May 19, 2024

Trump Replacement

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
The Trump replacement
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift         
          WASHINGTON — Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has not said much about Ukraine, at least not recently. He is probably trying to figure out how to side with the hard right in his party that loves Vladimir Putin without alienating voters who know the Russian president is a brute – a carryover from former President Donald Trump’s bromance with the Russian dictator.
          Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s emotional plea to a joint session of Congress received multiple standing ovations for his insistence that funding Ukraine’s defense is not charity, but an investment in security and freedom, much like the one FDR made with Britain during World War II.
          But some House Republicans boycotted the speech and another handful showed up and remained glued to their seats when others rose to applaud.
          When Russia invaded Ukraine some 300 days ago, DeSantis blamed the war on President Biden’s “weakness,” suggesting that if the former president were in the White House, the war would not have happened.
          He then pivoted to defending Elon Musk when the SpaceX CEO briefly withdrew the company’s Starlink Internet service from Ukraine, where it had become essential for both soldiers and civilians. “I'm just thinking to myself like he's [Musk] doing this for free, don't bite the hand that feeds you. Good Lord,” DeSantis s.aid, directing his ire at Ukraine.
          A legacy of Trump is a Republican Party that was once reflexively anti-Russia is now pro-Putin and threatening to withhold aid from Ukraine, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the frontrunner to become speaker in the newly controlled GOP House, has vowed “no more blank checks” for Ukraine.
          For now, DeSantis is content to wait out Trump, to see what the former president does and whether he can muster support within the GOP. Only one Republican Senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, has endorsed Trump’s presidential bid.
          The latest Wall Street Journal poll shows DeSantis with a 23-point lead over Trump among Republican primary voters. It is still early, but the Florida governor appears to be rising from Trump’s ashes.
          First, he’s Trump on the issues that matter to Republicans without the profanity and drama that even pro-Trump voters are tired of hearing.
          Second, he is a proven commodity in an important state. He just won reelection by an historic margin in Florida, where Trump lives. He is Trump’s governor, which must infuriate the ex-president.
          Third, he is even more of a master than Trump at “owning the libs” and denouncing “woke” policies. That is a good hand for winning primary voters when all DeSantis needs to do is poach Trump’s MAGA base, which is estimated at 30 percent of Republican primary voters.
          The math is sobering. Trump won the GOP nomination in 2016 with that 30 percent in a string of winner-take-all primaries where he was the high scoring candidate. And high-scoring is all that is required when states declare winners based upon pluralities rather than majorities.
          Registered Republicans make up 24 percent of the electorate, which means Trump became the nominee with just 8 percent of the total American electorate’s votes. So, not only do pluralities win, minorities do as well.
          It is tempting to say that as Trump fades, DeSantis is unstoppable, and that may be, but the first primary is more than a year away. For now, DeSantis appears focused on gaining some distance between himself and Trump, and he is doing it by moving to Trump’s right.
          After extolling the vaccine to beat Covid, he has now created a “Public Health Integrity Committee” to investigate what he claims are false claims and under-reported risks of the vaccines. The creation of the vaccines is one of Trump’s major achievements. A new study by the Commonwealth Fund and the Yale School of Public Health found the vaccines saved more than 3.2 million lives.
          Criticizing the vaccine and distancing himself from Ukraine may work in a Republican primary, but they are non-starters in a general election, and it will be interesting to see how DeSantis pivots and how gullible the electorate will be when he does.
          See Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2022 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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