Flat White

American nightmare: DeSantis, Trump, and ‘Hillary 2024’

17 January 2022

9:00 AM

17 January 2022

9:00 AM

Governor Ron DeSantis is far too good at his job. Florida is enjoying such wild success it’s throwing the entire remainder of the United States into stark, shadowy relief. Even the richest, reddest competitors in the Union just can’t funk within cooee of the Sunshine State’s groove.

DeSantis, with his America-first patriotism, muscular constitutional defence, and competent data-driven approach to governing, is a veritable geyser of optimism for American conservatives. Intellectuals, media personalities, and political heavyweights are conspicuously flocking to the Southeast, determined to play their part in constructing an almighty bastion of conservative greatness.

Such exclusive joy is unsustainable for Red America. Already at a dull roar, the clamour to share DeSantis with the rest of the country is crescendoing. Like it or not, ‘Presidential Politics’ is played out on years-long runways, and pressure is mounting on the Governor to declare his hand for 2024. Before 2022 is up, the Republican Party will need to know who their man is.

On a Republican Bench that runs deep – Mike Pompeo, Ted Cruz, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, and Josh Hawley are all eminently electable – DeSantis is emerging as the clear favourite. Critically, as both a professional politician and cultural pugilist, DeSantis appears as the only candidate capable of appealing to both the declining Republican base and the still-ascendant Trump coalition.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room. With Trump there are two pertinent realities. The first is that he believes the 2020 election was stolen from him. The second is that if he feels he can win in 2024, he will run, in order to avenge that theft.

Trump currently holds the whip hand in the Republican party and it is pointless trying to outfox him on the nomination. If he wants it, he will get it, barring a self-implosion more extraordinary than any seen before. It will take a political earthquake to divorce him enough from his loyal base to give another candidate (even one as appealing as Ron DeSantis) a fleeting chance.

So the stage is set for a bloody primary battle. With Trump as his own faction there will be no deals serving the greater good of the conservative cause, and in turn, no smooth path to Republican Presidential Power in 2024. Absent a change in Trump’s beliefs, if DeSantis nominates, there will be a war, and it will be a bloody one. Even if DeSantis achieves a victory, it will be a pyrrhic one, such is the likely scale of the damage Trump will do to him in battle.

Contrast this with the Democrats. Their talent pool is crumbling, and yet they are playing politics more professionally than ever. They drafted the morally and mentally decrepit Joe Biden and the woefully inadequate Kamala Harris onto the 2020 ticket with no internecine struggle whatsoever. It was a move designed with only one motive in mind; to win power in 2020, and to pivot to retain it in 2024.

Democrats ruthlessly calculated that despite his obscene shortcomings, Biden was the only candidate that could beat Trump. For his part, Biden in turn calculated that Democrat realpolitik dictated Harris as his only viable running mate.

That the cynical politics of Biden-Harris has backfired is obvious. It is also irrelevant. The Democrats know neither candidate can win in 2024, so they will simply change plans. They face two options: find someone who might win under the current circumstances, or accept certain defeat. They will not countenance the latter.

Enter Hillary Clinton. As the only person in America more politically self-assured than Donald Trump, Clinton has conspicuously begun the impossible task of rejuvenating her reputation. Public appearances, back-grounding of journalists, pointed policy commentary; all this has begun in earnest. Things are so bad for the Democrats that Clinton does not necessarily even need to succeed with this rehabilitation, she just needs to succeed enough.

Only a fool would pretend her ambition for the job has diminished. That she is unpopular does not matter, as her field of competitors has not improved. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrat bench is appalling: Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are unelectable. Tulsi Gabbard is appealing, but will not play ball with entrenched interests at party HQ. That leaves the two incumbents.

Biden is a (barely) walking punchline, and will not be a factor in Clinton’s nomination. In order to win, Clinton needs first to prove that woman to woman, she can best Harris. Harris is terrible, so this will be a cakewalk. Secondly, Clinton must convince the party that she can re-excite enough (mostly female) middle-class voters, so the Democrat base can withstand a protest vote from enraged (mostly male) blue-collar Republican voters.

Can she pull this off? To paraphrase her vanquisher in 2008 primaries, ‘Yes she can!’

And so we arrive in 2024 and survey the birth of an American Nightmare: a destructive, regressive Groundhog Day for the United States. Clinton-Trump redux is not what America wants, but it may well be what America gets.

What would the consequences be? Firstly, the psychotic Trumpian loathing on the left would reach as-yet-unseen levels. What was hysterical public discourse in 2020 would look perfectly timid by 2024’s standards. The right would lose its little remaining faith in America’s institutions, and would view a Clinton victory as the snatching away of their final opportunity to set the country back on course after a near-fatal brush with socialism during the Biden-Harris era.

How might Republicans avoid the American nightmare of a Clinton presidency? As things stand, they have two likely options.

If Trump maintains course and nominates for his old job, Republicans must accept there may be no stopping him. They should place their faith in public distaste for Hillary Clinton, and in Trump’s ability to exploit this. They should recognise the damage a nomination battle between Trump and DeSantis would do to the party, and avoid it at all costs. They should also dissuade a Trump-DeSantis joint ticket, as the two men have somewhat incompatible political brands, and this may contaminate a future DeSantis run.

In the unlikely event Trump withdraws, then Republicans must understand his base will not automatically vote for another candidate, even faced with the morbid spectre of a President Clinton. Republicans must then be ruthless in their efforts to fortify DeSantis’ candidacy. They must court Trump’s base every day of the campaign, knowing that it is their turn-out that will determine the outcome of the election, and indeed, America’s future.

Ben Crocker is an Australian writer and classical musician, currently Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation scholar, in Washington DC. Substack: Crocker’s Columns (History, Politics, Literature, Philosophy, Music & Education)

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