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Jun 1, 2023, 12:34pm EDT
politics

The DeSantis attack on Trump that could stick

REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare
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The News

Losers. Lightweights. Liars. The harshest reviews of Donald Trump’s administration mostly come from Donald Trump himself.

The list of failures include — among many, many, many others — his former Secretary of State (“dumb as a rock”), multiple chiefs of staff (“born loser,” “way over his head”), multiple Attorneys General (“coward” “disaster”), multiple Defense Secretaries (“weak” “overrated”), his former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (“fucking idiot”), his former National Security Advisor (“moron”), his former White House Press Secretary (“milktoast” just this week), his former top communications aide (“sleazebag”) the current FBI Director (“disappointing”), and, of course, his own Vice President (no “courage”), who is preparing to run against him.

Trump disavowing (and just as frequently being disavowed by) members of his inner circle is a phenomenon dating back to before his presidency. It’s typically been ignored as much as possible by top Republicans, who treat his day-to-day feuds as something like the weather: Unpredictable, unpleasant, but ultimately out of their hands.

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Now with Republicans suddenly debating whether to give him another nomination, however, it’s a potential vulnerability — and one that’s starting to come up in his battle with Ron DeSantis.

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Benjy’s view

There’s a saying: If you ran into an asshole in the morning, you met an asshole. If you ran into assholes all day, you’re probably the asshole. And if you ran into them all day long in the White House that you personally ran…well, it’s an implication the DeSantis campaign is clearly thinking about.

The idea of Trump as a bystander president who delegated to the wrong people and then refused to be held accountable when they blew it is slowly seeping into the DeSantis campaign’s message.

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Notably, it offers DeSantis a chance to reframe the Trump presidency as a disappointment without resorting to attacks that were strongly associated with Democrats during his time in office. The list of Trump’s self-described disaster staffers is so long and varied that almost any shortcoming can be attributed to them and attacked from the right.

DeSantis himself is still dancing around this idea, to some degree. The main focus so far is, ironically, someone who Trump did not appoint and may not have been able to easily fire: Dr. Anthony Fauci, who DeSantis said Trump “turned the country over to” at the start of the pandemic. Like the above examples, Trump had plenty of harsh things to say about him along the way — he called Fauci a “disaster” right before the 2020 election.

But DeSantis has also said he would fire FBI Director Chris Wray on “day one” and suggested past presidents have been too hands-off with DOJ, a frequent Trump target as he faces multiple investigations.

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The Trump response showed the kinds of knots these attacks can lead to: The campaign highlighted DeSantis’ support for Wray’s nomination in 2017 when he was Trump’s own nominee.

“He appointed enemies hoping they’d love him,” John Cardillo, a prominent DeSantis backer online, tweeted. “They neutered him instead.”

DeSantis’ staff have also hinted at a “buck stops here” argument against Trump that emphasizes his failure to choose the right people and rein in the wrong ones.

“Who appointed the VP and HHS Secretary?” DeSantis’ rapid response aide Christina Pushaw tweeted after a conservative writer suggested they played a larger role in the administration’s COVID-19 response — and deserved more blame — than Trump.

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The View From Trump World

DeSantis has his own mirror-image obstacle to attacking the Trump administration: His extremely long history of over-the-top praise for the same White House. The Trump campaign put out a highlight reel this week of DeSantis calling him a “master negotiator” and “strong horse” who doesn’t get enough credit for his accomplishments. DeSantis, for his part, said in Iowa this week that he didn’t want to criticize Trump while he was in office and under attack from the left.

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Room for Disagreement

When Trump was elected he was known for exactly one catchphrase: “You’re fired!” The idea he’s willing to make a big showy display of berating and dumping subordinates until he finds a team that works has been ingrained in his image from the very start, and he used the same line on the trail in his 2020 campaign.

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Notable

  • White Houses often have a senior member or two who turns on them with a political conversion or tell-all book, but the number of high-profile Trump officials who sharply criticized him ahead of his 2020 run was unusual at the time, as CNN noted. Additional cabinet members and senior staff quit after January 6.
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