It has been said that all politics is propaganda. The latest example of this phenomenon on the Right is perhaps on greatest display in the recent firestorm of online criticism (that apparently came out of nowhere, almost definitely sponsored by powerful interest groups that always hated him) surrounding Donald Trump’s management of the COVID pandemic. Of course, the intensity of this criticism must be placed within its broader political context. So, let us quickly recap: in November, Donald Trump formally declared his bid for the presidency (for a third time) for 2024. Recently, other would-be challengers, including his former Vice President, Mike Pence, his former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and his former UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, have also made strong indications of their desire to challenge Trump in the Republican primary. Though poll after poll overwhelmingly (and correctly) indicates that Trump would be the frontrunner – and by a country mile – perhaps the most intriguing story of all is whether the Florida Governor, who almost always registers at a distant second in said polls, will also toss his hat into the ring.
While DeSantis so far has been remarkably mum about his plans, anyone with half a brain could see the writing on the wall: DeSantis appears to have every intention of challenging the man who made him famous, a likelihood that is supported by not only President Trump’s increasingly antagonistic statements directed at the Florida Governor, but even more, the fury with which DeSantis acolytes on social media are frequently aroused whenever one so much as levels the gentlest of critiques against His Holiness, the Governor.
Inasmuch as a “DeSantis Movement” proper exists, it remains extremely, extremely online. In one way, that simple fact affirms how removed DeSantis supporters are from real life. And it is true: Florida remains a political anomaly. It is maybe the only state in the country that is clearly trending rightward – a reality that has permitted its Governor to sort of reinvent the Sunshine State to his own ideological caprices, grafting the most unctuous slogans from Conservative Inc. (the establishment purveyors of acceptable right-wing discourse – see, for example, The Daily Wire) and extrapolating those ideas to their most cartoonish proportions. Only in Florida, for example, would the kitsch phrase, “Where Woke Goes to Die,” have purchase among the electorate – a motley admixture of largely white, Northeastern middle class boomer retirees, who inhabit the northern and inland parts of the peninsula, paired with an even more heterogeneous mix of Latinos to the South, who, based on their predominantly Cuban and Venezuelan origins (and thus, in many cases, know firsthand the perils of communism and socialism), are able to provide DeSantis with an idiosyncratic consortium of voters that make such experimentation, exclusive only to the Sunshine State, possible.
And thus, bespeaks a fundamental problem of the “DeSantis Movement,” which his, again, extremely online support network, refuses to accept. Florida, like Disney World, has always been a place where dreams are made – but, alas, all dreams (however much its guests might not want to admit) are not based in reality, and furthermore, must come to an end. The Ron DeSantis phenomenon befits this Disneyesque script: outside Florida’s halcyon borders (and if one could get past Tinkerbell, even there too) is a country in precipitous decline, whose citizens are inured to the manufactured sloganeering of a scandalously out-of-touch “political movement” (one would be wise to ask just how many rust belt voters have ever heard of the word “woke,” or know its definition. Indeed, just how many of them have ever heard of one Ron DeSantis?).
Which bespeaks a second problem with the movement which has apparently attached itself to DeSantis, the wunderkind alternative to Trump who is supposed to liberate MAGA from the “toxic” clasp of its creator: movements, at least in the modern American political context, are fundamentally liberal in orientation. Our times demand bold, expedient action – action that can best be executed by one competent man; not some tired grifting of the “long march through the institutions” ploy, employed over decades by the Left, that has engineered today’s bureaucratic politics, a politics that is heavily dependent on preexisting institutions, and for that reason, deadeningly sclerotic and hostile to the individual. Therefore, however noble Christopher Rufo’s efforts may seem, which have been officially blessed by DeSantis, in his crusade against critical race theory and other poisonous creeds in the academy, the approach is one that ultimately lends itself to this same, bureaucratic mentality from which DeSantis, as a career politician, was spawned – and through which his operatives seemingly find themselves most at home with.
It is worth noting here that Trump, in stark contrast with DeSantis, is an entrepreneur in the truest form of the word. He is a throwback to the kind of American, increasingly rare today, that amassed his wealth by building things in the physical world, employing real life techniques and utilizing his own creative vision, to execute his projects. DeSantis, by sharp contrast, was trained as a lawyer, went through Harvard and Yale, began his career as a teacher, only to find himself on the trajectory of being a career politician (gone are the days of the tough-as-nails hell-raisers like a Meade Esposito or Roy Cohn that were so common in politics during Trump’s formative years).
Granted, that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing: Ron must have worked hard to achieve what he did, even if such achievements are inextricably bound to the same systems that are destroying American life in so many respects today. And, to be fair, part of that reason is not entirely DeSantis’ fault: being a generation younger than the 45th President, his times perhaps would not afford him the same entrepreneurial outlets that a man born in the mid-1940s would have to his disposal.
