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What If the DeSantis Hype Suffers a Brutal End?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Ron DeSantis is reportedly going to announce his presidential bid this week. He will be the only legitimate challenger to frontrunner Donald Trump. Old narratives will be rehashed as the Republican Party has a true hardcore conservative in DeSantis and an equally palatable right-leaning populist in Donald Trump. In truth, both candidates can garner significant amounts of support among the GOP base. Yet, the nastiness of this primary could create a gap between the two camps that cannot be bridged, which is electoral death for the general. The knives will be coming out hard in the coming weeks. As DeSantis’ looming candidacy is seen as a place of refuge for GOP voters disillusioned with Trump, can he deliver knockout blows to the former president? Is he a savior, or will he be a Scott Walker-like dud? 

It's not just in politics where hype overtakes the final product. Indiana Jones and the “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” released in 2008, was in development hell for almost 20 years after 1989’s “The Last Crusade.” The franchise's fourth installment was sky-high, with numerous networks having the first three films on re-run in anticipation of the May release date. Including aliens and mind control seemed a bit much for the archeological hero and didn’t fit well with the more traditional plotlines within the Indiana Jones franchise. “Happy Days” had the “jumping the shark” moment, which fans point to as when the show lost its edge. The fourth Indy film was underwhelming, with some saying the storied franchise had nuked the fridge with this one, referencing the absurd scene in the movie where Dr. Jones survives a nuclear test at the heart of ground zero by merely hiding in an iron-lined fridge. 

Could DeSantis have that same fate? Politics and pop culture often go together, and the hype about Big Ron jumping in is primarily grounded in his record. The governor has successfully pushed a conservative, pro-business agenda that’s left the state flush with a surplus and one of the most sought-after places for Americans to relocate. There have been times where he’s thrashed the liberal media over fake news reports, namely the non-scandal CBS News tried to manufacture concerning the distribution of the COVID vaccine at Publix, a local grocery chain whose founding family were big DeSantis donors. His re-election margin was incredible—a near 20-point landslide over turncoat Charlie Crist. The “x-factor” here is debates.

The Republican National Committee appears committed to having everyone and their mother on the debate stage, with no junior varsity event. The proposed threshold for a seat at the table is at least 40,000 donors plus one percent in the polls, virtually everyone. It would be mayhem, but I don’t care about the rest of the field. How will DeSantis handle Trump’s attacks? The problem regarding this aspect of the campaign is that the rumors about Ron being a cardboard man and unable to go off script come almost exclusively from Democrats, specifically his past opponents from his time in the House of Representatives.

If the debates go sideways, it’s over. And the GOP will have to come to terms with a third Trump candidacy, something I’m more than willing to accept. One side is going to lose, which side we don’t know. But there will have to be a reconciliation if we have a chance at dethroning Joe Biden. I’m not saying anything new, but in 2012, the Tea Party, who were no fans of Mitt Romney, got behind him. The pro-Trump people must unite with DeSantis if he wins the nomination and vice versa. The polls being trotted out by both camps are no crystal balls. It’s too soon to start making declarative statements. DeSantis will either be a hit or flame out, a Scott Walker 2.0. Trump has neutralized many rising GOP stars.  


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