poll, 52 percent of Republicans support Trump, compared with 26 percent for DeSantis.
A lot could change between now and next year. Trump could collapse and DeSantis could pick up the pieces. But let’s consider the context of the last 13 years of Republican politics. Republican voters have always liked Trump. When asked in a 2011 NBC News poll whom they wanted to win the party nomination, 17 percent said Trump, just behind Mitt Romney and beating both Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Trump was so influential even then that Romney asked for his endorsement, sharing the stage with the real estate mogul at an embarrassing Las Vegas news conference.
The weakest Trump has ever been among Republican voters was in the wake of Jan. 6, when it seemed as if the entire political class, Republicans included, was ready to cut him loose. But they didn’t. Prominent Republican leaders kept him in the fold. Conservative media defended his actions. He was vulnerable, yes. But he remained the dominant figure in Republican politics.
DeSantis could have struck when the former president was weak. He didn’t. And now the most likely outcome is that Trump takes the crown again, tossing his rivals aside like a collection of old dolls.
What’s clear in all of this is that the Republican establishment — DeSantis included, it seems — is as clueless about its situation now as it was when Trump came down the escalator in 2015. They seem to think that they can harness Trump’s energy without submitting to Trump himself. But Republican voters want Trump, and they won’t take any substitutes.
The draw of Trump is that he is an entertainer and a showman who will turn those skills against their political enemies. DeSantis might be more competent, but Republican voters don’t want a manager, they want a performer. If Trump’s opponents can outperform him, then, maybe, they have a chance. But in a fight for attention between a seasoned celebrity and a conservative apparatchik, I know where I would place my bet.
What I Wrote
My Tuesday column was on the slogan “parents’ rights” and what it actually means.
The reality of the “parents’ rights” movement is that it is meant to empower a conservative and reactionary minority of parents to dictate education and curriculums to the rest of the community. It is, in essence, an institutionalization of the heckler’s veto, in which a single parent — or any individual, really — can remove hundreds of books or shut down lessons on the basis of the political discomfort they feel. “Parents’ rights,” in other words, is when some parents have the right to dominate all the others.
And my Friday column was on the farce that is the Republican Party’s claim to want to “protect children.”
When you put all of this together, the picture is clear. The Republican Party will use the law and the state to shield as many children as possible from the knowledge, cultural influences and technologies deemed divisive or controversial or subversive by the voters, activists and apparatchiks that shape and guide its priorities. When Tucker Carlson, Christopher Rufo and Moms for Liberty say jump, their only question is: How high?
But when it comes to actual threats to the lives of American children — from poverty, from hunger, from sickness and from guns — then, well, the Republican Party wants us to slow down and consider the costs and consequences and even possible futility of taking any action to help.
Edward Ongweso Jr. on venture capitalists for Slate.
Adam Serwer on “wokeness” for The Atlantic.
Claire Potter on gun violence in her newsletter.
I have a few more pictures I want to share from my trip to Hawaii last December. This is the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse, which comes at the end of a nice trail with a decent amount of elevation. I took a few different pictures of this lighthouse, from a few different angles, but this was the one that I think worked best.
Now Eating: Pasta and Lentils
We’re all about pasta and legumes in this house — the kids are big fans of the combination — and this recipe from New York Times Cooking is a nice variation on the theme. I usually make this vegetarian, but you can fry pancetta and cook the vegetables in the rendered fat if you prefer.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
8 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup brown or green lentils
3 thyme sprigs
3 fresh or dried bay leaves (optional)
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
10 ounces tubular or ridged pasta, like penne
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
fresh parsley for garnish
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add 5 cups of water, the lentils, the thyme and bay leaves (if using). Partially cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are al dente, 25 to 30 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil over high. Add the pasta and cook, stirring often to keep the pasta from sticking to the pot, until the pasta is al dente, 10 to 20 minutes. (It may take longer than the cook time on the package.) If the pot starts to look dry at any point, add more water, ¼ cup at a time.
Turn off the heat, discard the thyme and bay leaves, then stir in the Parmesan. Cover and let sit for 3 minutes so the flavors meld and the sauce thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Eat with more Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.