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He's Running

AP Photo/Ron Johnson

No, I don't have any special or inside knowledge that Ron DeSantis is definitely running for president. But yes, I have eyes and ears – and it's impossible not to conclude that's his clear intention at this point. With the caveat in place that nothing is official until it is, I believe it's now totally defensible to call Florida's governor a presidential candidate-in-waiting. It's not just one stray Washington Post story quoting various sources close to DeSantis who say it's full steam ahead; it's the various actions and words of the man himself. His response to the potential indictment in Manhattan was crafted for maximum political effectiveness. And as Leah highlighted yesterday, he's finally "going there" by fielding and addressing direct questions about Trump. British television host Piers Morgan sat down with the Florida governor, and rather than deflecting inquiries pertaining to the former president (as he generally has so far), DeSantis took them on. Here's Morgan's description of the relevant exchanges in the New York Post:


In an exclusive wide-ranging interview with me airing on Fox Nation’s “Piers Morgan Uncensored” on Thursday, he said “stay tuned” about his widely expected announcement that he’s running for president and declared: “I have what it takes to be president and I can beat [President] Biden.” But it’s what he said about Trump that will ignite a firestorm in the Republican Party. For months, DeSantis has said nothing as Trump has escalated his verbal attacks on him, branding his ex-protégé “Ron DeSanctimonious” and “Meatball Ron.” ... It was clear that the governor has had enough of Trump’s constant baiting and felt ready to take him on in what could end up being a ferocious battle for the White House. And in a series of jabs at likely his biggest rival for the Republican nomination, DeSantis slammed Trump over his character failings, chaotic leadership style, and for his handling of the COVID pandemic — especially in keeping controversial health chief Dr. Anthony Fauci in his post helping to run the White House coronavirus task force. Trump even awarded a presidential commendation medal to Fauci in one of his last acts as president.

When I asked DeSantis to cite specific differences between him and Trump, he said: “Well, I think there’s a few things. The approach to COVID was different. I would have fired somebody like Fauci. I think he got way too big for his britches, and I think he did a lot of damage.” DeSantis also slammed Trump’s chaotic, self-obsessed, divisive management style: “I also think just in terms of my approach to leadership, I get personnel in the government who have the agenda of the people and share our agenda. You bring your own agenda in, you’re gone. We’re just not gonna have that. So, the way we run the government, I think, is no daily drama, focus on the big picture and put points on the board, and I think that’s something that’s very important.”


And some commentary on Trump's demeaning monikers: 

As for the rude nicknames, he mocked: “I don’t know how to spell the sanctimonious one. I don’t really know what it means, but I kinda like it, it’s long, it’s got a lot of vowels. We’ll go with that, that’s fine. I mean, you can call me whatever you want, just as long as you also call me a winner because that’s what we’ve been able to do in Florida, is put a lot of points on the board and really take this state to the next level.”  Until now, DeSantis has never engaged with any of Trump’s regular attempts to provoke him and he doesn’t intend to make a habit of it. “To me, it’s just background noise,” he said. “It’s not important for me to be fighting with people on social media. It’s not accomplishing anything for the people I represent. So, we really just focus on knocking out victories, day after day, and if I got involved in all the undertow, I would not be able to be an effective governor. So, I don’t think it’s something that makes sense for me.”

Yes, Maggie, he's being a little tongue-in-cheek about the spelling of "sanctimonious," the meaning of which Trump apparently doesn't understand. Here's some of the video: 


DeSantis has been test-driving these lines of criticism for a while, but now DeSantis is making them more explicit. Why now? He's reportedly still a few months away from an announcement, after all. My guess is that a few factors are at play. First, with Trump squarely in the spotlight (and relishing it), thanks to the supposedly looming indictment in New York, DeSantis may feel the need to stay in the news. He may not be able to compete with the 24/7 Trump coverage, but he can make a few moves to prevent Trump from sucking up all of the oxygen. Second, Trump has been attacking him every single day, trying to both undermine any future presidential challenge and bait the governor into a war of words. DeSantis has been very disciplined in not playing the game on Trump's terms, but he may also have decided that basically saying nothing at all could look weak. Trump's hardcore supporters and online influencers angrily demanded that DeSantis gallop to their guy's defense in the face of the coming political prosecution. DeSantis waited until he was asked about the situation to comment, and when he did, he threaded the needle skillfully. Because they insist on total fealty, Trumpworld erupted over the governor's comments, even though they assailed Alvin Bragg and the weaponization of the justice system for political purposes.  


Why? Because DeSantis also reminded people why Trump has been sucked into this mess in the first place – namely, six-figure hush money payments to a porn star. Thus, the shouting quickly shifted from "DeSantis must speak out!" to "DeSantis had better shut up!" By granting this interview with Piers Morgan immediately thereafter, the Floridian is making clear that he will say what he wants to say when he wants to say it. Third, I can't imagine the DeSantis camp hasn't been looking at Trump's rising poll numbers among the Republican electorate. They may not be able to compete head-to-head "quite yet" (read on for a reappearance of that term), but they don't want to sit silently while Trump racks up a huge lead, which he's doing right now. Just a few months ago, with GOP voters smarting and disoriented after an unexpectedly underwhelming midterm election, DeSantis surged dramatically in the polling. People understood, at least for a moment, that Trump's ongoing influence was a damaging drag on the party in key races, whereas DeSantis had won one of the most impressive Republican victories in recent memory. But with Trump Trump Trump back everywhere, and thanks to a "rally against the left" impulse triggered by what most right-leaning voters see as another witch hunt, the see-saw has tipped back in the other direction. Back to the interview: 

I reminded him of what Trump had tweeted before that 2018 election: “Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader. Yale and then Harvard who would make a great Governor of Florida. He loves our country. He’s a true fighter.”  DeSantis, 44, chuckled: “Things have changed a little bit, I guess. It is what it is.” Then he spoke about their previous friendship. “We had a good relationship [when he was a congressman] and I think one of the reasons he got to know me is because I saw the Russia collusion thing as a farce from the beginning. Very few people said that. We had a handful of us in Congress that were fighting back against that. So, I would go on TV, and I would defend him when it wasn’t popular and when it was kinda politically risky, but I just thought it was the right thing to do and then I thought that he had good ideas for the country. And then when I became governor, his last two years as president, we worked very well together. He had a place in Florida and worked well with us to serve our state.”

“You made a fatal error in your relationship with Donald Trump,” I suggested. “What’s that?” “You got too popular.” DeSantis laughed loudly. “Well, I would say if you look at some of the change from that … the major thing that’s happened that’s changed his tune was my re-election victory.” [Morgan:] “If you’re [Trump] desperately trying to get back to the White House, [DeSantis' huge Florida re-election] was a nightmare,” I said. “My view, though, is we should want the country to do well,” DeSantis replied. “I want other Republicans to do well. I want them to eclipse me. We’re setting a great standard in Florida, have everyone up their game.”


And then, the kicker: After DeSantis cited Ronald Reagan's leadership style – under which it doesn't matter who gets the credit, so long as positive outcomes are achieved – Morgan responded that DeSantis is up against somebody who definitely cares who gets the credit, and who’s desperate to want to win." The Florida governor's reply? "Well, I’m not up against anybody quite yet." Quite yet. 

He's running. 

I'll leave you with this: 

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