By Rick Wilson
How many times will it take before the gentry conservatives learn their lesson? No one is coming to save them.
Since 2015 the persistent magical thinking inside the Republican establishment of Washington operatives, elite donors, and legacy conservative media has failed them repeatedly. Since the moment Trump slithered down the faux-gold escalator, they’ve consistently managed to set themselves up for disappointment and heartbreak in their awkwardly arranged marriage with the MAGA base.
This week’s lesson came from an unlikely source; Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the rockstar dreamboat Fox favorite of the Please God Let Trump Die Soon faction of the Republican Party, blew it.
When Fox host Tucker Carlson asked for his position on Ukraine, DeSantis didn’t just lose his status as a savior of the pre-Trump foreign policy and national security GOP. He went all in with the overtly pro-Vladimir Putin Carlson faction of the MAGA base, adopting the position, framing, and rhetoric of the wee Russian warmonger.
For DeSantis, Ukraine is a mere “territorial dispute” between Ukraine and Russia, not a brutal war of aggression launched entirely on orders from the Kremlin. He played down the massive consequences to Europe, NATO, and the world of Putin’s murderous rampage by saying Ukraine was not in America’s vital national interests. He falsely portrayed America’s aid to Ukraine, making it seem unaccountable and unlimited.
Although DeSantis is known for obsessing over the smallest detail of a Disney movie’s content, obscure books in school libraries, or tweets from his critics, he somehow managed to find Russia’s war crimes, targeting of civilians, and overall brutality not worthy of comment.
From Truman to Obama, American Presidents stood against the Russian threat to peace and security in Europe and the world. DeSantis had an easy option and failed. DeSantis could have evoked Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to claim his place in the long line of GOP stalwarts facing Russian aggression, showing he was more than a Trump clone.
He instead betrayed that long arc of Presidential leadership, currying favor with Putin and Tucker Carlson, today’s Lord Haw Haw.
The shock and pain in Big Conservatism's social media feeds and writings were glaringly evident.
They had pinned so many hopes on the Governor of Florida. Their lovingly crafted paeans to DeSantis were as frequent as they were gushing, often bordering on restraining-order-I-won’t-be-ignored fanboying. They painted DeSantis as a singular political and legal genius, a rock-solid conservative, and, most importantly, their exit strategy from the hellscape of Trumplandia.
Never mind his manic culture warrior act, his wild government overreach, his embrace of bully-boy authoritarian capitalism, and his snippy, constipated affect. Anyone paying the slightest attention could see the red flags, but D.C. writers and consultants didn’t want to imagine their dream date for 2024 was imperfect.
The heartbreak among the dying faction of the old GOP is on painful display. How could he? He’s supposed to be the smart one. The good one. He’d unite the tribe and bring the populists and conservatives back into accord and harmony. He was going to be the one to end the Trump nightmare.
Even in Florida, a state DeSantis rules with an iron fist, a juvenile temper, and an instinct for instant revenge at the smallest slight, Senator Marco Rubio took aim squarely at DeSantis, saying, “Obviously, he doesn’t deal with foreign policy every day as governor.” Lindsay Graham, John Cornyn, and others expressed their shock and disappointment.
It begs a simple question; do they not know today's MAGA GOP?
From the moment Trump began his long, parasitic consumption of the Republican Party, conservatives have rationalized, justified, and day-drank away the realities of the moment. Conservatism as an ideology in America is a dead religion where the dying priests hope that someday they’ll return to the people's hearts.
The grunting populism that replaced it caters to the worst instincts of mankind and rewards transgression, rage, revenge, and the raw exercise of power. National security conservatism in which America stood as a leader in the international order, maintained strong alliances, and engaged in leadership beyond the vulgar transactionalism of Trump’s America-as-a-protection-racket is now actively despised by the MAGA horde. The MAGA base sees Putin as their kind of leader, the tough guy owning the libs by invading a nation whose leader refused to help Trump win in 2020.
It took a near-fatal dose of hopium on the part of the major donors and operatives to stake their hopes on a governor of modest political and interpersonal skills like DeSantis. Their frenzied imagining of DeSantis winning over MAGA, soundly defeating Trump, somehow papering over his radical culture war in Florida, and returning the GOP to business as usual was as lurid as they were absurd.
DeSantis was never going to save the elite GOP from the unwashed masses who run the party now. Set aside the hollow signifiers of his elite Ivy education and stare into the populist void and it’s easy to see; DeSantis isn’t just a captive of the MAGA base; he’s one of its leaders. The National Review set thought DeSantis was fooling the rubes to win the primary when he was fooling them all along to win over the establishment.
Given his prior support for Ukraine while serving in Congress, it’s abundantly clear that DeSantis has adopted the most important ethos of the GOP today; obey the mob, keep Tucker on your side, and when in doubt, side with Putin.
And that’s a party with no room for the conservatives of yesterday.