Are you ready for some presidential politics for America?? Because with Donald Trump’s looming “very big announcement,” it’s getting to be that time!
The 2022 Midterms took an extra week, but it looks like they’re finally wrapping up; Democrats have kept the Senate, and Republicans still look like they’ll take a narrow advantage in the House.
This election very much impacts the next one, first and foremost by delaying any assumptions we can make about President Biden’s 2024 considerations. A totally lost Congress would probably have meant he steps aside, whereas if Democrats had kept both chambers he would have had more steam than the trains he used to ride from Dover to Washington back in the 1920s. But a split decision? It’s anyone’s guess.
Before I talk about Biden and a potentially competitive Democratic Primary, however, I’d first like to get into the more urgent Republican Primary, AKA DeSantis-Trumpageddon.
The Sorites Paradox
Classical Greek philosopher Eubulides of Miletus was known for some great paradoxes, though one of them, called “The Bald Man,” bothers me for reasons I’d rather not get into. Perhaps his most famous one is the “sorites paradox,” named after the ancient Greek word for “heap.” Eubulides asks us to imagine a heap of a million grains of sand, from which we remove one grain at a time. At what point is the heap no longer a heap? Surely not when there is one grain left, or two, or three. Where, then, is the heap threshold?
There is no answer, of course, although since the Greeks didn’t have internet I wouldn’t put it past them to actually conduct the experiment as the highlight of their year. All we know is at some point, the heap is no longer a heap.
The support for Donald Trump might be going through its own sorites paradox. We know that in 2016 and 2020, he gathered a heap large enough to win the Republican nomination. If anything, from one election to the next grains of sand were added to it, as evidenced two years ago by him winning the second most votes in American history.
Since his 2020 loss, however, his heap has slowly shrunk. His approval rating over the last few weeks of his presidency took a nosedive, understandable considering his central role leading up to the January 6 attack on the Capitol. A NBC poll from two months ago found his post-presidency approval at just 34%. FiveThirtyEight monitors his post-presidency average favorability, which is currently at 39.9%, down from a 2022 high of 46 in March. In late October, his unfavorable number was 15.7 points higher than his favorable, the widest spread since the fallout after January 6. It’s clear that, grain by grain, his heap has slowly diminished in size.
And that was before the Midterm results that had the once friendly New York Post calling him Trumpty Dumpty. After his hand-picked candidates struggled in their races, nearly all media that’s not instinctually pro-Trump, whether right-leaning, left-leaning, or hated on both sides, seemed to think he was the biggest loser of Election Night, surely leading to a further dwindling of Trump’s once formidable heap. The oddsmakers seem to agree. According to the betting markets, Trump, who had been the heavy favorite for the Republican nomination right up until Tuesday night, has lost that status. Now it’s DeSantis.
I disagree with the oddsmakers, though. As of now, I’m telling you not nearly enough grains have been moved. Trump’s heap is still there.
The Wounded Animal
Trump and DeSantis have long been on a collision course. In February 2021, just two years into DeSantis’s governorship and less than a month after Trump left office, I tweeted the following:
As you can see by my one like, I’m kind of a big deal on Twitter, and it’s because of hot takes like that. Since then, as DeSantis gained momentum and it became clear Trump was positioning another run, it was obvious to me that the two men, barring one of them voluntarily veering off, were on a collision course.
There have long been rumors of animosity between the Trump and DeSantis camps. I referenced it back in February of this year, writing, “I must say I’m excited about a budding Trump-DeSantis rivalry, as I do think Governor DeSantis’s hot streak has positioned him as the only threat to Trump’s nomination.” Conservatives have tried to deny it, with some even circulating an old handshake between the two men with captions that hinted at a 2024 transition ticket to set up DeSantis 2028.
Apparently they forgot to tell Trump. He swiped at “Ron DeSanctimonious” right before the election, a politically dubious decision days before his fellow Republican faced the voters. He warned DeSantis not to run, saying “I think if he runs he could hurt himself very badly. I think the base would not like it,” also adding, “I would tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering — I know more about him than anybody — other than, perhaps, his wife.” Just classic Trump. (And for now, Casey DeSantis should be relieved that’s all Trump says about her. Just ask Heidi Cruz.)
Once DeSantis stole the midterm spotlight, Trump pushed back against the post-midterm narratives. He unleashed a vintage Trump rant against DeSantis, essentially saying DeSantis owes his whole political career to Trump (probably true) and should therefore be more loyal (meh). Every time DeSantis is asked the 2024 question, he has a non-committal response, and Trump is tired of waiting for him to bend the knee.
Trump also lambasted the conservative media that finally seemed ready to put him out to pasture. He identified all the big News Corp. outlets — Fox, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post — as traitors fueling the DeSantis surge. The media has indeed framed it as a changing of the guard, although it probably lasts only as long as the midterms are the most relevant news story. (I happen to be with Justin Peters at Slate on this one. If Trump retakes the reigns over the Republican base, Fox News et al. will absolutely be back in his hip pocket.)
He’s also whined at all of us for not putting things in perspective: “Now that the Election in Florida is over, and everything went quite well, shouldn’t it be said that in 2020, I got 1.1 Million more votes in Florida than Ron D got this year, 5.7 Million to 4.6 Million? Just asking?” It was yet another moment of stupidity from a man who either doesn’t know the differences in presidential and midterm turnouts or counts on his supporters being uninformed enough to fall for it.
But this is what a wounded animal does. It lashes out in all directions. Trump is hurting. He even went out of his way to take on an up-and-coming Republican who was just minding his own business in Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin.
I mean, “Sounds Chinese, doesn’t it”????? I can never quite wrap my head around those who think Biden has lost his marbles but thinks Trump could furnish a full game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. These men have both been fading for some time, and to only harp on the one you don’t like might be diagnosable political brain damage.
