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The Doomer Case for DeSantis
Does the 2024 Presidential Election Even Matter? In Conversation with The Blaze's Daniel Horowitz.
Last week, Ron DeSantis launched his campaign for president. That afternoon, I appeared as a guest on a podcast hosted by my old buddy, Daniel Horowitz. Daniel is the Senior Editor at The Blaze and was the founder of essential Conservative Review. For the last decade or more, there’s nobody on the Right who’s been as aware and involved in legislative efforts on the state and federal level. He’s the author, along with Steve Deace, of Rise of the Fourth Reich: Confronting COVID Fascism with a New Nuremberg Trial, So This Never Happens Again. He tweets at @RmConservative. Below is an adapted, very loose transcript of our discussion.
Daniel Horowitz: I worked with Ron DeSantis in Congress kind of the same way that I worked with Chip Roy, Thomas Massie and Andy Biggs, particularly on issues like immigration. And during that time the House was miserable; you had John Boehner and then Paul Ryan as Speakers; it was just terrible Republican leadership. And then DeSantis decided to run for governor of Florida. Now, I’ve always told people not to run. I always warn them, “you're gonna ruin your life. It's not worth it. Don’t do it.” I didn't tell him that, but deep down, I was thinking, “Yeah, right—this guy's like Calvin Coolidge; he reads the Federalist Papers.” I love him; you love him, but typically, we don't have people that have that much courage, commitment, or smarts who are both dedicated to our vision and also good at politics.
And then DeSantis ran to be governor of America’s third largest state, which is also a very expensive media market. And he's surprised us time and again: he won the primary, then he won the general in an election year where other big states were seeing Democrats win nearly every close race. This is a guy who just kind of gets down to business: “Here's what I believe, and here’s what we're going to do.” And then he does it. Do you think America is ready for a person like that in this day and age?
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David Reaboi: What a question! We’d better be ready, because the alternative is terrible. In 2024, we have a chance to politically reward Ron DeSantis’ ruthless competence, and to signal that it is something we value above other, less important things. This is something that the Right needs to adopt, or else it's just going to be crushed at all levels. There’s no future for the American Right at all if it can't execute on its agenda—and, even worse, if it doesn't even aspire to.
We’re now seeing candidates and elements of the GOP base that really don't care about accomplishing anything. They say they do, but they’re making electoral choices that indicate that it’s not a priority. DeSantis is someone with a record of accomplishing the things every conservative has had on their wish list for years–paradoxically, it makes them distrust him. Rather, some of these folks want to be “seen”; they want their rage and anger mirrored back at them. I’m sympathetic to that impulse, but unfortunately, it's not enough. It doesn't do anything for your quality of life and, just as importantly, it doesn't protect you at all from the predations of the Left. It also guarantees that we will not build a movement that attracts anyone but demagogues and grifters.
There are many who are invested, either financially, temperamentally, or reputationally, in telling you how horrible things are and how nothing can ever be fixed. When they see a guy coming down the road who has scored so many tangible wins and executes ruthlessly, it freaks these people out. “Hey, our narrative is that we lose, and, and we all go off to the camps next year. Get with the program and stop giving people false hope.” For some very cynical people on Twitter, for example, it messes with their business model: they get clicks and eyeballs from outrage, and they’ll do just fine no matter how horrible things get. The worse things get, the more people retreat into outrage porn. There are others who are more sincere; they just don’t have hope that anything will change–but, if it does, it’ll be even more horrible than we’d imagined.
So you're starting to answer the question before I ask it. You and I believe the same thing: that, whether it's the spending, the degeneracy, the culture, the demographics, the weaponization of our agencies, our government is a bigger threat to us than anything. I view the federal government as not something that needs to be fixed—because it just won't be—but something that we need to defeat and to protect ourselves from.
Even a guy like DeSantis, as great as he is: does he give us false hope that we can change things? Ten years ago, I would've been dancing from the rooftops; typically, we’d have the worst Republicans as the front-runners for president. And here you have a guy that has all the qualities—the heart, the brains, the implementation, the ability to raise money and organize, the articulateness. And he could go the distance, potentially. Yes, there's a part of me that’s excited—but at the same time, Dave, what do we expect to accomplish with him as president? And are we just distracting from our goal of making red states red again and creating that Noah's Ark sanctuary from the federal government rather than a Pickett's Charge, an ill-fated attempt at fixing the federal government?
I get the Doomer thing. It’s a discussion I've had with good, very smart folks who see things the way we do–and who are also big admirers of Governor DeSantis. Many believe the state of our disunion is far too advanced to make any real change possible. Some others think the Democrats’ voter fraud and so-called “election fortification” efforts are so powerful that any Republican is unelectable, and all resistance is futile anyway. I understand that type of thinking, because things certainly do look bleak. The Black Pill is seductive because it's comfortable; you can keep moaning and being hopeless and you know you’ll be proven right as we circle the drain. But by refusing to fight at all, you'll absolutely guarantee a terrible loss.
