DeSantis gets under Trump's skin — and distracts him from the Big Lie

Disturbingly, the media seems to have forgotten as well

By Heather Digby Parton


Published January 30, 2023 9:35AM (EST)

Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

He's back and angrier than ever.

I'm talking about Donald Trump, of course. In what is being billed as his first official event since he announced his run for the 2024 GOP nomination, Trump said so himself:

"They said he's not doing rallies, he is not campaigning. Maybe he's lost his step. I'm more angry now and I'm more committed now than ever."

He was referring to the fact that most of the media have been commenting on his lackluster performance ever since that boring announcement speech more than two months ago. The growing consensus is that he's lost his mojo. So when he scheduled two small events this past weekend, first in New Hampshire at the annual GOP meeting and then at South Carolina's Capitol building, both before crowds of about 400 people each, it reinforced that assumption. Gone were the days when he would land in his shiny Trump jet or Air Force one to rapturous crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. Now he's just another Republican presidential hopeful hanging around diners and glad-handing the local officials.

His speeches in these two early voting states were vintage Trump rants including many greatest hits. He even did the tired riff on how windmills are killing all the birds, adding a flourish that they're also killing planes and oceans which is a bit baffling. He complained about the border, of course, even reprising the line about how they're sending murderers and rapists and bragged that he'd come up with the word "caravan" to fearmonger about people seeking asylum. He rambled on about "renegotiating" the debt with China, making no more sense today on that subject than he did back in 2016.

The most interesting aspect of Trump's emergence back onto the campaign trail: He seems to have forgotten the Big Lie.

Trump's clearly has been working on new material as well.

He complained about "mandatory stoves" and gave an especially tart riff on electric cars that is sure to thrill his fan Elon Musk to no end:

"The cars go for like two hours. What are you going to do? Everyone's going to be sitting on the highway. We're all going to be looking for a little plug-in. Does anybody have a plug-in? My car just stopped. I've been driving for an hour and 51 minutes. It's ridiculous."

That would be his update of the "hard to flush" toilet line he loved so much in the 2020 campaign.

This new one's probably not going to make it into the act:

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He was all-in on the latest culture war obsessions, thundering, "We're going to stop the left-wing radical racists and perverts who are trying to indoctrinate our youth, and we're going to get their Marxist hands off of our children --- we're going to defeat the cult of gender ideology and reaffirm that god created two genders called men and women." That got the crowd very aroused.

Of course, he attacked Biden as one would expect. But his inevitable stab at Biden's son Hunter was downright weird:

He went on about the "witch hunts" against him for some time and deployed the new House GOP jargon — "weaponization of government" — to declare that he plans to finally "drain the swamp" and fire massive numbers of federal employees when he takes office to ensure that this can never happen again. He whined about the Mar-a-Lago warrant claiming that the National Archives are a "radical left" agency. The usual.

All of that breathless horse race coverage also omitted the most salient fact about Trump: He planned a coup and incited an insurrection.

Probably the most disturbing moments, as is so often the case with Trump's campaign speeches, are his discussions of foreign policy and national security. In the days before these two speeches, he posted a video in which he said that President Biden is starting WWIII and promising to build an impenetrable dome to protect America from nuclear war if elected president:

He has said repeatedly that Russian President Vladimir Putin would never have invaded Ukraine had he remained in office. He insisted that he could simply pick up the phone and solve the conflict in 24 hours (raising the question of why he doesn't do it.) His delusional, grandiose belief in his international acumen remains intact despite the dozens of reports since he's left office, even from some of his closest aides and allies, that he was even more of an embarrassing, dangerous dolt than we could see while he was in office.

The mainstream media reported these appearances as being somewhat dull, which is fair enough. It's not as if there's any novelty in watching Trump blather on for an hour. Their big takeaway, instead, was the horse race, with endless references to a poll in New Hampshire showing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis leading Trump, and discussions about how local GOP officials aren't rushing to endorse the former president.

Trump himself made his first foray into the primary battle — but did so with reporters instead of behind the podium. He said that former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, whom he appointed as the US ambassador to the UN, called him and he told her to go with her heart, but then made sure to mention that she'd previously told him that she wouldn't run "against her president." For Desantis, Trump had harsher words:

On Saturday, Trump took his sharpest swings at DeSantis to date, accusing the governor of "trying to rewrite history" over his response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump said DeSantis, who has been openly skeptical about government efforts to vaccinate people against the virus, "promoted the vaccine as much as anyone." He praised governors who did not close down their states, noting that DeSantis ordered the closure of beaches and business in some parts of the state.

Trump considers DeSantis to be very disloyal. He insists that DeSantis wouldn't be a two-term governor if it weren't for him. As we know, Trump is very offended by disloyalty to him despite his total lack of loyalty to anyone else.

But for all the horse race coverage there was virtually no mention of the most interesting aspect of Trump's emergence back onto the campaign trail: He seems to have forgotten the Big Lie.

What was once the dominant theme of every speech, sometimes in tedious detail that would go on for hours, has all but disappeared. One has to assume that this is the result of the thrashing his election-denialist candidates got in the November elections. Even Trump seems to have realized that the message had penetrated as much as it was going to penetrate and nobody wants to hear about it anymore.

Perhaps most disturbingly, all that breathless horse race coverage also omitted the most salient fact about Trump: He planned a coup and incited an insurrection.

It doesn't appear that the media considers that to be particularly relevant to his candidacy, which is a stunning development. How quickly they have decided that today Donald Trump is just another Republican, standing in front of a crowd, asking them to love him.  

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Donald Trump Elections 2024 Gop Primary Ron Desantis The Big Lie