Everything about DeSantis,
by contrast, seems calculated. He’s the Yale and Harvard guy now complaining about intellectuals and elites. He’s talking about wokism and critical race theory, when no one knows what those are (even Trump noted no one can define woke, though he yells against it himself). When he tries to be as visceral as Trump, he just comes off as weird. DeSantis saying he’s going to start “slitting throats” reminded me of Romney’s “severely conservative.” While DeSantis’s is a dangerous escalation of violent imagery, they both sound bizarre and unnatural.
At a more fundamental level, Bateman wrote:
It’s not at all clear that what most Republican voters (rather than donors) want is a mainstream and party credentialed version of Trump. The fact that Trump legitimately was an outsider to Republican politics was a core part of his appeal. So too was the calculation by donors and party activists that Trump’s being simultaneously aligned with social and racial conservatives, but able to present himself as not tied to Republican orthodoxy, made him a more attractive candidate in a national election.
Bateman suggested that insofar as DeSantis is seen as “an establishment Trump, who I expect most voters will see as fully aligned with G.O.P. orthodoxy but even more focused on the priorities of racial and social conservatives (taking over universities, banning books, or attacking transpersons), he starts to look more like a general election loser.”
David O. Sears, a professor of psychology at U.C.L.A., wrote by email that he “was inspired by your inquiry to do a free association test” on himself to see what he linked with both Trump and DeSantis.
The result for Trump was:
Archie Bunker, trash-talking, insulting people, entertaining, male, white, older, angry, impolite on purpose, Roller Derby, raucous, uninhibited, tell it like it is., high school locker room, dirty socks thrown in a corner, telling his locker room buddies that he threw his mom the finger when she told him to clean up his room for the millionth time (but of course didn’t dare).
Serious, boring, no sense of humor, Wimbledon, ladies’ tea party, PBS/NPR, civics class, lecture, Ivy League, expensive suit neatly pressed hanging in the closet. “Yes, Mom.”
DeSantis’s drive to displace Trump from his position as the party’s top dog faces a combination of personal and structural hurdles.
Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, argued in an email that DeSantis has adopted an approach to the nomination fight that was bound to fail:
DeSantis’s strategy, and that of any candidate not named Trump, should be to consolidate the Maybe Trump voters. But DeSantis has seemed like he was going after the Always Trump voters with his aggressive language (“slitting throats”), his comment that Ukraine was just a “territorial dispute,” his suggestion that vaccine conspiracy theorist RFK Jr. would be a good candidate to head the Centers for Disease Control, and his doubling down on whether slavery might have been beneficial to some enslaved people.
The problem with this approach, Ayres continued, is that “the Always Trump voters are ‘Always Trump’ for a reason — they are not going to settle for the second-best Trump if they can get the real thing.”
Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, wrote:
There is no room for DeSantis or anyone else to outflank Trump on the right, where Trump has his most loyal base. Candidates can argue that Trump is insufficiently conservative on some issues, but that it not the point for Trump loyalists. Candidates can try to echo the ugliness of Trump’s rhetoric, but that too misses what really draws these voters to Trump.
What other candidates cannot replicate, in Garin’s view,
is Trump’s persona and style. Nobody else (especially DeSantis) has his performance skills, and no one else conveys the same boldness, naturalness, and authenticity in voicing the grievances of MAGA voters. Trump makes hatred entertaining for his supporters. DeSantis, by contrast, is a boring drag in his meanness.
Frances Lee, a political scientist at Princeton, places even more emphasis on the built-in challenges facing a Republican running against Trump: “It is extremely difficult to unseat an incumbent party leader in a primary,” Lee wrote by email. “Approval of Trump among Republicans is still high enough to make it extraordinarily difficult for any alternative candidate to make a case against him.”