That said, however, DeSantis has not – from what I have seen – evidenced any preternatural creative talent: an ability, for example, to think outside the exceedingly cramped range of possibilities that a perversely decadent society’s institutions like ours today would only be capable of conceiving. Indeed, his notoriety is entirely derivative of the politics ushered in by Donald Trump’s entrepreneurial spirit: DeSantis has repeatedly characterized himself as the byproduct of Donald Trump, “MAGA-lite” if you will, someone who simply cannot escape the frame of reference afforded by his maker. In the few times DeSantis might think he has escaped it, it typically is a throwback to George Bush-era policies, ideas, and talking points – and not, for example, anything truly innovative that would decisively shift the Overton Window achieved by Trump in 2016 to any new, groundbreaking horizon.
Apart from Disney World, Florida has long been known for its bustling retirement community – a demographic quirk that is reflective in the makeshift sloganeering of the anti-woke mantle DeSantis has shepherded. Older populations take longer to catch up with the changing political headwinds that a younger, more politically involved constituency would be quick to grasp. Sometimes they never do catch on (which partly explains why Sean Hannity’s worn-out bromides recycled from the Bush and Reagan years continue, though with less influence by the year, to dominate cable news), and only once they age out do fresh ideas take hold. Without going into great detail, America is currently facing a demographic catastrophe: birth rates are at historic lows, and only continue to follow a trend of depreciation year-by-year; meanwhile, the older population – which comprises the majority of the electorate – increasingly makes up a larger and larger share of the overall demographic. All these trends are compounded in a state like Florida, which on average is older than an already ancient nation, and therefore, DeSantis’ politics are uniquely limited in a way that a Governor of a much younger state may not be, to the biases and prejudices of his constituency. Accordingly, the political cachet that “Where Woke Goes to Die” carries in a state like Florida, itself steeped in retrofitted 2015-2016 talking points, will probably be less effective when extrapolated to the national stage, where election integrity, immigration, runaway inflation, high crime, and opioid-induced deaths of despair – in other words, everyday bread-and-butter issues that working age Americans care most about – carry much greater purchase than “wokeness,” a lazy term, especially for a political campaign, maybe placable to a retirement community, but certainly not for a national campaign.
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The above prefatory commentary was, I believe, necessary to better understand the context in which Trump has made some controversial remarks and policy decisions that have received criticism from the Right. In the following, I would like to address three issue areas in which Trump has received especially heated criticism from the online Right in particular. The first and perhaps greatest of these is his continued trumpeting of the vaccine rollout and Operation Warp Speed, despite mounting evidence – and countless instances, both high-profile and anecdotal, now seemingly reported by the day, in which many Americans have died as a result of a vaccine-triggered ailment. The second issue is (what some critics deemed to be) recent negative remarks Trump issued on Truth Social regarding the pro-life movement, and how he claimed to have felt betrayed by many in the movement, particularly in the aftermath of the rigged election in 2020 and January 6th, despite appointing three justices to the Supreme Court who helped overturn Roe v. Wade, which delivered the most pro-life victory in American history. The third issue is some of the apparently eyebrow raising positions the President has taken on key leadership races – notably, his general support of Kevin McCarthy for House Speaker and his rather noncommittal stance taken on the RNC chair race, in which Ronna McDaniel had returned mediocre results in the 2022 midterms, while squandering precious resources on dead-end candidates, causes, and superfluous self-care. Finally, towards the end, I would like to better place these criticisms within the framework of the impending Republican primaries, and how in particular, these (in many cases, admittedly fair) points of contention are being exploited by propagandistic actors who are likely being paid behind the scenes to broadcast a subversive message in hopes of derailing Trump’s chances by manipulating otherwise valid public grievances.
The bottom line is that however fair the criticism might be against Trump, if it is being made by a disingenuous actor who does not seriously care about these issues but is simply trying to manufacture political resentment so that it can then be turned around and exploited for opportunistic purposes, then however valid the criticism might have been in the first place will be lost in the triumph of the evildoer who benefits most from the criticism, further harming all those with sincerely good intentions in turn. It is undeniable that Trump made many mistakes in his management of the “plandemic” – but these mistakes have been widely known for years now. One should not be penalized for asking why all of a sudden now the pile-on against Trump, a few short months after he announced his bid for office? As well as noting who is spearheading this anti-Trump narrative: namely, those corporate media outfits such as Fox News and other establishment bulwarks that have made resoundingly evident their clear preference for DeSantis (or anyone else) over Trump.
