Resolute Square

The Candidate

You know "The Gift" when you see it. Politicians with The Gift connect and engage with humans with comfort and ease. They walk into the room as a stranger and walk out with people considering them friends. Rick Wilson writes that not all politicians have it.
Published:May 24, 2023

By Rick Wilson

Everyone says the Candidate is brilliant, sporting all the codes and signifiers of an Ivy League education and a top-tier intellect, a success story of the meritocracy where a middle-class kid rises to the top, and people in Washington and New York take notice. The Candidate is a genius attorney; just ask them…though the staff would prefer you didn’t.

The Candidate is beloved by the political and financial establishment of the party. They see someone they can deal with in Washington. Someone more traditional and transactional than the edge cases running in the primary and the lunatic they’ll be up against in the general election. Sure, the Candidate is willing to feed the base, but that’s just for show, right?

While the Candidate lacks, to put it mildly, a certain amount of personal charm, their wildly charismatic spouse picks up the slack, delighting audiences with poise and a sense of connection to mere mortals the Candidate never quite achieves.

That awkwardness in the inevitable interactions with the real humans on the campaign trail leads to a few quiet whispers that the Candidate shouldn’t laugh like that because it scares children and farm animals in the tri-county area.

The candidate is bringing a raft of both accomplishments and ideas for reshaping the economy and the country. The Candidate’s team of smart consultants is convinced their policy wins will validate them in the primary and even hold up well in the general election.

Activists also like that the Candidate has a toughness that makes the more delicate members of the political class flinch. There are rumors that behind closed doors, the Candidate is harsh and unfeeling, but the base likes a fighter and feels like that’s the price of admission in this partisan war.

The Candidate won a crushing victory in one of the largest states before running for President. The campaign pushes it daily as a way to show the Candidate is a winner, a winning winner who wins. Forget how partisan the state is...the talking point stands.

Luckily, the Candidate also has oceans of money from Wall Street, private equity, and hedge funds. That money will never stop flowing and will be the decisive advantage in the election. The Candidate’s many and expensive consultants know exactly how to spend it.

There's every reason in the world the Candidate will sweep the primary and achieve a sweeping national victory. After all, that's what all the smart people in their orbit tell them every day.

It sounds like Ron DeSantis has it made. He’ll rid the GOP of Trump in the primary and blow Joe Biden out of the water in 2024, right?

Actually, I wasn’t talking about DeSantis.

I was describing Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

The parallels between the two are increasingly and shockingly obvious. They may be poles apart ideologically, but they’re cut from the same unlucky bolt of political cloth.

They both lack The Gift.

You know The Gift when you see it. Politicians with The Gift connect and engage with humans with comfort and ease. They walk into the room as a stranger and walk out with people considering them friends. They talk smoothly and fluently on issues that connect with the mainstream voter and rarely seem like shouty ChatGPT crammed into an ill-fitting Joseph A. Banks suit, as DeSantis did in a New Hampshire diner this weekend.

They both underestimated the transformative effect Donald Trump had on the Republican Party and the American electorate. DeSantis is now just one horse on a crowded track in the anti-Trump GOP lane, and his star had begun fading even before his formal entry into the race. Hillary’s campaign famously wanted to run against Trump.

So as Ron DeSantis enters the 2024 GOP Primary this week, the same kind of mainstream establishment hope that drove the rest of the GOP field in 2016 and the Clinton campaign of that same year remain present. And the same kind of cruel political realities still remain.

Celebrity will triumph over policy. The MAGA base wants the full-fat, full-sugar, full-caffeine for the Donald, not Diet Trump. The Ron DeSantis of today would need to improve by several orders of magnitude to take on Trump on the debate stage. I’m not praising Trump; I’m assessing the political bodies he stacked in 2016, almost all of them more skilled, confident, and poised on stage than DeSantis.

As DeSantis collides with reality in the way all candidates inevitably do, it’ll be tempting to frame him in the same mocking tones Trump is so skilled at deploying in service to his destructive wishes. “DeSanctimonious” never quite had the ring of “Low Energy Jeb” or “Lyin’ Ted.”

No, if you really want to see Ron squirm as all his campaign fantasies end, reality sets in, the money dries up, and his consultants eye the exits, hit him where the analogy hurts.

Just call him Hillary.