World

DeSantis is a dud of a candidate

It was the middle of August 2015 and comedian Sarah Silverman was rallying her Twitter followers to join her at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena for a special event.

For decades, the now-gone arena had hosted numerous sports teams — it was the home of the Los Angeles Lakers for a few years in the 1960s, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Kings.

Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, U2, Madonna and the Grateful Dead, to name a few, had all performed there to sold-out crowds.

But tonight, it was another kind of rock star they were coming to see: Bernie Sanders.

The L.A. event drew an estimated 27,500 people — mind you, the seating capacity of the arena was just more than 16,000.

A Bernie rally in Portland, Oregon drew 28,000. At that time, the crowd for Sanders was five times larger than any that had shown up for Hillary Clinton.

Sanders didn’t clinch the Democratic nomination for president, of course, but Clinton was never able to tap into the kind of passion that Bernie supporters had.

He attracted countless celebrities to his campaign, including Susan Sarandon, Mark Ruffalo, Vampire Weekend and Justin Long. He now counts Gen Z favorites Ariana Grande, Cardi B and Hailey Bieber among his fans.

And his supporters — pejoratively known as “Bernie Bros” — are among some of the most rabid, loyal and vicious in politics.

While Clinton had the backing of the Democratic Party establishment, Bernie had amassed a singularly obsessive and passionate grassroots mob of devotees who believed in him in a way most Clinton voters didn’t.

As I put it back then, Hillary Clinton was a corporation. Bernie Sanders was a cause.

That dynamic seems to be repeating itself this cycle, but with two very different kinds of candidates: Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.

Despite facing three criminal indictments, the former president is crushing his competitors in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. The Florida governor, his nearest opponent, is flailing at 17% to Trump’s 54%. It’s not even close.

Even among Republicans who believe he has committed serious federal crimes, Trump gets more votes than DeSantis.

Trump led the Republican Party to three embarrassing losses over the course of his presidency — the Senate, the House and the White House. He incited a violent insurrection, was twice impeached, and has been indicted on numerous felony counts, and yet police in Pickens, South Carolina estimate that a recent rally there had a crowd of more than 50,000 people.

Trump is more than just a man, he’s a cause — and one apparently worth dying for, if you ask some Trump supporters.

DeSantis, meanwhile, struggled to get more than two dozen New Hampshire voters to an event in Concord this past weekend, despite offering $1 beers.

DeSantis has been revealed to be something of a corporate fabrication, a Manchurian candidate invented and propped up by the donor class in the hopes that he’d run as “Trump but smarter.”

But if it’s possible, he’s running as Trump but dumber, at least politically. He’s led a campaign that can’t seem to find any momentum. He let go more than a third of his campaign staff last week, and donors are growing concerned.

It’s baffling how badly DeSantis is doing — almost like he’s trying to lose. Conservative writer George Will called his campaign “dour, odd,” and “pratfalling.”

Ed Rollins, who launched the Ready for Ron committee last year, just announced he’s dumping the candidate, telling Rolling Stone, “I don’t think it’s the campaign’s fault at all; it’s his.”

Republican lawmakers and other presidential hopefuls scolded DeSantis over his defense of Black history curriculum in Florida schools.

Snarky headlines like “Ron DeSantis Is Really Bad at Running for President,” “Ron DeSantis has Entered the Doom Loop,” and “Ron DeSantis’ Campaign is Now Entering the Death Watch Phase” abound.

He just can’t seem to catch a break.

DeSantis is a flawed candidate, there’s no question about it. But so was Hillary Clinton, and she still managed to charm enough Democratic voters to win the party’s nomination (the second time she ran, anyway).

DeSantis isn’t charming anybody, and one has to wonder how much longer he can stomach the never-ending churn of bad news before deciding to bow out gracefully.

He’s learning the hard way that voters don’t want a corporation candidate, a pre-fab, 3D printed facsimile of what a president might look and sound like. They want a cause to believe in, even an ignoble one like Trump. DeSantis is a candidate without a cause, and maybe without a hope.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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