Trump’s Stance On Covid
First, on the vaccine rollout and Operation Warp Speed. While it is inarguable that public sentiment has shifted on this issue, as even polls of Democrat voters indicate that close to half are now concerned about side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines, the reality is that Trump must play his cards strategically on this issue, as the vast majority of Americans were psyoped into getting the jab (at least once) – and for the overwhelming majority, multiple times. According to the latest statistics put out by the CDC, 79% of all Americans got at least one dosage of the vaccine; nearly 70% have gotten at least one booster and are considered “fully vaccinated.” These numbers are even higher for the over-50 age bracket, the demographic most likely to vote on election day: 95% of the population over 50 received at least one dosage of the jab, and 83% of that population got at least one booster. The over-50 age bracket constituted 56% of the voting demographic on election day 2020, a number that will likely increase further still, with a rapidly aging population, come 2024. The Republican Party has historically been the benefactor of the older population: in 2020, 61% of this demographic, according to Pew Research, voted for Donald Trump. Thus, even as the population becomes more skeptical of the vaccine overall, for Trump to completely disavow his prior stance, following the advice of the most ardent critics of the Online Right, and severely criticize the vaccine for its deadly consequences might not have the same purchase among the broader body politic. The sad truth is that a nontrivial share of Americans – and particularly voting age Americans – have received one, two, in some cases even five booster shots, including those who would traditionally support the Republican Party, or at the very least, Donald Trump. Walking around in public today would help evidence that fact: it is still a common sight to behold people, including in deep red states, festooned in N95 masks, fully hoodwinked by Big Pharma’s powerful propaganda. Indeed, while public sentiment is evolving (And how could it not? Especially considering the reports, seemingly released by the day now, of high-profile celebrities, athletes, entertainers, collapsing dead of mysterious heart conditions, to say nothing of the horrible side effects so many Americans have personally experienced with the jab) it has not changed quick enough, and probably will not change sufficiently to the point where the most rabidly anti-vaccine candidate will necessarily appeal the most to the electorate. On the flipside, of course, is the credibility issue: Donald Trump was president when Anthony Fauci became a household name – for him to do a complete 180, at least before the primaries end, would probably not bode well in a rough and tumble election.
That is not to say that Trump cannot modify his position and emphasize elements of the anti-vaccine movement – i.e., being anti-lockdown, anti-mask wearing, anti-mandates – that have widespread appeal among the Republican constituency. This he should do and do with great frequency and confidence. Trump should also tout being the candidate who introduced (and was correct in doing so) alternative medications, such as Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin, while the rest of the world – including Fauci and Big Pharma – ran the other way. Trump was also the candidate who advocated for severely restricting travel to and from China at the pandemic’s outbreak – a bold stance that will undoubtedly still register quite positively today with the base. To the extent he incrementally walks back his position on the vaccine itself, Trump could say that he was working with limited information at the time; there were still so many unknowns, and no Western leader, including no Republican Governor – a group that includes Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem – opposed at least a temporary lockdown while still trying to figure out the nature of the beast in the early months of its outbreak.
In the end, Trump can rest assured knowing that not a single would-be Republican challenger of his – a group that one could make a case also includes longshot candidate Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) – has an obviously superior record than him on the vaccine. To the extent DeSantis’ supporters like to bemoan Trump’s response, those complaints are almost always insincere, as many of DeSantis’ most ardent loyalists today were themselves once enthusiastic advocates of the vaccine – and not too long ago! Indeed, for all the bluster from his pernickety “supporters,” DeSantis himself evidently did not appraise the vaccine to be a serious threat to his life, having been a willing recipient of (at least one) dosage of the dirty jab. Whether that bespeaks poor judgment on his part, or an obsequious reliance on data, either way it is not a good look for the Florida Governor, whose supposed distance from Trump on this issue may in the best-case scenario be described as inconsequential, at worst (and probably likelier scenario) a complete fabrication, the creation of powerful interest groups who would otherwise like to see MAGA’s only and true standard-bearer expelled for good from the political arena.
Trump’s Disappointment In The Pro-Life Movement
The second issue on which Trump received a firestorm of criticism by so-called “conservatives” was his apparently dismissive remarks on the pro-life movement, which he gauged in a Truth Social post as being insufficiently loyal to him, despite having delivered the movement its most important victory in decades by nominating three justices who would sign onto the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade. For context, the full post is reprinted below:
“It wasn’t my fault that the Republicans didn’t live up to expectations in the MidTerms, I was 233-20! It was the ‘abortion issue,’ poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters. Also, the people that pushed so hard, for decades, against abortion, got their wish from the U.S. Supreme Court, & just plain disappeared, not to be seen again.”
Further context is needed to better understand where Trump is coming from by issuing these remarks. To date, nobody has properly assessed the impact – positive, negative, or otherwise – of the “abortion issue” on the 2022 midterm results. The answer is rather multifaceted. First, it is undeniably true that the country is secularizing, and that a majority of Americans approve of abortion, at least under certain circumstances, with a significant share believing that abortion should be legal in all or most scenarios. That said, there are nuances to this data: like any other culture war issue, there is a sharp distinction between how Democrats and Republicans feel about abortion’s legalization, with supermajorities of the former believing that it should be legal in most scenarios, and not surprisingly, supermajorities of the latter feeling just the opposite. Usually on issues like these, the views of Independents ultimately determine how this issue will break on the national scale, and for abortion, a decisive majority of these voters approve of its continued legality in most scenarios, siding with their Democratic counterparts.
