As with every other week for the past few months, the big question of the week among the chattering classes has been whether former president Donald Trump still has his mojo among the MAGA crowd. With the ambitious Florida dreamboat Gov. Ron DeSantis committing one culture war assault after another, the entry of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley into the race getting a lot of attention and what appears to be a long line of Republican wannabes undaunted by his former dominance preparing to enter the race, Trump is said to be rocked back on his heels, reeling like an out of shape boxer who's past his prime.
Is that true? And if it is, does that even matter?
The Washington Post interviewed 150 of Trump's fans to find out. What a treat. We haven't had an in-depth report on the average Trump voter in weeks so it's a big relief to see the media venture out into the heartland once again to take the temperature of these Real Americans. According to the headline of the Post story, "Trump's grip on the Republican base is slipping — even among his fans." They report that these people still love Trump but are "becoming less supportive" because they believe he isn't the best person to "move this party forward," whatever that means:
That distinction is reshaping the Republican base as the 2024 presidential primary kicks off. The MAGA vs. RINO dichotomy that defined the GOP for much of the last eight years is increasingly obsolete. In its place, a new dynamic emerged from interviews with more than 150 Trump supporters across five pivotal electoral states. In between Republicans who remain firmly committed or opposed to the former president, there's now a broad range of Trump supporters who, however much they still like him, aren't sure they want him as the party's next nominee.The foremost reason is electability.
They're not sure he can win because people's minds have been poisoned against him and more than anything these people just want to win. They want to win so much that they'll beg to stop winning but they'll keep winning anyway.
So many of them are looking to DeSantis who they think can win over moderates and independents by being even Trumpier than Trump but not actually Trump. This is based on his big win in the increasingly red state of Florida. The report suggests that a lot of people aren't actually all that familiar with DeSantis, calling him "the Florida guy." (Anecdotally, I have personally come across Republicans who confuse the fabulist NY Congressman George Santos and Ron DeSantis, so I'm not sure the latter has firmly established himself as anything more than a fantasy boyfriend for some of these people.)
The eagerness among many in the media to see DeSantis as the second coming of Trump is palpable.
Also among those the Post interviewed are ride-or-die Trumpers, people who cannot fathom voting for anyone but their Dear Leader. These are people who carry the threat of sitting out the election if Trump isn't given the nomination and, as is obvious, it's not as if Trump would graciously concede and implore his devoted flock to vote for the person who defeated him. It's unknown how many of these people there are but there are enough of them that they scare the hell out of the Republicans. Watching DeSantis and the rest of the field try to navigate that minefield should be entertaining in a horror movie sort of way.
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The eagerness among many in the media to see DeSantis as the second coming of Trump is palpable, even if they are missing the point entirely. He's leaning hard on the culture wars, just as Trump did, but his cleverest Trumpist maneuver is a strategy defined by former strategist Steve Bannon as, "The real opposition is the media ---and the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit." It's the relentless nature of his bombardment, a new assault each day on one or more of the MAGA crowd's designated enemies that creates an almost overwhelming sense of disorientation and an inability to properly contextualize what he's doing. We'll have to see if DeSantis can keep up the pace and if he has Trump's talent for owning the libs in a way that makes his supporters feel good about themselves for doing it. DeSantis' humorless personality doesn't inspire the same kind of joyous tribalism that defines Trumpism. I suspect that the most compelling thing about it for most of Trump's followers is that it's fun. Ron DeSantis, however, doesn't seem like much fun.
DeSantis' humorless personality doesn't inspire the same kind of joyous tribalism that defines Trumpism.
The polls are all over the place and don't really show us much yet except that Donald Trump will not be nominated by acclamation. This clearly disappointed him but has also almost certainly sharpened his survival instincts. We know how he reacts to losing. And it's clear that his rivals aren't prepared to fight him. Trump strategist and Fox News celebrity Sean Hannity has been asking every candidate and potential candidate the simple, anodyne question: How do you differ from Donald Trump? So far, they all pretty much say, "I don't."
Trump "policies" are a couple of ideas Trump came up with in the 1980s about trade, racism, a handful of inane complaints he concocted to cover for the fact that he didn't know what he was talking about in 2016 and whatever he decided to tweet on a given morning after watching "Fox and Friends." There's no ideology. There's no agenda. The party didn't even bother to produce a platform in 2020, instead saying that whatever Trump was was fine with them. There's no Trumpism. There is only Trump and certain poseurs pretending to be him by acting like narcissists and bullies.
This election is already showing that until Trump is out of politics which, God willing, will be in two more years, the Republican Party is not going to lift a finger to reorient the party away from him. Just as Fox News panicked when their audience left them for failing to properly adhere to Trump's Big Lie, the party is terrified of alienating the Forever Trumpers (and many of them see political benefit in keeping them deluded and distracted.) Trump may not be the juggernaut he once was but for the moment he's really all they've got.