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DeSantis Hits the Trail

Now that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is officially a candidate, he is officially campaigning. His first stop since announcing his candidacy was (naturally) Iowa. He chose Clive, IA, to start his campaign. It is a small suburb (pop. 19,000) about 7 miles west of central Des Moines. His speech there probably gives a pretty good idea of what he will campaign on for the next year and a half. Sure, he will tweak it from time to time, and will respond to Donald Trump and news stories once in a while, but it is likely that the first speech will set the pattern. Also, unlike Trump, DeSantis rarely goes off script and meanders in an unexpected direction. He's very disciplined. He knows what he wants to say and says it and nothing else. After giving the speech a dozen times, he will probably be able to repeat the whole thing from memory more-or-less word-for-word based on nothing more than a slip of paper with a few keywords on it.

In his speech DeSantis emphasized one point that is sure to come up in every speech: If a conservative does not win the presidency, none of the conservatives' wishes will come true. Hence winning is really, really important. This is an implicit dig at Trump, who he is going to call a "loser" many times later this year. In other words, a key part of DeSantis' pitch is "I can win and Trump can't." Whether than is a good idea remains to be seen though. There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that many of Trump's supporters prefer a candidate they like who might not be able to win over one they don't like who has a better chance of winning.

Another theme is captured in this remark DeSantis made: "Leadership is not about entertainment. It's not about building a brand. It's not about virtue signaling. It is about results." Expect DeSantis to hammer Trump later on about all the things he promised in 2016 and didn't do. He didn't build the wall. He didn't get Mexico to pay for it. He didn't drain the swamp. He didn't rein in China. The list is long. The point here will be that Trump was a failure. He may have been entertaining for some people, but he didn't get anything done. DeSantis will then roll out the list of his accomplishments in Florida and contrast them with Trump's reign of failure.

The Yale- and Harvard Law School-educated governor of the third most populous state also railed against the elites who are "imposing their agenda on us." Huh? "Us?" Does DeSantis consider himself a non-elite? Let's get real here. Surely some people in Trump's base will figure that he is not one of them. Although how many is an open question, since they never figured it out when it came to Trump himself.

After more barnstorming in Iowa, DeSantis will go to New Hampshire and South Carolina before going back to Iowa on Saturday. There he will attend the annual "Roast and Ride" fundraiser run by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). But Saturday the show won't be his alone. All the other declared candidates—except possibly Trump—will show up, so DeSantis will have to fight for attention.

DeSantis' super PAC, Never Back Down, has field workers in the four early states. They have 200 people on the ground and have knocked on 50,000 doors. The group is planning to raise and spend $100 million on its field operation alone.

Once DeSantis starts to do retail campaigning, he is going to have reporters come up to him and ask questions. How he handles this could be critical. He may not want to answer pointed questions, but what should he do? If he is evasive, a decent reporter will ask follow-up questions until the Governor answers the first question. If he gets frustrated and tells the reporter to buzz off, the reporter is going to write a story saying that DeSantis is an obnoxious jerk—or worse. If this happens for a couple of months, his image nationally will become that of an obnoxious jerk. He will fail the "beer test" and it will be all downhill from there. His advisers have undoubtedly told him this many times, but changing your personality from an obnoxious jerk to a hail fellow, well met is tough. They don't teach that at Yale or Harvard. (V)

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