When I predicted awhile back that Ron DeSantis would flop the minute the national media stopped doing his PR for him and he had to actually put himself out there on the national stage, I felt it was an easy call. At no point in his career has he displayed even an ounce of political savvy. He’s long shown himself to be far too insecure for his vindictive streak to ever work in his favor. And on top of it he has all the personality and charisma of cardboard.
What does surprise me is just how catastrophically badly DeSantis is falling apart, now that he’s falling apart. He’s far from the first state level politician to step out on the national stage, flop badly, and realize he’s in over his head. It happens all the time. Most people who run for President, even if they’ve had some success at a lower level, end up doing poorly and having to drop out during the primary race. But that’s usually when they realize they’re not ready for the national stage, and they retreat back to their previous area of success.
Then there’s DeSantis. Sure, he took a bigger fall on the national stage than most. The media (on the left and right) had spent two years hyping a carefully crafted fictional version of him, portraying him as “Trump but smarter” when he was anything but, and it allowed DeSantis to step into the national spotlight already polling in the forties in the 2024 Republican primary race. And his rollout was so devastatingly bad, so far beneath expectations, so unable to even come close to meeting the fictional media hype that had preceded him, DeSantis’ numbers immediately dropped by half. That would be a bodyblow even to a psychologically solid person. And DeSantis doesn’t come close to fitting that description.
For one thing, DeSantis is taking the bad ideas that caused him to collapse so thoroughly on the national stage – such as his absurd feud with Disney – and doubling down on them. Now he’s publicly threatening to build a state prison next to Disney World. Is this supposed to in any way endear him to anyone who lives in Florida? Every Florida resident understands how valuable Disney is to the state’s revenue base. And of course this kind of thing only serves to make him even less popular on the national stage. Yet he’s still at it.
One problem for DeSantis is that he doesn’t seem to know which stage he’s supposed to be on. Flooding in the Fort Lauderdale area has led to severe gasoline shortages that look like something out of the seventies. And DeSantis is just acting like it’s not happening. It’s not clear if he’s trying to punish Fort Lauderdale because it didn’t vote for him, or if he’s too focused on trying to save his sinking presidential campaign, or if he’s just too busy pouting because his presidential ambitions just went up in smoke.
Either way, the gas crisis in South Florida is bad enough that even Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who’s basically been in a coma since his own national political ambitions collapsed in 2016, is now posting frantic online videos demanding that someone fix the gas crisis. Rubio knows this scandal is landing in DeSantis’ lap, and Rubio is trying to find a way to insulate himself from it.
Now there are even reports that DeSantis’ own biggest donors are cutting him off, cursing at him, and asking aloud what’s wrong with him. These major right wing donors have sunk serious money into DeSantis, who everyone swore was “Trump but smarter and without the baggage,” and now they’re realizing they were sold a bill of goods.
It’s still very early in the 2024 cycle. In fact it hasn’t come close to beginning yet. In spite of DeSantis’ stunning fall from grace on the national stage, there’s still plenty of time for him to step away, go quiet for awhile, examine why national audiences were so turned off by him, and try to come back with a more refined brand. The trouble for DeSantis is that he’s doing precisely the opposite.
By the time Donald Trump’s criminal indictments, criminal trials, and criminal convictions finish off his delusional 2024 hopes, the Republican nomination will end up being up for grabs. It would be possible for someone like Ron DeSantis to try to step back in at that time, and present himself as a breath of fresh air in the wake of Trump’s toxic non-viability. But DeSantis sure does seem intent on finishing himself off long before the post-Trump portion of the 2024 election cycle even arrives.
Part of this is that Ron DeSantis is and always has been extremely stupid when it comes to politics. Trump basically installed him as Governor in 2018, one of the rare instances of Trump backing a candidate who actually succeeded. The (entire) media has been propping up DeSantis ever since, because it wanted to be able to get ratings out of having such a divisive 2024 presidential candidate in the thick of it. And right wing donors have been writing DeSantis big checks the entire time, because they’re not sure where else to put their money. But even with all of these massive built-in advantages, DeSantis is managing to blow it all in spectacularly stupid fashion. I was the one guy who said all along that DeSantis wouldn’t survive five minutes on the national stage, and even I didn’t think he’d blow it this cartoonishly.
But when you’re inept and stupid and you get handed a lot of success that you did nothing to earn, there’s probably a point where you become insecure about it, and you feel compelled to try to prove that you’re smarter than the people who have been pulling your puppet strings. And when you’re a toxically damaged person on top of it, your attempt at “being your own man” ends up looking like the deranged implosion we’re now seeing.
Ron DeSantis is now running out of allies almost as quickly as he’s running out of percentage points in the polls. Trump, formerly his closest ally, now treats him as an enemy. The media, which built DeSantis for the sake of ratings, is now more inclined to get its ratings by tearing him down. He’s apparently too stubborn to listen to his megadonors, arguably the only national constituency he has left. And the Republican Party of Florida is a cesspool of lackeys who aren’t going to stand up to him. There’s no one to talk sense into DeSantis. There’s no one to keep him from self destructing. For the sake of the nation, that’s a good thing. It’s just a real shame that he’s taking the state of Florida down with him.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report