Of course, I don't want to be Pollyannaish about how dark things are. We're a different country now, even aside from demographics, ideologically we're in a far more polarized, crazy place. We loathe one another—and for a very good reason, too: our worldviews are incompatible. But that doesn’t mean we stop fighting. First, because it’s the honorable thing; and also, it’s a certainty that our current political reality will not remain static.
That’s why I think the Black Pill is actually a White Pill: since the option to return to an idyllic past is foreclosed, recognizing the state we’re in–knowing What Time It Is–frees you to consider other possible outcomes that will be advantageous. There’s always something you can do if you readjust what victory looks like. No, it won’t be Morning in America again, but that doesn’t mean we abdicate the fight to retain control over our lives in Red America.
Okay, that said, what next? Obviously, if you really do believe that it’s all over and hopeless anyway, that should be freeing: it’s a chance to find a good hobby that brings you joy and satisfaction in your daily life. If there's no hope, make like Noah and build an Ark. But people aren’t terribly rational, and their continued engagement on these political questions indicate that there’s a little bit of hope for something better, even if they won’t admit it.
As I say to my friends, I think supporting DeSantis is a much better bet than Trump in the GOP primary–even if you believe he will ultimately lose a general election due to fraud or whatever “fortifications” Democrats will try to implement.
The US presidential election is the world's biggest, most powerful public education project. Every four years, everyone's attention turns to the campaign and, even if there's name calling and all kinds of insults and nonsense, there is talk about the issues. The issues candidates talk and argue about are those that resonate with the public. A strong candidate has the ability to shift the conversation on major issues and, and to define what is important for the country. Donald Trump did this in 2016 talking about immigration, trade, and war, and was able to completely upend 20 years of institutional GOP orthodoxy on these issues. He was saying things all 15 of his opponents thought were crazy—and the commentariat was scandalized, asking, “how is this guy saying these things that National Review, the Wall Street Journal and every other magazine was calling crazy for 20 years?” And yet, he won because of those things, not despite them. Trump created a new baseline for the GOP and the American Right.
This time around, it’s all about “knowing What Time It Is.” As far as I'm concerned, there's really only one issue that matters in this election: it is the effective and creative use of state power to defend our citizens from the Left's assault—not only in government, but in the civil society institutions that have been totally captured by the Left. It's education, media, big business, big tech, the legal and medical establishment, entertainment. All these forces are marshaled against us, and their power allows them to be a very strong ideological enforcement mechanism. They use that immense power to flatten our voices and to push us from society.
The Right in America has got two ways to go. Everyone in the 2024 race but DeSantis approaches this problem the same way: as the corporatist Republicans or value neutral libertarians. Why does David French tell us that Drag Queen Story Hour is a “blessing of liberty”? He and most others in the GOP believe that the state—meaning us: the citizens through their elected representatives—have no interest in the devolution of society. We're just going to have to live with ever-increasing degeneracy shoved down our throats because of his lofty principles about individual liberty.
Thankfully, many voters on the Right now understand that that position is a recipe for losing our civilization, and DeSantis understands that instinctively; it’s the subtext of everything he’s done in Florida that’s got the Left and the libertarians in apoplectic fits of rage.
The real Black Pill is seeing all these Red State governors–who know how popular DeSantis and his agenda is, and who know their voters want them to follow Florida’s lead–nevertheless sit back, fearful of their corporate donors and of the media. If DeSantis loses, we’re back to the Old Line Country Club GOP, where they’ll congratulate each other for tax cuts while they let Pfizer sell a lifetime’s worth of hormones to kids. Because free enterprise. Kristi Noem and Asa Hutchinson are two examples of GOP governors who will allow big business to get whatever they want: if these corporations show up and say, “don’t pass a right-wing law because we’ll boycott or take our employees out of your state,” these people will fold.
And aside from Mean Tweets, this describes Donald Trump, too. The outsider image is just a mask covering a totally conventional, old line corporatist Republican on the one issue that really matters. The fact that he doesn’t seem to understand what this debate is all about doesn’t matter; in the last few months, he’s shown that he wouldn’t even consider using the powers at his disposal to reign in the Left. If he didn’t do it for 4 years, why would he start now–especially as he attacks DeSantis for taking action against Disney. And that’s not even getting to his leftist positions on Jailbreak, his willingness to do an Amnesty, his embrace of key tenants of gender ideology, and so much more.
DeSantis won’t. He represents the other way–the opposite way. The Right needs to make a choice about what it wants. DeSantis’ primary victory would do more to establish this principle for GOP voters than anything else. Voters would require this of all of our public officials, and we’d expect them to act with the power at their disposal rather than tweet or do Fox hits.
