Politico's media reporter, the inimitable Jack Shafer, has a new column out entitled "The Media Has Got Ron DeSantis Nailed." It points out that when somebody new shows up on the campaign trail, it doesn't take long for the media to come to a more-or-less collective decision about how to characterize the new character. Once the image has taken hold, it is nearly impossible to change and any attempts by the candidate to do so just make it worse. From then on, all new information is massaged to fit into the existing frame.
Richard Nixon was slippery. Lyndon Johnson was scheming. Bill Clinton was phony. George W. Bush was stupid. There was more to Nixon than treachery, more to Johnson than lies, more to Clinton than his insincerity, but that never got published. Shafer didn't want to take a position on whether there was more to Bush than stupidity. Oh yeah, then there was Michael Dukakis, the weakling warrior in a tank, Bob Dole the whiner, and Hillary Clinton as an icy know-it-all.
Now what about DeSantis? He is already being pigeonholed as Mr. Uptight who has bile running through his veins instead of blood. He could go on late night TV and handfeed a litter of kittens some milk from a bottle and be accused of animal cruelty. Once the image has been set in reporters' minds, every story is twisted to make the candidate fit the image. In DeSantis' case, he really does dislike people and nothing he does or says is going to change that perception. Trump's nickname for him, Ron DeSanctimonious, is actually pretty much on the mark. The only downside there is that the people in his base don't know the meaning of most 13-letter words.
One candidate who came to terms with the media is Donald Trump, who was quickly labeled a narcisisstic bully, a con man, a cheat, a racist, an egomaniac and a fraud. And what did he do? He embraced them all and told his base that's who he was and they loved him all the more for being honest with them.
Could DeSanctimonious [sic] try that approach? We doubt it would work. People really don't mind rascals (Clinton) or friendly dummies (W) but highly educated know-it-alls (Al Gore, Hillary Clinton) can rarely pull it off. In France, highly educated people often run for president and win, but that's not what sells in America, doubly so on the right side of the aisle. The three most intelligent Republican presidents of the last century were George H.W. Bush, who was mocked for his eggheadedness; Richard Nixon, who hid his brainpower behind his shiftiness; and Dwight D. Eisenhower, who pretended to be dumb. The Florida governor's best chance now is that Trump implodes or is convicted of multiple felonies and he is the only plausible alternative still left. It could happen, but at the moment it looks like a long shot. But of course, in politics, a week is a long time, so you never know. (V)