One reads that “Bush aides, who were getting their first in-depth exposure to Quayle, were impressed by his attention span, the quality of his questions and the facility with which he moved through the agenda.” And that Sarah Palin struck McCain’s people “as more calm and cerebral than expected. She was quick to ask questions, and to ‘engage in a back and forth’ with briefers. One aide describes her as ‘quick on her feet’—like ‘a lawyer who didn't go to law school.’” And also that Gov. Ron DeSantis “ultimately impressed a lot of the old political and policy hands in Tallahassee… DeSantis was not just smart, they concluded, but especially so.”
I don’t suggest that Florida’s governor is a dope, just that his abilities are heavily puffed and exaggerated. In 1988, Bush aides spun the Washington Post about Quayle. In 2008, McCain aides spun Newsweek about Palin. In 2023, Never Trumpers spin themselves about DeSantis, their hoped-for Trump slayer. Take the Dispatch article headlined “DeSantis the Decider.” How badly does this profile want to like Brownnose Ron? Well, the ad with the kids never gets mentioned. Back in the primary for governor, we’re told, the frontrunner looked all set to win “until Trump endorsed his younger rival.” The whole thing “was a stroke of luck,” if you ask the article. Ask some people in the Trump administration who talked with The Washington Post and you hear that DeSantis hustled his butt for a meeting with the boss (“Ten minutes is all I need, he told one Trump ally,” the Post paraphrased). Certainly, on getting Trump’s endorsement he thanked his patron in fulsome manner. I mean the ad where the candidate’s small children played stooge for a Trump loyalty extravaganza. Profiles tend to mention this one, since it has the governor-to-be reading to his boy from The Art of the Deal and telling his daughter to “Build the Wall” with her play blocks.
Just goofing around, the DeSantis team said, and I expect the children didn’t mind any. But remember that DeSantis never goofs around. The articles always say that, including the one at The Dispatch: “In the executive office, DeSantis is similarly all-business. ‘He doesn’t talk about family stuff,’ one Republican said. ‘He’s not really a chit-chatter.’” In fact, the difficulty of having fun around DeSantis makes up the b-line in the Dispatch profile, the negative “What about?” to the dominant a-line of his “Decider” powers. Decidin‘ Ron didn’t go on TV to have fun; he was executing, in this case using his children to signal that he was the Trump candidate who placed Trump above all else. It was power-brownnosing, done with dispatch and executive commitment; hard to beat but impossible to describe with dignity. (“I love that part,” the on-air DeSantis says, or perhaps coos, when reading about “Mr. Trump.”) The Dispatch leaves it out.
Luckily, DeSantis is “an active, disciplined leader who is supremely confident in his own judgment, does his homework and relishes making decisions.” We know this from “Veteran Republican insiders in Florida’s capital who have worked closely with,” etc. For example, there’s a “Republican lobbyist (‘not a DeSantis cheerleader’)” who says the Governor shows “uncanny policy acumen.” The non-cheerleader needed convincing, of course. “What won over this skeptic was the governor’s handling of his high-profile dispute with Disney,” the article says. The lobbyist thought it was foolish to take on Walt Disney Co. just because the company condemned Don’t Say Gay. “But not only was DeSantis undeterred, he predicted, accurately, exactly how the row would play out,” the article tells us. Now here’s the lobbyist: “He said: ‘I’m going to fight and my numbers are going to go [up].’” Possibly the “up” replaces “go crazy,” which would have sounded Trump-like.
Beautifully, the next paragraph begins “Now, it looks like DeSantis’ fight with Disney might not be over after all.” For a while back there, people thought DeSantis had stuck it to Disney and made it stick; the article was written during that era. Then news emerged that Disney had outsmarted the governor. The municipality he’d taken over so he could strongarm Walt Disney World had gone ahead and surrendered its most significant powers to the company, a handover Disney arranged after DeSantis telegraphed his takeover plans during eight months of chopping and filling. “The governor’s critics claim Disney outsmarted him,” the article tells us. “DeSantis and his supporters say otherwise. ‘Rest assured—you ain’t seen nothing yet,’ he said Thursday.” The Dispatch’s new paragraph forgets about “exactly” and “play out” from two paragraphs before.
At best, if we follow the non-cheerleader lobbyist, DeSantis predicted that fighting Disney would be great for his poll ratings and then found, yes, that was the case. The Fla gov noisily disdains polls, of course (“The governor loves to brag he doesn’t employ pollsters, nor does [he] rely on survey data or focus groups,” etc.), but perhaps he was speaking metaphorically when and if he talked about “my numbers.” Either way his big look ahead was directly at an immediate popularity boost. He thought about that and not about the simple fact that his opponent might be taking counter steps. The Dispatch doesn’t mind. It leaves “exactly” and “play out” hanging in place, a taunting sign to dull normals that this is bowtie territory, the land where reality doesn’t follow your rules.
The respectable Buckley-Reagan-Bush conservatives and their bowtie writers wanted Quayle and Palin to be smart. Now they want Ron DeSantis to be the man who can take down Donald Trump. So far he’s just a test of how much nastiness these remnants will swallow in pursuit of self-delusion. Consider the non-cheerleader lobbyist on a fateful talk between Disney’s then-boss and Iron Ron: “And the CEO is calling him, saying, ‘Look, I have to do this.’ And he said: ‘Don’t do this, I’m going to have to beat you up.’” The lobbyist says it’s DeSantis who told him all that; again, Trump on getting off the phone might relay the same conversation in the same words. Second, why “have to”? Disney issued a strongly worded statement expressing an unwelcome and even hostile point of view. That’s all. DeSantis could’ve stuck to answering back, and if Disney tried lobbying, he could’ve lobbied. Instead he took steps to punish Disney and bungled the operation.
Stupid bowties are now against the First Amendment and for Gov. Doodypants Klutzhands. Insiders are impressed by the gang’s shrewd acumen, hard-eyed sense of character, and unflinching self-awareness as they navigate their challenging moral waters.