How does Donald Trump vs. Ron DeSantis end? “Not well” is my answer. Such pessimism is based on former President Trump’s recent response when radio host Hugh Hewitt asked him if he would support “whoever” wins the GOP presidential nomination. “It would have to depend on who the nominee was,” Trump replied, prompting Hewitt to change topics.
The 45th president’s answer leads one to envision a list of “acceptable” nominees locked in a drawer at Mar-a-Lago. And what if the eventual winner were someone Trump considered disloyal?
Later during Trump’s Feb. 2 interview, Hewitt confronted him about the loyalty issue without mentioning loyalty. Hewitt asked:
“I want to know about if you have the position, if you’ve done someone well, if you’ve helped Youngkin or DeSantis or Nikki Haley or Mike Pompeo, is it your position they should not run against you if you’ve helped them?”
Trump answered: “Yeah, I would say that, but I know how life works. And I know how politics works. And politics is a microcosm, but even more vicious [than] life.”
Indeed politics is vicious, often called a “blood sport,” but the expected trajectory for the GOP nomination fight could make those traditional descriptions sound antiquated. Instead, think Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) — a 1960s-originated national defense concept that strategically deters superpowers from annihilating each other with nuclear weapons.
The MAD concept has been applied to business and personal conflicts for decades. Now the GOP primary could be MAD after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) officially enters the presidential race as many expect in late spring. And because the former president fears DeSantis, Trump madly fired an offensive junk-filled missile this week — a preview of more juvenile attacks to come.
According to The Hill, there are “eight Republicans who could challenge Trump,” but none poll in double digits except Florida’s governor. Thus, take cover for the Trump vs. DeSantis nuclear fight with fallout raining on prospective challengers when (or if) they declare — until dropping out and choosing sides.
The predominant and looming primary questions are, “What happens if Trump loses?” And “Will Trump take the traditional path and support the presidential nominee for the good of the party?”
Both scenarios alarm Republican leaders since it is well established that Trump “cannot” lose under any circumstances. Losing conflicts with his carefully crafted personal brand. “You’re fired” (Trump’s famous “Apprentice” phrase) does not apply to him. Therefore, Trump will attack, demean, lie, disrupt and seek an alternative route to circumvent the “loser” label — anything to save face.
What happens if DeSantis wins the 2024 nomination? He would represent the future triumphing over the past and, many would say, “Trumpism without Trump.”
But would Trump want to sabotage the DeSantis campaign? Ask former Trump Attorney General William Barr, who framed his former boss’s modus operandi in an Aug. 22 interview on the Free Press. But Barr was requoted in a Feb. 3 New York Times headline, “Trump Won’t Commit to Backing the G.O.P. Nominee in 2024.” That Times report also reflected Trump’s remarks from the previously mentioned Hugh Hewitt interview. Controversially, former A.G. Barr channeled Trump’s thinking and said:
“‘If it’s not me, I’m going to ruin your election chances by telling my base to sit home. And I’ll sabotage whoever you nominate other than me.’ It shows what he’s all about,” Barr said. “He’s all about himself. ”
Barr’s harsh words apply to Trump’s MAD intimidation campaign against DeSantis, coupled with The Hill reporting Trump’s criticism of the Florida governor’s loyalty:
“If he runs, that’s fine. I’m way up in the polls. He’s going to have to do what he wants to do, but he may run,” Trump said. “I do think it would be a great act of disloyalty because, you know, I got him in. He had no chance. His political life was over.”
Trump’s statement is caught in a 2018 timewarp and not grounded in reality.
In 2022, after winning reelection by a historic 19-point margin, Gov. Ron DeSantis, age 44, is living his best political life. He has branded himself nationally as a culture warrior, positioning the Sunshine State as the place where “woke goes to die” and is bolstered by hundreds of millions in campaign cash. He lives on FOX News.
DeSantis even edges out Biden in a hypothetical general election match-up (as does Trump). The difference is young DeSantis – unlike the 76-year-old, twice-impeached Trump – has never lost an election. Most consequential, DeSantis is not jeopardized or compromised by impending threats of multiple federal and state indictments.
Instead, the governor generally abstains from personal attacks, focusing his intellectual firepower on issues that appeal to the GOP base.
This week DeSantis’s presidential prospects doubly brightened.
First, the conservative, influential Club for Growth stated, “The party should be open to another candidate,” after not inviting Trump to its donor retreat. Naturally, Trump blasted off. Moreover, records show “advantage DeSantis” since Club for Growth donated $2 million to his 2022 gubernatorial reelection and $267,620 to his previous congressional campaigns.
Second, piling on Trump, the formidable Koch fundraising network declined support, saying, “The best thing for the country would be to have a president in 2025 who represents a new chapter.”
So how does Trump vs. DeSantis end?
If Trump wins the nomination, DeSantis will finish his second term in January 2027, positioned as the 2028 GOP presidential front-runner and possibly awarded a short-term gig on FOX News.
Then, if DeSantis tops the 2024 ticket but loses the general election, expect Trump to gloat, saying, “I would have won.”
In the meantime, Trump has launched a war against DeSantis for the primary race. If Trump loses, he may later commit under-the-radar sabotage in the general election. Ultimately, Trump may destroy the winner if he loses.
Conversely, DeSantis has the arsenal to end the Trump Era with decades left to war against the woke culture and rivals from both parties.
Myra Adams writes about politics and religion for numerous publications. She is a RealClearPolitics contributor and served on the creative team of two GOP presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008. Follow her on Twitter @MyraKAdams.
Cross-posted at The Hill and Substack.