As we continue to watch the ignominious collapse of Ron DeSantis’s campaign (predicted many months ago by yours truly but not like I’m focusing on that or anything), there’s a curious bit of backstory I’m reminded of. But before we get to that I wanted to flag this weekend New York Times article. It’s so passively devastating I think DeSantis’s estate might have a plausible wrongful death claim against the authors.
Most of the attention to this article has focused on a scooplet about that infamous gay/trans-bashing video. The story was that it was put together by some unknown fan in the DeSantis-o-sphere. The campaign simply picked it up and amplified it. The Times reports that in fact it was produced by a campaign staffer who then gave it to a Ron fan site to release so that the campaign could then pick it up from the fan. In other words, the campaign laundered it out for some plausible deniability.
My takeaway from the piece was different: The campaign appears to be trapped in a sort of people-hating, private-jet-taking death loop. We learn from the article that Ron and wife Casey really, really like flying on private jets, which of course cost a ton of money. I confess that I’m not a huge fan of flying. But if I were, a private jet would probably be pretty cool. But it’s also not hard to see their extreme attachment to private jets as part of or at least a symbol of not liking being around regular people. Maybe not liking being around anybody at all. Some people just want the privacy to unwind with a handful of pudding.
Another digression: The article notes in passing that the DeSantises were apparently used to the highly unregulated Florida campaign finance system in which they could raise all their money from richies and fly private to their hearts’ content with loaner private jets from their billionaire backers. The federal system has come as a shock.
But back to our story.
One of the ways the campaign has burned through a ton of money is the travel on private jets. The campaign also remains highly dependent on high-end donors rather than small donors. Unlike with online small donors, you’ve got to attend fundraisers in person to collect those checks. Which means a lot more travel. On private jets. Which means a lot more spending.
It all comes back to the fact that normal people (who don’t max out their federal limits with a single check) aren’t giving the campaign enough money. And maybe that’s not a huge surprise because the DeSantises don’t like being around those people, which is why they’re addicted to private jets. Thus we get back to the root of the problem.
As I said, a people-hating, private-jet-taking death loop. But let’s get back to my original point in writing this post, shall we?
When Ron was still riding high I spoke to some Republican insiders and others who talk to the insiders who won’t talk to me. The thing that came through most consistently was that these folks were excited about DeSantis because he was the neo-Jebbite candidate in the race. A Jebbite candidate clothed in a MAGA suit to succeed in the post-Trump era, to be sure, but still a Jebbite candidate. I imagine that this would seem odd to a lot of people since whatever ones feelings about Jeb Bush I don’t think most people ever thought of him as scary or evil. The fact that DeSantis was, like Bush, a Governor of Florida just cemented the equation. It also gave him a footing with many of the same Florida high-roller donors, or at least same kind of Florida high roller donors.
It all fits from a certain perspective. Jeb Bush is where the oligarch GOP went off the rails. Jeb was the chosen one to face Hillary Clinton. And if it wasn’t Jeb they had a next generation under-Jeb lined up in the person of Marco Rubio. Trump destroyed them both. But seeing DeSantis in these terms never quite fit either. He was never really a Jeb in Trump clothing or as close as one could get to a Jebbite figure in the Trump era. Whatever DeSantis believes in his heart when it comes to issues of gender identity and other culture war issues, he’s always been hard right. He was a member of the House Freedom Caucus before most people even knew what that was. Ron’s effort to run to Trump’s right was predictable on many levels, not simply as an over-literal campaign misfire.
Of course, DeSantis’s billionaire backers were happy to go along with whatever kind of campaign he was going to run – as long as he was successful. But he wasn’t. And that’s the key to the campaign’s still-unfolding free-fall. There was never a real DeSantis constituency, aside perhaps from some Incel/mass shooting message boards. What there was was a pretty big move-on-from-Trump constituency.
It wasn’t a majority certainly and it wasn’t Never Trump or anti-Trump. But there was a substantial minority of Republicans interested in moving on from Trump’s baggage and the mounting evidence of his electoral weakness — if it could be done. What DeSantis did do last Fall was consolidate almost all of that move-on constituency based on the mistaken belief that he could pull it off. Once that impression started to falter there was no real support for the guy himself to hold on to. And here we are — on a private jet to nowhere.