The Art of Losing: A Ron DeSantis Story, Part I
Taking stock of the Florida governor's career, starting at the very beginning.
A few weeks ago, the wealthiest man in the world and the most powerful reactionary in America met together to discuss the latter’s designs for the U.S. Presidency.
On paper, this is a grim development. Amid a national conservative movement hardly capable of tying its own shoes, this reactionary stands out as a singularly alarming figure. Over the course of his short career, he has managed to co-opt the furthest reaches of the far-right fringe into a governing philosophy and see stunning electoral successes while doing so. In just one term as a Governor, he transformed the country’s prototypical swing state into a one-party hybrid regime. He has pioneered an entire nationwide movement centered around attacking vulnerable children for political gain. He has gleefully detailed his dreams to turn the country’s administrative state into an arm of the Republican Party. He has made himself the face of a movement opposing Trump on the grounds that the former President is not extreme enough, autocratic enough, or bigoted enough. And he wishes to reshape the entire country in his own image.
On paper, none of this could possibly be funny. There should be nothing amusing about such a figure making such a huge step to such a high level of power and seeing such support from such powerful people.
But, in practice, it was one of the most hilarious things to happen in years.
To start off with: for some unknown reason, the leading light of American reaction and the world’s wealthiest man decided that, rather than launch a campaign with a speech, or a rally, or roundtable discussion, or something even remotely normal, they would do it on Twitter Spaces, a third-rate feature on what is quickly becoming a third-rate social media application. And, as seemingly anyone besides those two people could have guessed, it didn’t work. When the budding candidate first logged on, his profile emitted a harsh cacophony of echoing noises every time he attempted to speak. The app would then repeatedly crash, leaving his “launch” would remain in limbo for 15 painful, excruciating minutes. The candidate would finally be able to speak after the host of the Space was changed, but by then, the damage was more than done.
The entire debacle would cost him hundreds of thousands of live viewers, and his unremarkable speech was completely overshadowed in media coverage by the preceding tech failures. Both of his rivals would mock him over this, each in their own ways. President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, would make a light joke referencing the event, posting a portal to his donation page with the caption “This link works.” Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, would post a video on his Instagram wherein his opponent was in a Twitter Space with Adolf Hitler and the Devil from Hell.
And it was perfect. Nothing, nothing in the world, could have more perfectly represented the past six months of political life for Ronald Dion DeSantis: former Congressman, part-time Republican Governor of Florida, and full-time flailing candidate for President.
Everything about this man’s endeavor for the Republican nomination has been a comedic gift. He can’t do ANYTHING right. He can’t talk to people normally. He can’t stand normally. He can’t even make a normal face. When he makes a trip to D.C. to have a backroom meeting with Republican congressmen, it somehow results in half of his home state’s delegation endorsing his opponent. He can see his opponent face criminal charges over his attempts to buy the silence of a pornstar—and then watch that opponent grow in support. It’s amazing. To see someone who is doing such horrific things in office be rewarded with a trip to his own personal political hell almost makes you believe karma is real.
But it’s not just the mistakes and embarrassments that have made DeSantis’ struggles so rich. Practically every other Republican in the country has been humiliated by Trump at some point. What’s new about DeSantis is that, at least for a moment, he actually was in a very strong position against Trump. He was polling alongside or even ahead of the former President in the polls. He looked like a credible contender. Some even called him a frontrunner. But over the course of his shadow non-campaign for President over the past six months, he has stuttered, soyfaced, and silly season’d his way into a massive deficit.
Once truly terrifying, the Florida Governor has been all but reduced to a sideshow. Absent a truly gargantuan change in the race, he is on set for a humiliating defeat that could set his career back permanently. There is no clear path for him to prevent this from happening and no clear road to a comeback afterwards.
And, of course, because it has to be said, I recognize that there is a lot of time between now and the primaries. In a broad sense, I am by no means counting DeSantis out entirely this early on. Things could change, especially in light of Trump’s ever-worsening legal woes. If the former President is somehow removed from the race, whether by the FBI Miami field office or a lifetime of McDoubles, DeSantis would be a clear frontrunner. Then, after that, who knows how far he could go? In theory, it’s not entirely impossible that he could end up in the White House in 2025.
But I also believe that this qualifier, more than anything else, proves my point. DeSantis wasn’t supposed to spend this primary on the sidelines, bereft of any agency of his own, waiting in the hope that fate will look kindly upon him and save his campaign. He was supposed to be an entirely new political force, the first and only Republican truly capable of challenging Donald Trump one-on-one. But he has turned out not to be that. Even if he somehow ends up winning, it will always be the case that he had a drastic fall.
And that’s where this piece comes in. The purpose of this article is not to make a prediction that DeSantis will lose, although he looks quite likely to. It is to provide a history of his rise and fall: to piece together the moments and decisions that brought the Florida Governor up to co-equal status with a former President, and the personal qualities then reduced him to being 40 points behind him in the polls. And in this, I’m not just trying to figure out what DeSantis did wrong, or Trump did right, although that will certainly be a part of it. I also want to answer a larger, more important question:
Is it possible for Ron DeSantis to win nationally—against Trump, or anybody at all?
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