Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) had his plan all worked out. He was going to be the anti-woke candidate, punishing evil left-wing corporations, allowing parents to remove Heather Has Two Mommies from school libraries, and shipping migrants from Texas to Massachusetts. DeSantis is very methodical and his method was working fine until an obstacle appeared in his path out of nowhere: Donald Trump. Despite being very coy about his future plans, DeSantis roused the sleeping giant and now has to deal with him. Oops. So far, it is not going according to his carefully laid plans.
Fundamentally, this is DeSantis' problem. If he agrees with Trump on everything, basically running as Trump-lite, most Republicans will probably prefer the real thing. If he breaks sharply with Trump, he will get a lot of what electrical engineers call negative feedback. He's not going to be able to avoid the problem for very long.
The Governor got a taste of the problem last week. He, like Trump, questioned the U.S. involvement in Ukraine. But when Republican senators lit into him for that, he backpedaled. He also didn't handle questions about a Trump indictment very well. He tried to get away with answer questions like: "Do you think Trump should drop out if he is indicted?" with "Biden is a bad president." That kind of stuff isn't going to fly for very long.
Other high-profile Republicans have hit the same roadblock before: Align yourself with Trump and you are a cheap imitation, but attack him and you are a traitor. Jason Roe, who worked on the presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in 2016, put it succinctly: "I don't think there's a right playbook, unfortunately."
DeSantis has been rattled by not being able to just carry out his plan in peace. His polling has suffered as a result. It's certainly not fatal this early, but he is going to have to deal with this sooner or later, probably sooner. When he gives a speech about how much he hates woke, but all the questions afterwards are: "What do think about Trump's remark this morning?" just walking out of the room without answering any of them is going to get old very fast.
Worse yet, before too long, Trump is going to start actively attacking DeSantis. Then when the questions are "How do you respond to Trump's latest attack?", talking about his glory days when he stuck it to Disney isn't going to work. In short, DeSantis' plan was conceived in a vacuum. He was going to go after woke and leave it at that. He wasn't counting on an 8,000-pound elephant in the room standing in his path. He'd better rethink his plan, and fast. (V)