Gov. Ron DeSantis brought his Republican presidential campaign to Nevada on Saturday, where he told a group of local voters that the party has “developed a culture of losing“ that he hopes to change. The Floridian, of course, didn’t explicitly say that Donald Trump was a part of this culture, but that was the obvious subtext: DeSantis wants GOP voters to steer clear of candidates who’ve already lost.
A day earlier, NBC News ran an interesting report on a “canvassing boot camp” organized by the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down. The idea is to prepare canvassers who support the governor to go door-to-door with a carefully crafted message about the candidate and the race for the Republican nomination.
The fact that such a process exists was not especially surprising. Top-tier presidential campaigns, especially those flush with cash and with a sizable base of motivated supporters, routinely train and organize door-knockers, preparing them on what to say, how to say it, what they’re likely to hear, and so on. It’s a standard part of a modern operation.
What struck me as especially notable, however, is what Team DeSantis is training activists to say about the GOP frontrunner.
The presentation contains additional criticism of Trump for not completing the border wall, reducing the national debt or “draining the swamp.” It also cites Trump-backed candidates being “annihilated in swing Senate and Congressional seats by Biden aligned candidates in 2022, even though Biden was terrifically unpopular.” (DeSantis also backed many of those candidates.) “Ron DeSantis is a tough, smart and proven campaigner,” the slide deck reads. “Trump is an unfocused, undisciplined candidate who will lose to Joe Biden, again.”
I’ve long wondered what the DeSantis operation would say about the 2020 presidential race, because the answer has never been altogether obvious.
Revisiting our earlier coverage, the Florida Republican, like all of the other non-Trump contenders, face a tricky dilemma: If they go along with the party’s “Big Lie” and say Trump won in 2020, the whole rationale behind choosing a new GOP nominee disappears: Why reject the Republican whom the party’s voters see as a two-time winner? Who could be more competitive than the successful candidate who has already proved himself in back-to-back national elections?
But if candidates like DeSantis reject the “Big Lie,” acknowledge reality, and say Trump really did lose, much of the base will see them as traitors. We can say this with some confidence because of the two-and-a-half years of polling showing a majority of Republican voters rejecting the legitimacy of the 2020 election results, reality notwithstanding.
It appears Team DeSantis is willing to take the risk: The data suggests more than 60% of the GOP base believes Trump won the election he lost, but the Florida Republican’s operation is nevertheless prepared to tell voters that President Joe Biden defeated Trump once, so the party shouldn’t take a chance on letting the incumbent Democrat beat Trump “again.”
How will rank-and-file Republicans respond to having their conspiratorial assumptions challenged like this? Watch this space.