So we have a wounded animal guarding a shrinking heap of sand. The heap is still there, but for how much longer? An important part of the equation is that if we’re moving grains of sand from the original heap to another single location, at some point the second heap will be larger, the One True Heap. And if we reach that tipping point — if a clear signal is sent to the establishment and base alike — that’s probably it for Trump the politician.
It’s certainly possible. DeSantis had a whole lot going for him, even before the midterms. Conservatives have lauded his handling of the Free State of Florida during the pandemic. Schools were open, masks were optional, and there was little pressure to vaccinate. The pandemic will actually harm Trump during both stages of a presidential run. Conservatives, including DeSantis, think he gave in to Dr. Fauci too much; Trump will brag about the admirable “Operation Warp Speed” beaming vaccines across the country, and his base will be like, “So? They don’t even work.” If he manages to win the primary, liberals will then skewer him on the mismanagement of the crisis in those early months, when the President said it was no big deal.
Another DeSantis strength is that, like Trump, he’s also a fighter. Plenty of other Republicans would have executed conservative policy as president, but none of them would have owned the libs as much as Trump did. He enrages so many people — the media, the establishment, intellectuals, celebrities, women, etc. — and his supporters embrace him for it. They love someone who takes the fight to the cultural cabal that looks down its nose at conservative America.
DeSantis recognized that. He’s stood up Woke Disney, worked to keep icky sex stuff out of school, and airmailed immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard. The base’s desire for a pugilistic culture warrior makes DeSantis the perfect mini-Trump. It’s as if DeSantis cracked his way out of a Donald Trump nesting doll.
And he’s younger than Trump. Over three decades younger! (Trump is 76, DeSantis is 44.) Surely that’s attractive to a base that wants to score points on Biden’s advanced age. In so many ways Trump is starting to resemble the middle-aged wife who’s terrified her husband will leave her for whatever 26-year-old shows some interest. It’s hard to compete.
But for now, I think the Republican base in rural America stays loyal. I’ve seen plenty of pro-Trump social media — not the checkmarks, but the tried and true Trumpers that show up to the rallies — fall totally in line and echo every single talking point of the former President’s post-midterms tirades. Trump has always been a brilliant conductor of the MAGA Philharmonic. There are various moments in the last seven years where some bad development happens in Trump world, and for a few hours people kind of think, “Welp, that’s it for him,” and then he starts telling all his people what to say and think and they all start saying it and thinking it. He’s doing it again now. That was the point of last week’s nonsense.
Simply put, I don’t think his heap is going to dwindle enough to not be a heap anymore, at least not until someone brings a broom and finishes the job. He’ll head into a Republican Primary with his base of support, and just like in 2016, every single Republican that jumps in will divide the opposition, making Trump’s heap that much more impressive by comparison. Standing up to him might be candidacies from Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Liz Cheney, Nikki Haley, and Larry Hogan, but all they’d do is divide the anti-Trump vote.
The only hope for history to not repeat itself is that unlike 2016, when there was no clear anti-Trump candidate until it was too late and PPFA Sleeper Ted Cruz was the last guy standing, that this time there is one clear anti-Trump.
Does DeSantis want that mantle, though? Does he want to potentially alienate MAGA by becoming the foremost anti-Trump in the country? I’ve said a few times on here how it doesn’t make any sense for him to run until Trump is gone. Why risk losing a Trump base that would all too happily move to DeSantis once Trump can’t run anymore? If I were his adviser, I would urge him to avoid the clamor for his candidacy from the establishment and other frustrated conservatives desperate to move on from Trump’s heterodox Republicanism. They have nothing to lose. DeSantis does. He should listen to his head, not his heart. If he does, he won’t even run, which is why I disagree with the oddsmakers on his newfound status as the favorite, at least until he declares his candidacy.
But as a pundit? I say RUN! This Republican Civil War has been a long time coming. I want to see it. Mano a Mano. Trump vs. DeSantis. MAGA vs. establishment.
Heap vs. Heap.
I’ll tackle the Democrats next. I hope to see you then. Make sure to subscribe for updates (right sidebar on desktop, below this post on phones) to enjoy the entire ride!
The speculation from conservative circles is understandable, as many hope they won’t have to take sides, and perhaps more importantly that the two Floridians won’t destroy each other ahead of a general election against a liberal socialist communist reverse racist groomer, but I don’t see them teaming up. From Trump’s perspective, he’ll want a vice president that heels. He’s not going to have his own VP be a headstrong darling of the conservative movement. Everywhere Trump would see coups afoot, partly because he’s a paranoid nutjob and partly because there probably would be coups afoot. From DeSantis’s perspective, I doubt he wants to tie his fate to someone who would probably lose, which would hurt DeSantis’s reputation in two ways. First, as a member of the toxic Trump team, his rep would be tarnished among key demographics. Second, as a member of a probably losing ticket, he would join a long line of promising losers who never politically rebounded. Only one losing VP nominee ever became president (FDR, who was the Democrats’ VP nominee in 1920) and only two more later became presidential nominees (Rufus King and Bob Dole).
So who would Trump’s VP be? If Kari Lake pulls it out in Arizona, I really like her chances. An election-denying, MAGA-spewing media personality turned governor of a swing state who also happens to be a woman who could potentially narrow the growing gender gap? PERFECT! Other contenders include Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Donald Trump Jr., and definitely not Mike Pence.
If Trump doesn’t run, in addition to DeSantis and Pence we can expect Mike Pompeo, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, the Senators Scott (Rick and Tim), Glenn Young Kin, Tom Cotton, Kristi Noem, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and more. But I don’t even see much sense in dedicating a lot of time to their potential candidacies unless Trump doesn’t run or is forced out early.