DeSantis has no choice but to fully commit to the Trump bit

Photo illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast/Reuters

The clone war has begun. Ron DeSantis’ Declaration to Tucker Carlson this week that the war in Ukraine is a “territorial dispute” that is not in America’s “vital national interests.”‘ signals that his main Republican strategy is to pose as Donald Trump’s double (minus the crude tweets, coup attempts and election losses).

Many of us have long said that DeSantis offers Republicans everything Trump does, just in one younger and more competent package. In that regard, DeSantis’ decision to ape Trump isn’t at all surprising. On the other hand, DeSantis hadn’t FULLY committed to this part until now – making this development both significant and (to some of us) demoralizing.

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That’s because some of us Reagan conservatives, perhaps naively, harbored hopes that DeSantis could also be more…normal as Trump. That he might try to be something of a hybrid that combines Reagan republicanism (of ideas like family values, fiscal conservatism, a strong national defense, and a sense that America is a “beacon of hope” in the world) with the Zeitgeist connects populists of today.

After watching that fantasy evaporate this week, we Never Trumpers hope DeSantis just lies and gives in to the America First base to win the Republican nomination.

Certainly his statement on Ukraine offers escape hatches for a future flip-flop. At some point – in general elections or in the White House – DeSantis could potentially exploit one of these loopholes and continue supporting Ukraine (without sending in American troops), as Joe Biden did.

But what we do know is that DeSantis has committed to running as a Trump-Tucker clone while he tries to usurp control of the GOP nomination.

And the question is: Is that a smart strategy??

I mean, shouldn’t DeSantis want his brand to be in stark contrast to Trump’s? And wouldn’t Ukraine be a great place to make that mark?

DeSantis clearly believes so The Trump-Tucker side of the argument is gaining momentum.

Additionally, DeSantis wants the contrast to be about his identity — not politics. If you love Trump’s accomplishments but want someone who doesn’t send crazy tweets, Ron wants you to know he’s your guy. Conversely, DeSantis wants to reduce any sense of contrast with Trump on policy issues.

This reminds me of an economic principle that applies to competition in business. Here’s a very simplified explanation for it, as described by Wikipedia: “The Hotelling’s Law is an economic observation that in many markets it is rational for manufacturers to make their products as similar as possible… [This law also] predicts that in a street with two stores, both stores will be right next to each other halfway. Each store serves half of the market…”

I know this is an imperfect analogy, but think of it this way: DeSantis’ decision to position himself right next to Trump, while still remaining a bit on Trump’s sane side, theoretically positions him to serve everyone for to win except Trump’s die-hard MAGA base.

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It’s not a crazy move. On the other hand, this strategy has some serious dangers.

Because DeSantis has gave in to the pressurehe looks weak and like a follower (instead of a leader). Trump card and Nikki Haley have already accused DeSantis of “copy” Trump. A big part of Trump’s appeal is that he comes across as alpha. DeSantis just proved that he’s more of a lap dog.

Another point from this liberal columnist Bill Scher approached me during a recent conversation: What will DeSantis do when Trump begins to stake even more radical positions on Ukraine??

At some point, cloning Trump will become untenable for anyone who wants to preserve a vestige of dignity and respectability. You just can’t outbid Trump, you can’t even keep up.

What happens if, for example, Trump says Ukraine should surrender to Russia or starts saying disgusting things about Volodymyr Zelenskyy? At some point it’s too messy to hug Trump.

The GOP screwed it up by calling everything “woke.”

What’s more, even if you admit that the trend is toward lockdown, we’re still talking about it many Republicans WHO could see support for Ukraine as a indispensable requirement. It’s entirely possible that DeSantis’ comments on Ukraine would give a boost to other, more traditional, non-Trump Republican candidates, which would split the non-Trump vote and help Trump win by a mere majority.

It’s impossible to know how this contest will play out, but what we do know is that DeSantis made a bet – and it’s a big bet – that he can win by going full-on MAGA.

He just jumped into the deep end of the republican elementary school, and it looks like the water is cold. He can sink or swim, but one thing is certain: Trump will throw bricks at him.

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