That analysis, however, is mere table setting. As one explores the nature of the issue more deeply, one gets a better understanding of how a pro-life candidate should respond to this issue based on broader cultural shifts affecting the national landscape writ large. For one, the secularization of the country, though still nominally Christian by an overwhelming statistical majority, is not isolated to “deep blue” states. In fact, many of the most palpable examples of moral decay – i.e., Drag Queen Story Hour – are seemingly just as commonplace in otherwise “red states” like Texas and Tennessee, as they are in “deep blue” states with largely urban populations like New York and New Jersey. While there may not be systematic data that could furnish indefatigable judgments of these anecdotal claims, alternatively one should not be readily dismissive of anecdotal evidence that would suggest greater (or at the very least, equal) magnitudes of cultural rot in putatively “deep-red” and “rural” sanctuaries, portending a much more complicated appraisal of the national cultural landscape in turn. For instance, look no further than the ballot initiatives in deep-red Montana and Kentucky, both of which in the aftermath of Dobbs had the opportunity to restrict (if not make illegal) abortion (or abortion-related issues), and yet when given the opportunity, voters in those states rejected further restrictions – and by decisive margins. Now, I have heard conservatives run the gamut of arguments, ranging from “liberals in those states were better mobilized, which explains the outcome” to the even more ridiculous “those ballot initiatives were confusingly worded, which accounts for the outcome.” These alleged justifications, however, are pure cope – which does nobody good, because it denies the gravity of our crisis as a rapidly secularizing nation in serious decline, and moreover, is fundamentally antiquarian in its inability to accept modern America for its debased condition in 2023, and not the stronger country it used to be as recently as ten years ago.
Anecdotal evidence would be sufficient to support these claims – just head into any supermarket, train station, or airport – be it in Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, South Bend, or anywhere else – and take a look at how things are managed to glean the depths of our decline. There is simply no escaping our cultural rot no matter where you live. In many instances, the rot is severest in Republican-voting or leaning states, such as the Rust Belt, which notoriously suffers from among the worst cases of opioid abuse and deaths of despair anywhere in the country. Fewer and fewer Americans meanwhile self-identify as Christian: in 2020, for example, only 64% went under that religious label, a figure that is likely lower by a few percentage points in 2023. Even belief in any deity – be it Christian or otherwise – is at all-time lows: 81% of Americans today (down from 92% back in 2011) believe in God at all. To the extent Americans believe in God, they increasingly have broken away from the Church, with huge swaths now identifying as belonging to no religious group (a data point referred to as “nones” in the polling) – with substantial numbers more abandoning all the mainline Protestant faiths that for most of American history comprised the backbone of this country’s religious identity altogether. As such, the idea that an Pro-Life Supreme Court decision, an issue inextricably wound up with religious beliefs in general and Christianity in particular, would in a rapidly secularizing nation be a deterrent to huge swaths of voters is not without justification.
All that said, however, there is still more to the analysis – and room for pushback. One, even with a country in rapid moral decline, voters historically do not vote on the basis of “moral” issues, but rather, on “bread and butter” or “kitchen table” issues that affect them most directly – i.e., their pocketbooks. There is a reason Bill Clinton’s quip, “It’s the economy, stupid,” still resonates today: voters are conventionally driven by economic conditions, first and foremost, and today’s moribund economy would – culture war issues aside – seem to bode highly favorable prospects for the Republican Party.
So why did that not pan out? Obviously, there are myriad systemic “procedural” issues intertwined with modern elections that account for disappointing results: the two biggest of these being 1) terribly poor mobilization (and leadership) on part of the national Republican apparatus; and 2) rigged elections that place insurmountable obstacles in the way of Republican candidates and causes.
Those two issues have been discussed at good length elsewhere as part of the postmortem assessment of this year’s less than spectacular midterm results, and certainly warrant a great deal of continued discussion in the future. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I want to underscore yet a third issue, lurking in the background, that while undoubtedly “blackpilling,” nevertheless should be kept in mind when undertaking a sober analysis of what I described as “procedural” pitfalls.
That blackpill lends itself not to a direct, clear-cut explanation, but can be anecdotally divined by evaluating in grand scope the recent cultural and political trends over the past several years. There is a possibility that huge swaths of the American public, being so indoctrinated by endless propaganda, have reached the point of being so apathetically complacent with the way things are – given the technological sophistication of those institutions responsible for perpetuating said propaganda – that they have reached the point of voting against their own economic or other self-interests, even to the point of supporting policies that harm them directly. Between the covid vaccine push to #BLM to acceptance of LGBTism in all its permutations to a full-throated endorsement of the Ukraine War to the complacency by which an apparent critical threshold of the population have responded to the cultural revolutions of the past couple of years: there is a sense that Americans, if not openly supportive of the changes occurring in their country, are at least not discontented enough to the point of taking bold action of the kind that would be necessary to reverse the current pace of cultural decline. Indeed, highly congenial economic conditions, the byproduct of an extremely loose monetary policy that, when paired with the covid loans, flooded our regime with cash has had undeniable effects on abetting the ostensible historic indifference to economic interests among voters, despite an economy likely on the verge of a major recession. That said, however, the widespread societal buy-in to getting injected (close to 8 in 10 Americans), which, admittedly has a strong economic component if Americans had to choose between the jab or the job, nevertheless would indicate that all the regime psyoping has meaningfully affected the voting public in a way that has little to no precedent in our history. Thus, accounts for the rather befuddling outcomes this last cycle, a medley of complex factors – procedural, cultural, psychological – that have added nuance to this abortion issue, accounting for some of that disappointment found in President Trump’s Truth Social post, in turn.
