Commentary: Ron DeSantis lost the race months before he dropped out

Commentary: Ron DeSantis lost the race months before he dropped out

It’s a well-worn joke that the vice presidency of the United States is perhaps the most prestigious dead-end job in the world. When Senator Daniel Webster was offered the number two spot on the Whig ticket in 1848, he reportedly responded, “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead.” But one other position that might fit that description would be the frontrunner in a presidential primary, at least three months before the voting starts. For one recent example, take Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, formerly the candidate most favored by Republicans. That is, before his campaign took a drastic turn, landing him as the presumptive third-place finisher in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

It seems that the early frontrunner in a presidential primary is almost bound to lose these days: Bernie Sanders was an early frontrunner for months in the 2020 Democratic primary, yet current president Joe Biden was endorsed as the nominee. In 2008, Hillary Clinton was the consensus favorite for the Democratic nomination but lost the endorsement to Barack Obama. While these losses were merely unexpected, some candidates leading other races experienced more embarrassing circumstances. For example, in 2008, Rudy Giuliani was poised to be the Republican nominee and led the pack through the end of 2007. But, leading up to the primaries, his campaign was hurt by gaffes and minor scandals, including one fundraiser led by supporters with distasteful allusions to the September 11 attacks. Eventually, the fire he drew from other candidates took him down, leading him to finish with zero delegates. Another instance is Howard Dean, the prohibitive favorite in 2004 and first across every poll. While it was certainly not the only factor in his eventual loss to John Kerry, his awkward “Dean scream” in his speech following the Iowa caucuses was the final nail in the coffin.

However, all of these stories might be trumped by the most recent humiliating primary loss. For a few truly odd months, DeSantis was looking like the new star of the Republican Party. During the 2022 midterm elections, many of Trump’s hand-picked candidates went down in entirely avoidable losses. Meanwhile, DeSantis crushed his opponent by nearly 20 points, in what was a swing state just a few cycles prior. Florida’s re-elected governor seemed invincible, and there was talk of Trump no longer being the party’s standard-bearer. Right-wing news ate up his crusade against the amorphous “woke,” a campaign DeSantis used as a cover to pass legislation targeting the free expression of LGBTQ+ people and parental rights concerning LGBTQ+ children. When Disney, a corporate giant that controlled a special district encompassing Disney World, opposed one of DeSantis’ bills, he retaliated against them personally, passing legislation stripping them of their self-governance. DeSantis branded himself as a bully, an “alpha male” who had all of Trump’s bravado and the ability to actually get results. Liberals hated him, which only boosted his image. His “war on woke” was popular in the Republican party, causing lawmakers across the country rushing to prove that they, too, could forget their humanity and discriminate against transgender people for no particular reason. Even Trump tried to out-phobia DeSantis, pushing out a video where he promised to ban all gender-affirming care.

That all turned out to be a mirage. Now, I will say: understanding why DeSantis lost the way he did requires understanding how Republicans tend to view social competition. A significant proportion of Americans don’t subscribe to and don’t care about the right’s obsessive need to put everyone into a top-down social hierarchy, up to and including the concept of “alpha males” and “beta males” and making sure that minorities know that their place is at the bottom. But Republicans do play that game for themselves, and unfortunately for DeSantis, he definitely turned out to be the beta. It wasn’t just that he was an awkward politician, an awful strategist, and an annoying public speaker obsessed with the internet jargon around wokeism — it was that when Trump noticed a threat to his dominance and started hammering him, DeSantis made no effort to push back. He absorbed body blow after body blow, practically begging for more. In most presidential primaries, your main opponent getting indicted would be a heaven-sent gift — a critical weakness for the opponent, an easy win for you. But DeSantis, in a choice that revealed his rubber bands where most real men might have a spine, leapt to Trump’s defense. Not only did he make the morally incorrect choice — eroding trust in our nation’s institutional safeguards against autocracy and authoritarianism — he also revealed that, months before the voting started, months before he dropped out, he had already accepted that he had lost the race. He had already accepted his place as the beta, so thoroughly terrified of alienating Trump’s base that he bowed in submission and kissed Trump’s ring. The specter of DeSantis 2024 was never cast as inevitable, the way Giuliani 2008 and Dean 2004 were; but while DeSantis’s loss was not the most unexpected, it was certainly the most humiliating.

Maybe with a smarter, stronger campaign and a more compelling candidate, we could have seen DeSantis put up a real fight. We’ll never know for sure. It is worth ruminating on the fact that, though DeSantis is not going to be president next year, his brand and image are going to be part and parcel of the Republican platform for this election. But maybe DeSantis’s downfall says that, actually, real people are tired of hearing about wokeness. After being dragged out for so long, DeSantis’s macho “war on Disney” became a point of ridicule.

So, like that schadenfreude-esque image macro of Grant Gustin grinning over Oliver Queen’s grave, let us now spare a moment of remembrance for the presidential aspirations of one Ron DeSantis: a weak, smarmy shadow of the top dog he always wanted to be. Hopefully, the final two years of his current governorship are his last in professional politics.

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Claudia Silvera, Staff Writer
More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$200
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$200
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The UCSD Guardian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *