Ron DeSantis Continues to Fade Away
“It’s better to burn out than to fade away. My my, hey hey…”—Neil Young
Perhaps the saddest spectacle of the 2024 election cycle has been the flameout of Ron DeSantis, who continues to slowly fade into oblivion.
How bad has it gotten? In the latest Cygnal poll, Vivek Ramaswamy has overtaken DeSantis for second place in the 2024 race for the Republican presidential nomination. Currently, DeSantis polls at a composite 14.8% on RealClearPolitics. As recently as March of this year, Marquette and Monmouth polls had him at 35% and 36% respectively, somewhere between 5-8% behind Trump.
So, what happened?
A Lack of Vision and Purpose
For a presidential campaign to succeed, the candidate must have a singularly focused sense of purpose. Not being “the other guy” just isn’t enough. From the beginning of his campaign, DeSantis has displayed a shocking lack of vision. In a 2018 video, DeSantis struggles to devise a strategy that would allow him to criticize Trump without alienating the former president’s base. At one point in the video, DeSantis tries to craft an answer to a practice session question and ponders how to thread the needle. “I have to frame it in a way that’s not going to piss off all of his voters.”
That kind of tortured strategy hasn’t worked at all. It’s left DeSantis with the task of finding selective issues where he can disagree with Trump without creating a backlash that would turn off MAGA voters. Pick a policy: immigration, China, cancel culture or energy, you’ll find DeSantis isn’t saying anything radically different from Trump; he only claims he would do it better, and that just doesn’t inspire people.
Meanwhile, Trump has been lobbing cruise missiles at DeSantis with greater frequency than Russia attacks Kiev. Devastating Truth Social videos show DeSantis gratefully thanking Trump for his support in the 2018 race for governor and endorsing MAGA. Trump has continually hammered DeSantis as a disloyal technocrat who is boring on the campaign trail and wants to cut social security.
Vivek Ramaswamy Developed the Playbook DeSantis Needed
Contrast the failing DeSantis campaign to rising upstart Vivek Ramaswamy, who probably had the least name recognition of all the candidates in the race.
Instead of alienating Trump, Ramaswamy was perceptive enough to understand that Trump’s only weakness surfaces when he actually likes someone. By maintaining an attitude of respect and reverence for Trump as a leader, Ramaswamy has avoided the former president’s wrath while appealing to a large swath of Trump’s base. I suspect he understands he isn’t going to get their vote in this cycle, but that’s not what he’s aiming for. At 37, Ramaswamy has his sights set on 2028.
In the meantime, he’s using his newfound notoriety to go after a different demographic. Ramaswamy understands that as a group, Gen Z and millennials are a mess. These are the most despondent and depressed generations in American history, and Ramaswamy is reaching out to them with a message of hope and sanity. While his positions are firm, he listens to dissenters, and he’s winning some of them over.
This is the exact approach DeSantis should have taken. The ability to recognize 2024 was out of reach would have been the first step to success in 2028. In all likelihood, he would have inherited MAGA for the next election cycle if he had maintained the same tenacity he’s shown as governor of Florida for the past five years. If DeSantis had taken Ramaswamy’s approach and reached outside of MAGA to grow his base of support while angling for the future, it is likely he would have been the 2028 presidential nominee, even with Ramaswamy as an opponent.
DeSantis Can’t Catch a Break
Part of a successful campaign revolves around luck and timing, and DeSantis has neither. Instead, the buffoonery continues. Somehow, his strategy for the upcoming Republican debate was leaked to the media. It includes gems like, “Defend Donald Trump if Chris Christie attacks him,” and “take a sledgehammer to Vivek Ramaswamy and maybe bestow a Trump-style nickname like ‘Fake Vivek’ or ‘Vivek the Fake’.”
Now that we know DeSantis’ approach to the debates is totally scripted, can you imagine the first time he criticizes sloppy Chris Christie for attacking Trump? Christie’s only claim to fame was his takedown of Marco Rubio in 2016. He’ll be all over DeSantis for sticking to the script if DeSantis dares to defend Trump on the debate stage. In a one-on-one confrontation, I’ll put my money squarely on Vivek Ramaswamy, who is clearly the best extemporaneous speaker in the group.
It’s sad to watch a young, promising Republican politician implode in front of the whole world, but I’m afraid that’s what is happening to Ron DeSantis. He is fading away right before our eyes, and as Neil Young says, it would have been better to see him burn out in a blaze of glory than to watch this painful self-destruction slowly unravel in real time.