Someone could say, “I don't care about the federal election. Let's just focus on the red states with GOP super majorities and make sure we pass things like medical freedom.” But we can't even get a basic Covid vaccine mandate bill passed in the Texas legislature. We should be doing so many things, but we're not. That’s because the GOP is now a mix of the traditional kind of Mitch McConnell corporatist Republicans and post-Trump grifters who will glom onto some of his branding, make some noise, but wind up joining with the McConnell types on policy and the big votes. So, nothing happens. You can say, “I don't care about the presidential race; make red states red again.” But you can't even have that until you’ve redpilled our elected representation in those states–and you're not going to have that with the current configuration of the GOP.
First, it's the distraction of the Trump Show from real issues. Another is his endorsement of bad candidates more often than he endorses the right ones. In Trump we have an ineffective moderate–the only thing that sets him apart from the GOP establishment is mean tweets at this point. And frankly, the old line corporatist GOP establishment loves that; they'll take mean tweets all day long if they still get to monopolize policy.
It’s so ironic that Trump is the opposite of what some of his supporters project on him. He is very much a system stability guy. He's like, “look, Disney is a long-standing American institution; why are you pissing on them? There's jobs at stake.” It’s the same impulse that led him to do the Covid stuff, and to print the money. He very much respects the system–except for the narrow sliver of it that personally attacks him. But putting his own personal thing aside, he seems incapable of seeing outside it. Is that what you gather from Trump?
That's true to the extent that any of this is thought-through rather than just instinctual. He's got tweets about every conceivable topic, and often he's slamming a company or institution. Oftentimes it's for good reason. But he thinks slamming them in public is enough. But it doesn't actually change behavior.
Whoa. Freeze frame. You just remind me of something there. There’s now blowback from the Left. They're threatening to boycott Florida over some of the bills they passed this past legislative session. But we’ve already got the ball in the end zone, and DeSantis has already won; those drag performances are banned, at least in front of minors. Now, many of them are just closing up shop and leaving the state. If Trump would've been Florida’s governor, you know what you would've gotten? He would've maybe tweeted about it, and it would've mobilized them to put on the very biggest drag shows in the country. And then he wouldn't have followed through with banning them because he’d get scared. And then you wind up with the negative effect, where you get more drag shows than ever.
Exactly right. But his supporters will have gotten the dopamine hit of seeing his tweets about it—and then they’ll both move onto the next thing. Not once has Trump used the powers at his disposal to actually reign in the Left. I mean, if he didn't do it for four years, why would he start now? And he's attacking DeSantis for going after Disney; he passed Jailbreak; he was willing to do Amnesty; and he's embraced the key tenets of gender ideology from which everything terrible flows.
The boycotts, for example, would be totally on brand for Trump. He would be the most effective guy to get the Right to boycott. I mean, that would be his thing. He's not such a policy thinker, but he can be great in these kinds of quasi-cultural battles. But instead, he's dead silent. His son dumped on the Bud Light fight; you’ve got his surrogates like Bruce Jenner and Rick Grenell there, pimping the LGBT agenda every second. (And I guess Jenner is using the women’s bathroom there in Mar-a-Lago.) I mean, to me that is very disturbing. If you're going to say the presidential election isn't important, you likely believe that these cultural battles–like fighting Target–are more impactful. Okay, I agree they’re crucial. But do you want a guy giving tailwinds to that or headwinds to that?
I don't think boycotts of Target or Bud Light are where the big fight is; that stuff is essential, but it's also low-lying fruit. You need to be able to stand up and say, “no, men are men and women are women” and articulate why the entire edifice on which gender ideology is based—that you can re-define for yourself the most basic tenets of reality—is poisonous. DeSantis did that when talking to Benny Johnson; he said, no, I'm not going to say that a man is a woman, because it's obviously a lie.
It's self-evident. It's not about the logistical problems of screwing up the rankings in female sports.
Right. It’s obviously absurd for men to be competing in female sports. But if you refuse to acknowledge that the premise of gender ideology itself is destructive, you're guaranteed to lose all these other, smaller proxy fights. Because once you’ve agreed on the premise, there will be 1,001 different scenarios that will pop up and, eventually, you will lose each one.
I've long believed the mainstreaming of the trans thing with Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner was a major factor in Trump's victory in 2016. Going through that in 2015 made people realize that this isn't really the same country that it had been. Suddenly, every institution, every media is celebrating and “affirming” and saying it's wonderful. And God help you if you’d say, “no, this is ridiculous.” Those people were shut down and expunged from polite society. It's very sinister the way the media was able to take an issue and turn it into a moral crusade literally overnight. It used to take them decades to do this, and they did it overnight.
To fight back, we need a strong messenger, a national advocate, a national megaphone. Now, that alone is not going to do it; we need to build a movement. It's like asking, “do we need a match or a campfire?” We need to continue building that campfire, but we need a match at some point. And unfortunately, we don't have one now. Will DeSantis be one? You seem to think that that at least there's the potential there. And I definitely agree.
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