The news that Ron DeSantis had thrown in the towel — “suspended my campaign” in the losers’ parlance of this and every year’s presidential races — broke early in the afternoon, too late, and no doubt by design, for the talking heads of the networks’ Sunday morning pundits to seize the moment and gloat about their prescience in expecting it all along. True, after Iowa and running a poor third in the state polls before New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday (Wednesday in Australia), bailing out right now made sense for a faltering, cash-strapped candidate. But grim reality is not what aspirants to the Oval Office generally recognise, so often clinging in hope and self-deceit to their ambitions long after the ebb tide of support has left them on the beach. Think here of George Bush the Elder harrying Ronald Reagan in 1980 or, 28 years later on the other side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton refusing to concede until very late in the game that Obama had her whipped. In 2016, she had her own zombie challenger in Bernie Sanders, who terrier-like refused to let go despite knowing for a lead-pipe cinch that the Clinton machine had rigged the Democrats’ selection process to leave him with no chance whatsoever. Politicians in America are much easier to kill than their ambitions.
And that’s what makes the promptness of DeSantis’ decision both remarkable and his candidacy worth mourning. A year ago, there was an air of inevitability about him. Here was the governor of a booming state who represented so much of what Trump voters liked, indeed loved and still do. DeSantis had taken on the teachers unions and beaten them, picked a winning fight with Disney, Florida’s largest employer, and who extolled family values while pinning back the Mouse Factory’s big woke ears. He had served in the Navy – electorally a big plus, especially in the South and Flyover States — which Trump could not match, having waltzed away from military service in the Vietnam years on heels purportedly afflicted with incapacitating bone spurs. DeSantis had the record, the achievements and none of Trump’s personal and legal baggage.
The big-bucks donors — take that to mean corporate money — discerned a winner, set aside their reservations about a governor who gave Disney a good kicking and opened their wallets. That pundits and bookies alike rated him the early frontrunner was only to be expected.
Meanwhile the grief being heaped on Trump expanded exponentially. Improbable accusations of sexual assault in a New York department store’s ladies changing room, the two impeachment hearings and the ludicrous, summary conviction (before even a word of evidence had been introduced) by a hack judge straight from the Democrat clubhouse of a “fraud” that left none of the lending banks out of pocket. Beyond all that, the January 6 show trials spawned the prosecutions he faces in Washington DC and in Georgia. Richard Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew, was booted on the strength of just one accusation, subsequently settled with a plea bargain, of failing to pay tax on $30,000 of brown-bagged graft when Maryland’s governor. As of today, Trump faces a total of 91 criminal charges, plus a slather of civil actions. Who could be surprised that the smart money was all for DeSantis?
And yet here we are, the original field of 14 Republicans winnowed to just Trump and Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump’s UN ambassador, who regardless how well she does on Tuesday appears certain to run a poor second in her own home state. The polls certainly say so and for once, in this election cycle, their last-minute projections have been mostly calling it right.
How Trump has managed all this says something about America and a lot about him. Forget Haley for the moment and contrast Trump with DeSantis, the former a rule-breaker and the latter a candidate from Central Casting in his presentation, speeches and babies kissed. Whatever the man’s merits, and they are many, few would think to line up in an Iowa snowstorm for the chance to see and hear him. But Trump, the Great Performer, when he addresses a rally, as he did on Saturday in slightly less snowy New Hampshire, the spillover crowd had to settle for closed-circuit TV in adjoining venues. Trump not only says what many Americans fervently believe, he does it with humour and scathing acidic aplomb. Sure, there are Never Trump conservatives of the George Will/Jonah Goldberg/Chris Christie school whose skins he makes crawl. But when he mentions high petrol prices or the impotence of the Biden administration in failing to smite Houthi rocketeers with the unleashed full force of American arms, it is both an election speech and a war cry.
Tuesday’s primary might well be the end for Haley. With DeSantis out, the six per cent pollsters were putting to his account will go almost exclusively to Trump, who was said to be leading before today’s announcement by low double-digits. DeSantis cemented that transfer of affections by officially endorsing Trump and slamming Haley, who he intimated was a Wall Street-sponsored leftist in Republican drag. Haley ran a narrow third in Iowa, with roughly 20 per cent of the vote, so another thumping loss will sever the pipeline of corporate cash that flooded her coffers as DeSantis faded.
A telling factoid about Haley: in 2005, when the push to remove Confederate monuments was just beginning and she occupied the governor’s mansion, she denounced attempts to bring down the South’s battle flag. Five years later, having lifted a wet finger to the wind, she was all for it. Don’t like her principles on Monday, she’ll have new ones by Friday.
A telling sign of doom for her campaign came last week at the globalist gabfest in Davos, where Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan, did a remarkable somersault. Days before Iowa he had been a cheerleader for Haley, noting that his fellow Democrat-aligned captains of industry and commerce were writing cheques and overflowing with enthusiasm. After Iowa it was a different story: the White House and its tame media’s insistence that Trump will “destroy our democracy”, unleash the Army on dissidents and fill internment camps with his enemies were doing America no good whatsoever.
“I wish the Democrats would think a little more carefully when they talk about MAGA,” Dimon said. “Take a step back, be honest. He was kind of right about NATO, kind of right on immigration. He grew the economy quite well. Trade tax reform worked. He was right about some of China.”
“I mean, really? Can we just stop that stuff and actually grow up and treat people with respect.”
Should Trump triumph in November, Dimon has secured his invitation to the White House.
As for Haley, perhaps as early as post-New Hampshire’s Wednesday, DeSantis has shown her where and how to find the exit.