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Being a Copycat Isn't a Good Campaign Plan

Ron DeSantis has observed that Donald Trump is very popular with the Republican base. He wants to be popular with the base. So he figured he could just copy Trump and do each thing a little better. Then he could be Trump+. As Politico columnist Jack Shafer points out, it hasn't worked.

Being a copycat sometimes works in business. A company sees some other company doing well at something and they think they can do it too, maybe better. Tesla was doing well selling electric cars, so a bunch of other companies decided to also make electric cars. It doesn't work like that in politics. It's the candidate that matters.

Trump never admits he is wrong or backs down. DeSantis named his super PAC "Never Back Down." Take that, Trump! Trump growled at the media. DeSantis sneered at them and only did a media interview recently, in desperation. Trump demands loyalty from everyone around him. DeSantis demands worship. Trump wanted to build a wall on the Mexican border. DeSantis tricked migrants to get on a plane in Texas and had them flown to Massachusetts to own the libs. Trump shamed NFL owners for not firing players who kneeled during the national anthem. DeSantis has made his attacks on the House of Mouse a centerpiece of his anti-woke story. Trump made nice with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. DeSantis has dismissed the invasion of Ukraine as a mere territorial dispute. The list goes on and on, with DeSantis trying to out-Trump Trump on everything. And what did it get the Governor? He's 37 points behind in the most recent poll.

Why doesn't it work? First, as we said, the candidate matters. Trump's supporters like Trump. Nobody, excepting Casey DeSantis, seems to like Ron DeSantis. Trump seems to have a very fine-tuned political antenna that DeSantis doesn't have. Back in 2016, Trump perceived that there were a lot of people who hated the establishment and were primed for a candidate who also said he hated the establishment. Politics abhors a vacuum, and Trump stepped in and filled the void. In contrast, DeSantis has doubled down on the benefits of slavery. He insists that some slaves learned to be farmers or blacksmiths or carpenters, so slavery wasn't all that bad. He doesn't get it that slavery was so bad that no amount of on-the-job training makes up for it. He is politically tone deaf, whereas Trump has a good feeling for what his voters want. Also, when Trump goes too far and is called on it, he laughs it off and says it was a joke and his base forgives him. DeSantis is terrible at that. At a rally, Trump makes his supporters feel good by telling them that their problems are due to the deep state or something else, certainly not their own fault. DeSantis tells them how woke goes to die in Florida. Great, except they don't know what woke is and are used to the idea of old people going to Florida to die, so no big deal.

The message DeSantis has completely missed is that candidates who have done really well, like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and yes, Donald Trump, were new and refreshing. They weren't copying some other politician and trying to be 10% better. Being a copycat doesn't work. Being new and authentic works, and that does not describe DeSantis at all. (V)

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