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There are a few other side issues that I think warrant further elaboration. One, there is no denying that President Trump was largely correct in his verdict that the pro-life movement went silent at the moment of greatest need, when the election was stolen from him, when he could have used its powers of mobilization. Indeed, the pro-life movement in many respects tracks the President’s judicial nominees – judges, which may be described as the political incubators of the pro-life cause. However, when Trump’s three pro-life justices – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett – were given the opportunity to hear several prominent lawsuits, most notably, the one led by the State of Texas that challenged election results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, all three justices turned around and betrayed the man who appointed them, hiding behind the nonsense excuse that the Texas plaintiff had “no standing.” It was not as though, however, the entire Court was in agreement with this putative rationale: the two more experienced conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, both indicated they would have allowed Texas to bring the case, demonstrating that the underlying legal theory was anything but a crackpot one. This two-fronted betrayal: the pro-life movement’s lack of mobilization in the streets coupled with the judiciary’s patent failure to give President Trump his day in court – would, by any sober, self-respecting assessment, justify the disappointment conveyed in that Truth Social post. Indeed, being stabbed in the back by those groups whose cause he championed (and helped deliver) more than anyone in the fifty years since Roe was decided, warrants a much more critical response. If anything, the President should be applauded by how measured and even tempered he’s been throughout despite being virtually abandoned by those who should otherwise be his greatest allies.
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Despite the negativity and blackpilling above, there remains a silver lining in all this for the pro-life issue. This is the product of two factors unique to our political age: 1) whereas Bill Clinton may have been correct in the 1990s that voters were animated by their pocketbooks, today cultural issues reign supreme – and therefore, abortion’s purchase on the psychology of your average voter is far more determinative of their final decision; and 2) the MAGA movement vindicates that pure, unbridled strength – even to the point of aligning oneself on positions deemed verboten by large swaths of the general public – will in almost every case prevail over milquetoast compromising and mealy-mouthed diplomacy. The proof for the latter is in the pudding with Trump’s extraordinarily successful 2016 campaign, and, despite the mountain of opposition, successful presidency. The particular takeaway for the abortion issue, then, is that the candidate who takes the most uncompromising position, even to the alienation of received public opinion, will always do better than the candidate who will not. This is because where the former suggests strength, the latter suggests cowardice. Trump already knows this: famously, back on the 2016 campaign trail, in response to a question by Chris Matthews on MSNBC asking whether there should be any form of punishment, not just for the doctor who performs the abortion, but for the woman herself, Trump responded: “there has to be some form of punishment!” This statement, which had no precedent in the history of “acceptable” mainstream discourse on the issue, instead of deterring voters, was part of a motley assortment of highly unorthodox positions taken by the would-be 45th President at the time that was responsible for catapulting him into the Oval Office.
It should not be forgotten the reality of nature, and the indubitable effect of pure, carnal strength – traditional masculine strength – in courting (and endearing oneself) to the body politic. The masses, huge swaths of whom have been made weak and desensitized, nevertheless retain a sixth sense for identifying strength, and will correspondingly gravitate around the strongest person in the room for leadership in turn. This will always be an ironclad law in politics; candidates who are brave enough, particularly today, to wholeheartedly embrace the unorthodox telegraph their superiority by osmosis, a prerequisite for leadership, to the body politic, who in turn, despite (or because) those positions will be at odds with their general schema for understanding the world, will find themselves instinctively predisposed to that person because that person dared to be different.
Today especially, given how debased things are, being different is a telltale indicator of strength. Therefore, even on an issue that is increasingly antithetical to a rapidly secularizing public, will the unrepentant boldness of a firebrand’s position – however unorthodox, however increasingly at odds with the majority of people today – always prevail over the position of accommodation, compromise, or concession from a lesser candidate. The latter, by contrast, is a position that will instinctively, if not directly, telegraph weakness to the voting public – a guaranteed failure of a trait that will alienate the entire spectrum of voters, from the fiercest pro-lifers to the most ardent abortionists – every single time.
