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DeSantis Gets His CNN Moment

CNN held a town hall with Donald Trump in May. Yesterday, it was Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) turn for some free PR. But instead of a town hall, it was in the form of a sit-down interview with CNN's Jake Tapper in the studio. It was DeSantis' first interview with a mainstream media outlet this year. That shows how desperate he really is; normally, he just talks to right-wing media outlets. DeSantis was upbeat about his chances, despite poll after poll showing him way behind Donald Trump. What is slightly ironic is that DeSantis defended Trump, rather than saying that he is a criminal who should be in the Big House, not the White House.

DeSantis kept hammering on how he was the best candidate to rid the country of the scourge of wokeness. When Tapper showed him a poll listing wokeness as #9 among voters' concerns, DeSantis came back with "Not everyone really knows what wokeness is." So apparently DeSantis' first job is to explain what wokeness is, followed by explaining why it is awful, and then explaining why he is the one to purge it. Sounds like a lot of work to us. We're kind of skeptical that this is going to fly. We're more inclined to think: When you're in a hole, stop digging.

DeSantis commented on a new plan the DoD just released for revamping the Department. Tapper pointed out that the DoD was concerned with fighting Russia and fighting China, but not fighting wokeness. DeSantis then explained: "I mean, I've defined it, but a lotta people who rail against wokeness can't even define it." Actually, the only person on the national stage who is railing against wokeness is... Ron DeSantis.

Finally, DeSantis was able to move on. He said he hopes Trump is not charged with starting an insurrection, even though such a charge might be the only thing that can save the Governor's campaign. It is a topsy-turvy world where a candidate is on the record hoping that the one thing that might save his campaign doesn't happen. At least, in contrast to Trump, he believes it is time to put 2020 behind us and look forward.

On foreign policy, DeSantis tried to have it both ways. On the one hand, he called Russia's invasion of Ukraine a "territorial dispute." On the other, he said: "The goal should be a sustainable, enduring peace in Europe, but one that does not reward aggression." So when Tapper asked him if he would continue arming Ukraine as president, he refused to say. It seems like an answer carefully designed to offend both supporters and opponents of the war. Or maybe DeSantis is not prepared to sit behind the desk where the buck stops.

So, foreign policy is not his forte, it would seem. Surely abortion is. So when Tapper asked him if he would sign a bill passed by Congress to ban all abortions nationwide after 6 weeks, DeSantis said: "I'm pro-life. I will be a pro-life president. And we will support pro-life policies. At the same time, I look at what's going on in the Congress, and, you know, I don't see them, you know, making very much headway. I think the danger from Congress is if we lose the election, they're gonna try to nationalize abortion up until the moment of birth." Huh? It is a simple question: If Republicans take over Congress and pass a 6-week ban on abortion, will you sign it, yes or no?

OK, so he's not so good at foreign policy or abortion. How about education? When asked about that, DeSantis said: "Our bread and butter were people like suburban moms. We're leading a big movement for parents' rights, to have the parents be involved in education, school choice, get the indoctrination outta schools." So he is against indoctrination. A truly brave stance. Does he want to cut funding for schools that have books in the library that he doesn't like? Does he want to gag teachers nationally, as he did in Florida? He's not too big on specifics. He would actually be a pretty good fit for the No Labels group, which also isn't much into specifics.

We can't see how DeSantis helped himself at all by making a fool of himself on national television. He didn't want to explain what he wants in any area except fighting the boogeyman of wokeness, which barely registers on voters' list of concerns. And remember, he is running against Donald Trump, who is crystal clear about many, many things, like building a wall on the Mexican border, getting Mexico to pay for it, locking up Hillary Clinton, ending birthright citizenship, and so much more. Of course, none of what Trump wanted is possible, but the base doesn't care about that. They want clear, forceful statements of intent. That doesn't seem to be DeSantis' forte either.

Jack Shafer, Politico's senior media writer, tore the Tapper interview apart as bad media. He said that for a guy as smart as DeSantis, he's actually pretty stupid. He's not going anywhere in the polls, everyone is writing about his persona as brass knuckles and shrapnel, and people are comparing his wife to Lady Macbeth. His first interview with a mainstream journalist was his chance to introduce the world to Ron v2.0, a guy full of new ideas on many topics. Instead all we got was "I hate woke." That's Ron v1.0 and it's not going to right the ship. Shafer doesn't think there will ever be a Ron v2.0.

Now, Tapper is a serious journalist and DeSantis should have known he wasn't going to get the kind of softball questions he might get from Sean Hannity ("What do you think about wokeness?"). He surely knew that Tapper would ask about Ukraine, abortion, education, immigration, and other current topics. He could have prepared short, forceful answers to each of them. That's what Trump voters like. You don't have to be right, you only have to be sure. For example, on abortion, he could have said: "I signed a 6-week ban on abortion in Florida and if Congress presents me with a 6-week national ban, I'll sign within 10 minutes."

Shafer speculates that DeSantis expected Trump to implode after the last 2 weeks of his presidency and then he could swoop in and be seen as a conquering hero—Trumpism without Trump. But Trump didn't implode. He came back from the dead. DeSantis wasn't prepared for that and wasn't agile enough to deal with it. He could have said: "I'll give you the same policies as Trump but I won't rape women in department store dressing rooms or pay off porn stars. Your kids will be able to look up to me as a role model." But he didn't. He stayed on message, but nobody cares about his message. (V)

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