Ron DeSantis Didn’t Lose Because He’s Repulsive
GOP voters just want Trump
Ron DeSantis looks like a frog trying to turn into an animatronic used car salesman. A sewer pipe has been snaked up his ass and threaded through his digestive system so that every time he opens his mouth he spews homophobic sludge. He is an evil piece of shit and decent people stumbling upon him should gag and then, eyes-averted, wearing gloves, toss him into cleansing fire.
I believe all of this is true. But it doesn’t have much to do with why DeSantis admitted defeat and shuttered his Republican primary campaign yesterday.
Republicans don’t hate DeSantis
Conventional wisdom says otherwise; most people weighing in on DeSantis’ sorry end attribute it to the fact that he’s personally awkward and repulsive. Writer David Rothkopf tweeted, “it was clear from the get go DeSantis was not ready for prime time.” Journalist Mark Jacob said, “I’ll admit I was once scared of DeSantis because I thought he was more focused than Trump in his cruelty. Thank goodness he has as much charisma as a leaky toilet.”
I get it; it’s hard to watch DeSantis on stage shifting his features around like he’s wearing a skin suit and not think that the impulse to recoil from him must be universal. Everyone, everyone, has to hate this fucking guy. How can they not?
And yet, a lot of Republicans do like Ron DeSantis. His current popularity is a dismal 31%. But since he’s probably got about a 0 approval with Democrats, that means he’s over 50% with Republicans.
More, DeSantis was a popular governor in Florida in 2022, when he won a massive statewide victory despite Democrats overperforming virtually everywhere else in the country. Florida Republicans, who had plenty of opportunity to see him on television and in person, didn’t run screaming. They mostly cast their ballots for him.
The disconnect here is that Democrats tend to loathe all Republican politicians. And there are solid reasons to loathe all GOP politicians! But that means that Democrats don’t have a lot of visceral insight into which politicians are going to seem charismatic to GOP voters.
DeSantis didn’t lose. Trump won.
DeSantis’ main problem wasn’t his personal failings or the fact that he looked (to Democrats) awkward on television. His main problem is that Donald Trump was a Republican president who most Republicans liked, and it’s difficult to win a primary against a popular former president.
DeSantis (like Haley, like Vivek, like most other contenders) wasn’t willing to criticize Trump forthrightly on policy, or attack him for his blatant corruption, because the GOP base sees such attacks as a partisan betrayal. He couldn’t even really say that Trump was a loser, because the GOP has decided that the 2020 election was stolen by Biden, and that Trump didn’t really lose. (Chris Christie tried to run on an anti-Trump platform; he got crushed.)
DeSantis had decent poll numbers early on, and looked like he might be able to challenge Trump. But that turned out to be illusory–not so much because the GOP got a closer look at DeSantis in particular, but because the GOP wasn’t interested in anyone Trump said was unacceptable, and the only acceptable candidate to Trump is Trump. As political scientist Seth Masket points out, party endorsements and polling have been clear for some time that the GOP has decided on Trump. Everyone else is an also ran.
There are a couple of takeaways here, neither of which is new or surprising, but which are still worth reiterating.
First, the GOP is perfectly happy to elevate incredibly awful people to high office. DeSantis is still the governor of Florida, where he’s banned books, waged war on trans people, gotten into a pointless battle with Disney, and most recently discouraged Florida residents from getting vaccines. He’s a bigot and a fool—which is what the GOP prefers in its politicians. The fact that normal humans see DeSantis and recoil is exactly what recommends him to his base of online neo-Nazis and Christofascist would-be Klanners.
Everything Is Horrible is supported by readers like you! So if you found this post entertaining/valuable/worth perpetuating, please consider becoming a paying subscriber, either on Substack or at Patreon. And you can tip me at Paypal.
Second, the GOP is Trump’s party. The vast majority of Republicans see him as their leader, and view any criticism him as an illegitimate attack on their partisan identity. The GOP had a range of non Trump options to choose from, including resolute anti Trumpers (Christie), Trump dittoheads (Vivek), throwback Bush-like compassionate conservatives (Haley), and Trump-but—even-more-LGBT hate (DeSantis.) They didn’t want any of that. They want Trump. And it seems likely they will continue to want Trump until his doughy orange corpse is buried on one of his stupid golf courses in unconsecrated ground. If Trump loses the election, gets convicted, and has to run his 2028 campaign from jail, maybe the GOP will vote for someone else in the primary. But don’t bet on it.