Trump Supporting Kevin McCarthy, Apparent Indifference To RNC Chair Race
Last, onto the issue of Trump’s support for Kevin McCarthy (and to a lesser extent, Ronna McDaniel for RNC Chair), an issue that while probably over discussed, has to again – like the abortion issue – be situated in its proper context, discussion of which I have not yet seen done, at least on the level of analysis it deserves. While most talk of this or that politician being engaged in “5D chess” commonplace on social media is frankly stupid and dead wrong, in this particular situation, as an impartial observer, I believe Trump’s gambit, if not an example of 5D chess, at least involved some components of gamesmanship and general strategy. For one, inasmuch as many of Trump’s fiercest MAGA loyalists are (in many cases, justifiably) anti-Kevin McCarthy for his wishy-washiness, Trump, though still kingmaker of his party, finds himself in the unwelcome spot of being on the outside of the system looking in. As a result, a man in his position must necessarily “play in the joints,” so to speak, a bit with institutional bulwarks like McCarthy. It is not as though Trump can deal much, if at all, with McConnell, the face of the establishment, who is hellbent on gatekeeping Trump out of Washington for time immemorial. Accordingly, with McCarthy, Trump can at least have a powerful conduit of the Swamp willing to grant him some airtime, however fickle McCarthy’s end might be in reciprocation given his checkered track record on conventional “MAGA” policies and candidates. A scorched earth approach to the DC Swamp has its time and place, and I would expect the rhetoric on that score to eventually heat up as the campaign progresses. But for the time being, in a position of semi-exile, it is best for Trump to apply a cautiously prudent approach. After all, 2024 is not 2016: we have gone through now close to a decade of retaliation by the Uniparty establishment, which have mobilized all their forces to take down Trump (and his MAGA base) every step of the way. In supporting McCarthy initially, Trump was, I believe, acknowledging that hard reality of navigating an impossibly ossified system, one far worse than it was when Trump first entered politics in 2015, in our current year.
Trump’s ability, however, to accord leeway to anti-McCarthy forces was demonstrated in his position of impartiality he later took as it became apparent that new members of the Republican delegation would put the fight to McCarthy, and as it became apparent that McCarthy would require multiple rounds of votes if he was to become House Speaker. Before the first round of voting, it was still a big unknown whether McCarthy was short of the necessary votes, for one, and if he was, how resilient and organized those new forces would be in taking the charge against McCarthy, for two. As the week went on, however, it soon became apparent that the strength of the insurgency would be more than initially anticipated – with twenty Republican congresspersons, some of them freshmen representatives who were not even sworn in yet, bucking their party – including the orders of some prominent MAGA stalwarts like MTG – and refusing to back McCarthy until further concessions were made. McCarthy would ultimately be elected Speaker on the fifteenth ballot of voting, the longest speaker’s election since before the Civil War, leading to the disappointingly anticlimactic finish, in the view of some MAGA stalwarts, of McCarthy’s re-election. However, McCarthy’s victory would not come without some major concessions along the way. Perhaps most notably of all, a pledge to include a so-called “motion to vacate the chair” in the new rules-package. This would allow any representative to initiate a new election for House Speaker unilaterally in the event he or she was dissatisfied with McCarthy’s leadership. For his part, Trump, who went into the process as what may be described as a tepid supporter of McCarthy’s, and who himself was even nominated by Matt Gaetz for the Speakership role in a later round, remained coolly flexible throughout, at one point issuing a Truth Social statement that said, “A big Republican VICTORY today, after going through numerous Roll Calls that failed to produce a Speaker of the House, has made the position & process of getting to be Speaker BIGGER & MORE IMPORTANT than if it were done in the more traditional way.”
Far from a full-throated endorsement of the would-be House Speaker, Trump’s approach – contrary to the preferred interpretation of many Ron DeSantis supporters – was extraordinarily reasonable in light of the tremendous obstacles currently keeping him out of power. For one, it is quite apparent that many very online Trump critics have little to no experience working within preexisting power structures (or generally dealing in the real world), a fact readily on display whenever they telegraph their refusal to accept anything less than a scorched-earth crusade on the Washington Swamp. For these people – many of whom are obviously being disingenuous in their motives – their swiftness to criticize comes not from a place of sober pragmatism that appreciates the near-insurmountable barriers which account for why Trump is currently situated in Mar-a-Lago and not the White House. Nor do they apparently grasp the subtle art of power brokering, especially from Trump’s relatively disadvantaged position, who for better or worse is necessarily dependent on the system in ways that might restrict the scope of his invectives against the Swamp, however much he might still harbor such resentment deep down. Admittedly, there is occasional room for criticism: one is hard-pressed, for instance, to explain what on earth Trump gains from hosting the Log Cabin Republicans at Mar-a-Lago, particularly in an age where gays receive institution-wide, preferential treatment over heterosexuals, and where the Pride flag has displaced Old Glory as the de facto symbol of the regime. One is also behooved to question, based on how the balloting ultimately went down, whether Trump was not too quick to endorse, however qualified, Kevin McCarthy’s bid for House Speaker – given what transpired afterwards. One might also ask whether the soft acknowledgment Trump received in return from McCarthy for the former’s efforts in getting the latter over the finish line was enough of a recompense. Indeed, one could very well make a strong case that anything short of an unmistakable endorsement of Trump’s 2024 presidential bid on McCarthy’s part was inadequate.
