The way you can tell that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has no credible path to the White House is that a brighter future relies on him growing a personality, the bravery of Democrats, the honesty of Republicans and the sensibility of the courts. If only former president Donald Trump can be removed from the ballot for violating the 14th Amendment, it should be clear sailing for a newly human DeSantis. And if Ron had some ham, he could have some ham and eggs. If only he had some eggs.

DeSantis has only himself to blame. He started the year polling within six points of Trump in the Republican primary contest; when he formally announced his candidacy in May, he was down by nearly 30. A new Emerson poll puts him down by 47; a University of New Hampshire/CNN poll shows him trailing Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy and Judas goat Chris Christie.

This wasn’t for lack of name recognition or cash on hand. Donor and PAC money poured in, and the liberal media he disdains anointed him The Challenger, depicting him as the more lethal, cunning and organized alternative to the former president’s schlamperei. If Donald Trump was a shit-hammered Bavarian, lurching down the street with splotches of beer cheese on his crotch, trying to grope anyone in front of him wearing a dirndl, then Ron DeSantis was presented as the answer to the question, “Perhaps you’d like your eliminationism more Prussian, sir?” 

But all of DeSantis’s efforts — at eliminating trans people from society, criminalizing the teaching of Black history as it actually happened, seizing control of Disney and gutting the state’s honors college for “wokeness” and replacing it with a nonfunctioning baseball team — failed to hide the problem lying at the heart of his campaign, which was and is that Ron DeSantis is involved.

The only purpose served by his bullying is to paper over the fact that he’s another Ponzi Republican hoping that winning higher office can immunize him from the costs of his governance and wrath of his victims.

The candidate could be hidden for a while. The DeSantis team — Ron and his wife Casey, a person made out of every cell phone video of a white woman being dragged out of an Apple Store screaming “I’ll sue!” — correctly adduced that they could win the 2018 Florida gubernatorial election by sucking up to Trump and taking batting practice on meatball pitches from Fox News. In a state the size of Florida, blanketing five media markets with free advertising while showcasing the candidate in tightly controlled environments can win a governorship. But the formula won’t carry Iowa or New Hampshire; Trump’s media generosity was never going to extend to the project of “beating Trump,” and Fox News can’t script the rest of the primary.

Every candidate eventually reveals himself. DeSantis did so on subjects ranging from the profound to the profoundly odd. Such as the fact that Ron allegedly eats pudding with a finger tripod. Or that he used to dunk on and drink with high-schoolers. Or that he is such a glass-jawed paranoiac that his security team repeatedly hounded a good-natured teenage politics wonk. Or that he visited a hurricane disaster area with his feet so desperately shoehorned into gleaming white plastic boots that it made one want to ask, “Aren’t you a little short and fat for a stormtrooper?” Or that he can go to a city that recently suffered a mass shooting at the hands of someone a neutral observer could safely assume was an ideological fellow-traveler and whine about his victimhood. Or that he Dukakis-ed his wedge-head into a helmet to play “Top Gun” despite his military career consisting of being a lawyer, quasi-gym coach and assistant piss-caddy before ascending to the ranks of low-end torture supervisor. He even stands weird.

The worst thing that could have happened to Ron DeSantis was to find himself, on Aug. 24, standing center stage at the first GOP debate, laden with expectations of displaying enough charismatic force for everyone to forget his poll numbers were dropping like an elevator with its cable cut.

If you want to give him a participation trophy, you could certainly say he tried. He gave smiling a shot, once again replicating the uncanny moment of human-seeming expression in any horror movie about a doll, when the dad belatedly recognizes there is something alive inside the thing. He ducked the first question and tried to launch into a stump speech with the suppleness of a clutch being shifted from third gear to reverse. He even tried a Reaganesque touch by recounting a politically pointed anecdote that sounded either completely false or absolutely demented. (Here’s a paraphrase: I know a woman alive today because when they went to abort her, she escaped, climbing over and dropping from the abdominal wall. Five abortionists attempted to subdue her, but she beat them back and promptly escaped from the maximum-security abortion clinic to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, she survives as a baby of fortune.)

Any lingering doubts were dispelled, one by one, when DeSantis repeatedly declined to make the spectacle about himself, as if he would be declared winner by default when time expired. Instead of throwing elbows, he ran down the clock by deploying turbo-nerdlinger voiced “actually” after “actually” while getting cross-checked into a locker by Vivek “I Need Immunity” Ramaswamy — an un-wedgied twerp with a Morrissey haircut and a plastic speaking style like the copy at the end of a radio ad for online penis medicine.

