Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ remedial human-ing lessons are not going as swimmingly as he’d hoped, it seems. Little Lord Pudding Fingers—aka Cap’n Custard Carpals, aka Señor Flan Phalanges, aka Mordecai “Three Fingers” Clown—was last spotted on the campaign circuit responding to a joke like someone who’d studied humor theory for one semester at a private, all-male Jesuit school but had not previously found occasion to apply his deep reservoir of knowledge on the subject.
Then there was his disastrous Twitter campaign launch with fellow charisma sinkhole Elon Musk, who you’d think would’ve made DeSantis seem marginally less odious by comparison, but merely served as a glitchy metronome who continually disrupted Ron’s preternatural lack of rhythm.
Well, now we’ve got more evidence that DeSantis—a candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, in case you hadn’t noticed—is seriously in over his head.
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A new Washington Post profile on DeSantis—helpfully titled, “DeSantis on the trail: Combative with critics, not yet cozy with voters”—details the candidate’s challenges when it comes to meaningfully connecting with his fellow mammals.
DeSantis’s policy record and embrace of hard-right stances have helped him move into a stronger position than anyone else in the GOP field but Donald Trump, the clear polling leader. With the kind of background — blue-collar upbringing, Harvard Law, service in the Navy — that led some friends to nickname him “The Resume,” DeSantis, running a distant second and facing pressure from supporters to close the gap with Trump, now confronts a central challenge: Can he make it all translate in the kinds of intimate and closely scrutinized settings that will fill his schedule in the months ahead?
The answer? Not really. Not so far, anyway.
Recounting DeSantis’ recent campaign trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, the Post noted how he bragged about his state’s six-week abortion ban while stumping in Iowa but never brought up the highly fraught issue in the more socially liberal New Hampshire. He also talked about his opposition to COVID-19 mitigation efforts and his donnybrooks with Disney, one of his state’s biggest employers. So if you like radical forced birthers who go out of their way to infect people with deadly viruses and pointlessly alienate their state’s top job creators, you got your man.
Unless, of course, he happens to have the personality of wet lint.
The Post shared one telling anecdote from the trail in which DeSantis clumsily worked the crowd, “at one point passing up an opportunity for an extended conversation that other politicians might have jumped at.”
The opportunity in question began when a DeSantis aide told his boss that a World War II veteran was in the audience. Rather than engage the member of the Greatest Generation, DeSantis barely acknowledged him, tossing him a nod, a thumbs-up, and a good ol’ “Thank you for your service”—before he turned to another fan who was waiting for a photo.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds then handed DeSantis a piece of paper with “RESERVED VIP” printed on it, noting that this same vet—who others had deemed a VIP—was hoping for an autograph. The disaster candidate, according to the Post, “scribbled his name and then walked off, looking for the next voter.”
Thirty seconds later, another underling said, “Governor, did you want to know there’s a World War II veteran?”
DeSantis’ response? “I know, I signed something for him!” He then flashed another thumbs-up and “hustled away.”
What that incident appears to spotlight is a candidate going through the motions, one who either can’t—or doesn’t want to—make meaningful one-on-one connections with voters.
The Washington Post:
Successful presidential hopefuls have found varied avenues to leave lasting imprints on their audiences. Bill Clinton was known for his warmth in one-on-one conversations; President Biden has been known to talk at length to attendees and offer hugs; George W. Bush was the candidate voters wanted to get a beer with; Barack Obama roused people with high-energy speeches; and Trump tapped into grievances while blowing past the usual bounds of political discourse — an approach that continues to win him wide support in his party.
DeSantis, at least for now, is relying more on controlled settings to tout his record and make a more personal introduction.
“A more personal introduction?” Um, no, WaPo. Sorry. That would be poison for his campaign. DeSantis and other Republicans have frequently made fun of President Joe Biden for (successfully, mind you) campaigning from his basement as COVID-19 raged in the summer of 2020. But DeSantis’ handlers might be wise to take a cue from Biden here—though they should probably consider setting the governor up in an abandoned missile silo with a teletype machine instead of in a Zoom-equipped basement.
Of course, DeSantis can’t hope to compete on personality with Trump, who may be the worst human being on the planet but at least doesn’t look like he’s being remotely operated by two drunk howler monkeys fighting over an Xbox controller when he laughs. Instead, he appears to be selling himself as an even more radical version of the ocher abomination.
RELATED STORY: Trump and DeSantis trade insults in a race to the bottom
This is clearly not a winning strategy when it comes to the general election, as The Bulwark’s Tim Miller points out:
I’m not saying that I think DeSantis would be more extreme than Trump. I’m simply observing the objective fact that DeSantis’s explicit campaign message is a promise that he will be more extreme than Trump! At least when it comes to public health, immigration, race-based policy initiatives, and LGBT+ issues. And at the same time, on the issues where Trump is objectively more extreme and threatening—democratic norms, the rule-of-law, siding with Putin—DeSantis has to date been either silent or extremely careful to challenge his opponent in language that does not preclude Trump supporters from concluding that DeSantis is on their side.
In the face of this campaign strategy, the argument proffered by DeSantis supporters to skeptics in the middle is that we just have to sit there and take it while DeSantis does nothing to appeal to us and instead works like a mule to cater to the concerns of the anti-vax freaks and the most bigoted wing of the anti-woke brigade.
Then again, if DeSantis wins the nomination by steering to the right of Trump and then has to pivot to the center in the general, it could be worth a hearty laugh or two.
RELATED STORY: Stop laughing at Ron DeSantis
Not a laugh like this, of course. Because if you laugh like this, you should probably just keep it to yourself:
Sure, it’s worth asking whether DeSantis would actually be a more frightening and fascist-friendly president than Trump—but I doubt we’ll ever find out.
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