All that said, however, Trump did at least stick with the man who would ultimately come out on top – and in return got some assurances, however mild, from McCarthy. Beyond that, (though it is still, admittedly, extremely early) McCarthy so far has been a pleasant surprise – and true to his word in ways that appeal directly to the best interests of the MAGA base. For example, McCarthy has followed Trump’s decree in pledging to not overhaul Social Security or Medicare. McCarthy has also said that funding for Ukraine would no longer be a blank check, appealing to Trump’s non-interventionist tendencies on maybe the most controversial foreign policy issue of the Biden age. McCarthy has also been quick to reprimand some of Trump’s loudest critics in Congress, such as by removing Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from the House Intel Committee, dealing a humiliating blow to two of Washington’s most corrupt swamp creatures, who were likewise among the biggest traffickers of falsehoods and misinformation – while backing some of the most destructive policies, including open borders and inner city lawlessness – in the Trump age. Again, while still very early, these results are quite promising – and signal that McCarthy clearly recognizes to whom he owes his allegiances (Trump and his base) for being in the position he finds himself. They also showcase that both Trump and McCarthy are paying attention to the demands of the base, which, on an issue like Ukraine, often push the envelope further in a direction that neither man has been willing to go just yet, at least in an official, public capacity.
Beyond that, when situating these particular developments within the broader tapestry of what has transpired to date, they strongly indicate that Trump may be operating like a chessmaster after all. Perhaps not on a 5D level, but at the very least, someone who is cognizant of how a multifaceted approach – one that involves a strategy of qualified moderation by Trump, coupled with a tacit approval for the campaigns of grassroots activists who do the former’s bidding by leveling the harshest criticism against McCarthy on the media and rally circuit – could well serve his best political interests.
This also helps explain his rather noncommittal stance on the RNC Chair race, a position that ultimately proved to his benefit given Ronna McDaniel’s reelection. Though McDaniel has received intense scrutiny (and quite justifiably) by the party base, Trump’s waiting out the process proved advantageous on a number of fronts. Most immediately, unlike Ron DeSantis, who put his weight behind challenger (and would-be loser) Harmeet Dhillon very late in the game, Trump came out of this race not having endorsed a losing candidate. Moreover, his impartiality should not have alienated any of the three legitimate candidates – McDaniel, Dhillon, and Lindell, all of whose support will be, to varying degrees, absolutely essential for securing Trump’s reelection in 2024.
Beyond that, as more information came out on Dhillon, who was probably being propped up in a concerted campaign to become the “populist” alternative to McDaniel – based on the support given to her by conservative bigwigs in both media and politics, from Tucker Carlson to the aforementioned Ron DeSantis – it soon became apparent that her true loyalties may not have been as much in Trump’s corner (especially in the aftermath of the DeSantis endorsement) as someone like McDaniel. McDaniel, despite her faults, nevertheless has a history of siding with Trump over the establishment, including over her uncle Mitt Romney. And for better or worse, Trump will have to work with her – and maintain that support – if he is going to have any shot at becoming president again. And because DeSantis endorsed McDaniel’s challenger, it is unlikely that McDaniel would in turn back a would-be DeSantis challenge against Trump in the (high) likelihood DeSantis does toss his hat in the ring in 2024. Trump’s non-intervention, contrasted with DeSantis’ endorsement of Dhillon, is an example of not getting in the way of your enemy as he shoots himself in the foot. The end result of this only emboldened Trump’s position to DeSantis’ detriment, even though McDaniel is not considered the ideal choice by any stretch of the imagination. But if Trump had listened to his critics, he would have wound up staking his case to a longshot cause, one with serious downside and comparatively little rewards: one that would not have been worth that precious expenditure in political capital no matter how poorly managed the RNC has been under McDaniel’s stewardship.
Fortunately for Trump, it seems like he played his cards right on both McCarthy, who has so far kowtowed to the demands of his base, and McDaniel, who, being snubbed by DeSantis, will be more likely to mobilize RNC resources on Trump’s behalf as a result in the event of a DeSantis challenge. While neither of the two is ideal from the standpoint of being a readymade MAGA firebrand, both have also signaled a willingness to work with Trump on some of the most important issues, particularly if the pressure campaign keeps apace. Trump came out stronger, and DeSantis, weaker, in the aftermath of this process, which is another feather in the former’s cap. This will further accord Trump with some leverage for both, particularly as the campaign intensifies, something that will be absolutely critical as he is going to need all hands-on deck – and on the same page – if he is going to have any shot at winning the presidency again, given the long odds.
Ron DeSantis’ Career Suicide Move
On that note, I’d like to put a coda on this essay by reiterating just how long those odds are, in 2023, for any Republican candidate to win the presidency again, in view of the widespread and systemic issues concerning election integrity that remain unresolved, as well as the massive demographic changes afoot, which have entered hyperdrive under Biden, that have seismically transformed the electorate in ways that have nearly cemented one party Democratic rule. I should first like to remind readers that prior to Trump’s 2016 bid, the Republican Party was on life support – his upset victory gave the party a new lease on life, a lease that persists through the present day even with Trump’s (hopefully temporary) departure from the political arena. On that basis alone, it would be senseless to tear down all the progress Trump made for an unknown commodity for no better reason than the fact that a small contingent of people “want something different.” Beyond that, DeSantis must realize how tall the odds are – which he evidently does not if these mounting rumors considering his decision to officially file for a presidential run have merit. If DeSantis believes the problems concerning election integrity in states like Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and myriad others, will somehow magically disappear overnight by substituting him for Trump as the party nominee, he is more naïve and blockheaded than even his worst critics make him out to be. Instead of running for president against Donald Trump, which would almost certainly be career suicide, DeSantis should first endorse the man responsible for making his political career, and second, work with other states – starting with the state basically in his backyard – to solidify their election procedures by adopting many of the same reforms Florida implemented so well so as to help ease some of the burden on Trump, whose path to victory remains quite slim given how unfair the current landscape is. Evidently, based on the disappointing midterm results, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and so many other red and purple states have not been able to fix their election procedures to curtail fraud, ballot harvesting, and other forms of corruption baked into the system. If anything positive can be said about Florida, it is that DeSantis has done a remarkable job of solidifying his election process and registering voters. Thus, he would become a national hero if he used the remainder of his term collaborating with other Republican governors, both formally and informally, in tackling the election issue once and for all. There is no reason why Florida should have perfected this process while its neighbor to the north in Georgia still struggles mightily to get its act together. What that demonstrates is a failure to communicate on DeSantis’ part, or straight-up incompetence, lack of imagination, or unwillingness to offer a helping hand, none of which are welcome for a man who sees himself worthy to lead the country.