The same mechanisms that brought DeSantis to the debate stage explain why it couldn’t have ended any other way. Consider this verdict from a teammate when DeSantis played baseball at Yale: “Ron is the most selfish person I have ever interacted with… He has always loved embarrassing and humiliating people. I’m speaking for others — he was the biggest dick we knew.”

The most diseased byproduct of journalism’s embrace of euphemism is the concomitant need to shift the blame from bad people saying and doing bad things onto either a Machiavellian “purpose” or an exculpatory origin story. The Beltway press spent Donald Trump’s campaign and term either excusing his vileness because it worked, or searching for a root cause more complicated than, “This is a racist, corrupt and verbally incontinent shit-for-brains with a sexual-assault hobby and a consuming need to be on television.”

So, too, has it gone with DeSantis. His moral repugnance is repeatedly bypassed as the only topic meriting attention, and has instead been subsumed by a triangulated architecture of “being Trumpian in a way that exceeds and rebukes Trumpism at the same time.” For the sake of the discussion, DeSantis becomes little more than a series of situational opportunisms. A simpler explanation is that Ron DeSantis is a bully because he long ago won the bully superfecta of being a good athlete and good student who went to the Ivy League and joined the military, emerging with four different reasons why he’s better than you.

The only purpose served by his bullying is to paper over the fact that he’s another Ponzi Republican hoping that winning higher office can immunize him from the costs of his governance and wrath of his victims. It obscures his intention to soothe the casual vengeance of, say, a Hurricane Michael survivor dismayed that “[President Trump was] not hurting the people he needs to be hurting,” rather than solve that voter’s material problems. It’s a mistake to say DeSantis lacks charisma. It’s just bully charisma; a face that lights up in the rear-view mirror when you realize he’s beefed a string of Slim-Jim farts and engaged the car’s window lock.

He’s even managed to alienate most of Florida’s Republican congressional delegation, driving them into Donald Trump’s arms after years.

You don’t end up being this guy for nearly 30 years unless you like being this guy, and it’s clear that Ron likes being this guy. Even if wanting to legalize vehicular manslaughter to kill leftist protesters wasn’t enough — or removing Democrats from office just because, or shipping migrants north to frighten them and “punish” Democratic cities, or abusing and lying about the media because they are obliged to sit there and take it — just look to how the man ad-libs.

He dismisses children as ridiculous for being frightened of trivial things like getting sick from a disease that still kills nearly 2,000 Americans per week. When his only job is being likable, he can’t even meet a random kid without sneering at his diet. Somewhere, in Ron’s happy place, he’s pasting them in the face with dodgeballs, snapping wet towels at all their asses and biting down on his lower lip, feeling it start to uncurl as he shapes the long initial “F” sound of a three-letter word. He’s even managed to alienate most of Florida’s Republican congressional delegation, driving them into Donald Trump’s arms after years of strong-arming, lectures, stolen valor, petty vengeance, indifference, hostility to their local political interests and refusal to register them as human.

There’s no mystery as to why he’s losing. The downsides to being the biggest bully in a red state with a captive legislature are that, one, it isn’t that hard — and, two, ascending to a GOP debate stage with those credentials prepares you about as much as being the biggest problem drinker in your high school prepares you for the LSU tailgate. Sorry, kid, you’re with the pros now; everybody is here because they can already do that. Is that all you got?

Still, DeSantis is not totally without hope. He and whichever staffers haven’t already been outed as forum admins on AryanHotwife Dot Com will have to come up with a better plan for catching the frontrunner than laying off him and attacking the biotech bro plagiarizing Barack Obama. Maybe he can light one candle and whisper “Soros” into a mirror three times and hope he’s visited by The Anti-Semitism Fairy. And it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could grow a human personality.

But here, on the plane of reality where our bills come due, only a miracle brought about by self-awareness, the courts, the Constitution and his enemies in both parties can clear a credible path for him to win the nomination. Like every bully before him, he will have to run for help and hope that the teachers take his side. If they won’t, he’ll have between now and January 2027 to sit in a fluorescent-lit room, eyes downcast, answering questions on the public dime in surly monosyllables, getting sued and deposed into humiliation by the Walt Disney Company, while outside a newly liberated legislature dismantles his failure machine.


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