Pearl River I didn’t want to do this, but I did it for all of you. I read the New York Times conservative columnist faceoff on Ron DeSantis by Ross Douthat and Nikki Haley by David Brooks, as they prepare readers for the Iowa beatdown in the Republican primary caucuses by former President Trump. You may not think of this as a big deal sacrifice on my part, but you’re wrong. Reading a forever long explication of the huge weaknesses of DeSantis, his questionable strengthens, and his robotic presentations is not only disagreeable, but a disciplined exercise in wakefulness to make it to the end of the piece. Reading an equally long piece about Haley which emphasizes her so-called “toughness,” but mainly underlines her self-centered, outsider ambition to be cast as the leader of the political equivalent of the Mean Girls franchise is hard not because you worry about dozing off, but because the “it’s so scary”, you want to leave the room and hide in fear of what she might do in these times of tension if the nuclear football were in her hands.
Douthat argues that DeSantis’ play was to the 40% of the Republican electorate that wanted a Trump-type with less drama and actual competence. In his reckoning, Haley’s appeal is to the slimmest part of the remaining Republican base, the pre-Trump old guard, the college-educated, and some women. For Brooks, Haley isn’t quite that, but it’s unclear who and what she really is. Compassionate after the church killings in Columbia, effective in getting rid of the Confederate flag over the state’s capitol, but carrying grudges, combative with colleagues and legislators, a score-settler with opponents, and an uncomfortable ally, even in the best of times.
No matter how these pundits parse the candidates, the magic of Trump carries the day. DeSantis might be able to implement policy, but Trump knows viscerally that the base couldn’t care less. Haley might talk tough, but no candidate can out tough, Trump.
The Republican base and a good chunk of the working class and the rest of America, wants someone ready to poke the rich, well-born, and just about everyone anywhere in the eye, and walk away standing with a smile. They are fed up and alienated. They want a troublemaker. They want someone who doesn’t backdown and won’t stop fighting. It’s like the Judds’ country-and-western song where she sings, “Mama, he’s crazy, but he’s crazy over me.” Trump gives them crazy with a big dollop of charisma. Hustler, grifter, liar, who cares, that’s what they all are anyway, so it takes one to know one. Trump is sui generis. The others are just varieties of Brand X.
I understand that completely. I’m OK with Biden, and think he may be the most effective president of my lifetime. Lyndon Johnson may have been his equal on domestic achievement, but Biden doesn’t have a Vietnam. The appeal of Bernie Sanders is much the same as Trump’s on the other side of the spectrum.
For the Republican base, left out, left behind, atavistic, and seeing the country slip away from them, Haley and DeSantis are Fords and Chevy’s when they want a combination of a race car and a bulldozer. For them, Trump is the only choice, and, frankly, it’s easy to understand and agree.
The harder question is not in Iowa or the primaries, but whether or not the majority of the country wants this crazy again this November?