Apart from the outstanding issues concerning election integrity, DeSantis should ensure that his own house is in order first before looking to challenge Donald Trump in a presidential dogfight. On several fronts does DeSantis leave much to be desired: most notably, he must clarify where he stands on foreign policy issues, and particularly on the Ukraine war. This is heightened by recent revelations concerning DeSantis’ rapid response director (and by many reports, one of his closest operatives), Christina Pushaw – who, prior to mysteriously landing a job with the DeSantis gubernatorial campaign, spent parts of two years working for disgraced former Georgia president (who had previously been a Ukrainian politician as well, only to be criminally indicted on corruption charges) Mikheil Saakashvili, a close friend of another unsavory character, Volodymyr Zelensky (yes, that Volodymyr Zelensky!). Indeed, Pushaw was so close with these two individuals that she even attended a party in 2019 celebrating Zelensky’s primary victory during the time in which she was registered as a foreign agent to Saakashvili, in which she earned $25,000 over two years based on federal disclosures (the actual work she did over this period is another area in need of further investigation). Given Pushaw’s close relationship with DeSantis, in conjunction with her well-documented history of repeatedly praising the disgraceful Ukrainian president, one could easily be forgiven for drawing implications about DeSantis’ own views on the Ukrainian war based on the enthusiastic statements of one of his closest (and perhaps most famous) sidekicks.
Separate and apart from the Ukrainian issue, in recent weeks more and more has come out on how – with DeSantis’ apparent greenlight – Pushaw has mobilized a quasi-campaign against Trump supporters on social media, using platforms like Twitter in particular to marshal together a coalition of “conservative influencers,” some operating anonymously, to drag Trump’s name through the sand for DeSantis’ ostensive benefit. However official this digital campaign might be, DeSantis should be asked whether he is involved, directly or indirectly through Pushaw (or another aide — formal or informal), with this digital crusade – and if so, how much and for what purpose? Given that DeSantis has not yet ever made any public statement so much as hinting that he might run for president in 2024 (and whenever asked, recurrently shooting down such rumors), how that public position reconciles with his apparent private digital maneuverings signaling just the contrary is an inquiry meriting further investigation.
Finally, DeSantis – who consistently frames himself as the enemy of wokism and the deep state – has been disconcertingly mum on the amount of deep state hijinks occurring within Florida’s borders, from the notorious DOJ/FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago this past summer to the ongoing detention of January 6th protestors, many of whom did not even commit a crime, and have been denied all due process rights. Even if DeSantis swears off Trump, he is going to still require Trump’s base – which includes tens of thousands expressly targeted by the FBI, DOJ, IRS, and a litany of other deep state agencies, if not more individuals (to say nothing of the tens of millions deemed “domestic terrorists” by Merrick Garland’s DOJ for supporting the 45th President) – to propel him to the White House. Yet, he leaves much to be desired in mobilizing lawyers and Florida judges to fight against the Biden administration’s unconstitutional weaponization of the federal bureaucracy against everyday American citizens.
Arguably this issue, above all others, is the defining issue of our times because it goes straight to the core of what America stands for in 2023: whether we are still a republic that cherishes (and by extension, will fight for) God-given natural rights and human freedom – or, conversely, whether we are well beyond reproach as a society, one ineluctably in thrall to insidious (dare I say, satanic?) forces that would have been utterly unimaginable by our Founding Fathers. And one that, if the current trajectory holds, will not only permanently foreclose the prospect of a future Trump and DeSantis presidency, but more gravely, deny their putative shared constituency – the most important component of all – that sacred liberty their forefathers passed down generation after generation, expending tremendous blood and sweat in that collective process, so that the creeping darkness that would seek to put asunder America’s promise to be a shining City on a Hill for all time might yet be staved off at least one more generation.
Paul Ingrassia is a two-time Claremont Fellow: he was the Jack Roth Charitable Foundation John Marshall Fellow for 2022 and a Publius Fellow in 2020. Mr. Ingrassia graduated from Cornell Law School in 2022. His Twitter handle is: @PaulIngrassia.
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Author: Paul Ingrassia
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