Resolute Square

The Steamy Fantasies Of The 2024 Republicans

Bodice-ripper? Maybe not so much given Republicans' fantasies are more in the vein of " Whatever they are, Rick Wilson says they can dream on.
Credit: Resolute Square
Published:February 14, 2023

By Rick Wilson

First, let me apologize for the images the headline evoked. I didn’t mean to put to mind visions of Mike Pence and Mother getting frisky or of Ron DeSantis panting and tumescent while surfing, but from the #2 slot (yes, it’s still DeSantis) to the kinda-sorta-serious mid-tier to the loons and losers who’ll pay the filing fees and roll the dice, the 2024 field a series of lurid fantasies about what this election will really be like drives the field.

They, and yes, the media lining up to cover their coming shenanigans -- are operating in a political reality distortion field of the first order, a sleek bubble of delusion rushing headlong into ugly political disaster.

Except for 2020, GOP fields are becoming more and more crowded with more and more ambitious men and women who think they have the secret sauce for the 2024 race against both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. One by one, their consultants will convince them to dip in a toe, then dive headfirst into the 2024 primary election pool. This is the quadrennial distraction for what is generally inevitable in Republican politics; the famous one wins.

This week Nikki Haley, the future 2nd (or possibly 3rd) place finisher in the South Carolina Republican Primary, dove in. Given that the only easy day for Republicans was yesterday, it went about as poorly for her as you might expect. But the rest will slither in soon enough.

Ron and Casey DeSantis have been tearing their hair out in preparation for the big show. Add Tim Scott, Josh Hawley, Kristi Noem, Mike Pompeo, Asa Hutchinson, Chris Christie (but whhhhhhy?), Chris Sununu, and Earl from the Waffle House over on Thomasville Road in Tallahassee are all in some stage of preparations to run.

The Pros Are The Most Delusional

Republican consultants are flooding Tallahassee like migratory birds, hoping to get on the Ron DeSantis potlatch. With dreams of multimillion-dollar media buys dancing in their heads, they’re all trying to find some way to slither into the tight, tight circle of Ron and Casey’s team. Each of them comes bearing a message that Ron is the thinnest, tallest, and most handsome man to ever enter politics, a Colouss of wisdom, might, and judgment.

Of course, these same consultants are working to get on the gravy trains of every other candidate, but the illusions they’re selling are more potent than usual. They all wave off the power of Trump with the GOP base. They all skip to the post-credits scene of the movie. None of them - literally, none of them - has a real plan to beat Trump. Some of them plan to run the 2016 playbook all over again…and we know how well that worked out the first time. I recently asked one of the consultant hopefuls how he planned to get anyone past Trump, particularly someone as turgid and uncharismatic as Ron DeSantis. I was greeted with a shrug and “Well, Trump will do something or get indicted or he could get sick…”

The Money Bonfire

Campaigns, to modify the Hemingway quote only slightly, go bankrupt slowly, then all at once. The initial bloom fades, the most loyal megadonors go quiet, online donations slow to a trickle, and then one day, the treasurer and compliance people tell the campaign manager they can’t make payroll. This isn’t some rarity; it’s virtually an inevitability. Campaigns should die broke, but most do so unintentionally.

Witness just a few of the recent era’s candidates who started with a massive financial advantage and failed: Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rudy Giuliani, and…well, all of them. Hundreds of millions of dollars just…vanish. “We gotta hire this guy in Iowa and these people in New Hampshire, and one more media buy will get us…” If you’ve been to the big rodeo, you know the chart line for donations is linear, and the line for spending is logarithmic.

All that money is spent to build name identification, which only one GOP candidate doesn’t need. Trump is the best-known politician in the history of modern America. The rest must climb the steep hill of getting-to-know you in places like Asscrack, Iowa, and Crankytown, New Hampshire through their limited media buys and endless retail politics.

It won’t matter if DeSantis has a few Wall Street and hedge fund sugar daddies at the start. There’s never enough money. Ever, except for one man in the history of American campaigns; Donald Trump’s massive donor base is, well, massive. He’ll have the juice for the whole run.

The Scale Problem

Every candidate has a story. It’s a tale they want to tell you to seem relatable, competent, friendly, strong, and most of all, ready for the biggest job in the world. Candidates from big states try to make their time as a Senator or Governor seem like the perfect training ground for the Presidency, a simple step before serving as POTUS. It’s not.

Once upon a time, in the era before Trump, way back in the dark ages of 2016, Conservatism Inc. believed that the Jeb Bush/Marco Rubio strain of Florida conservatism was the party’s dominant strain and future. They were successful leaders who could win Hispanic voters. They were affable conservatives who could win the middle while staying true to their principles.

Obviously, that bullshit collided hard with reality. It became clear that the entertainment wing would beat the policy wing over the head forever, leaving nothing but sadness and brains scattered across the room.

Jeb, Marco, Rick Perry, and Ted Cruz tried to sell their experience as statewide leaders as a qualifier for the presidency. It went over like one of Chris Christie’s wet farts. Rudy Giuliani tried to sell being Mayor of New York as a qualifier for the presidency. Sane people want to know you’re able to grapple with complex multivariate problems, but the GOP’s inmates run the asylum, and the premium isn’t on leadership; It’s on performative cruelty and tribal nonsense.

Trump has shown us what the Republican base wants. They want the vulgar clown show, a capering lunatic fluent in the latest conspiracy nonsense, and a skilled dancer in the cruelty Kabuki.

Ron DeSantis is a try-hard on this front, desperately pretending to hate the elites he spent his lifetime trying to become. His cosplay as KKKulture Warrior extraordinaire has mostly led to Florida schools banning books about that dangerous BLM radical Rosa Parks, but it just won’t fadge in the end. He’s got all the showmanship of a comptroller at a mid-market actuarial agency.

None of the rest of the field really scales like Trump does. Not one of them starts with a larger-than-life narrative honed over 40 years of public bullshitting and 15 of a reality TV show meant to convince the rubes that he was some kind of bold, worldly, and decisive leader.

For better and worse, no candidate has a bigger story than Trump. It may be a story of mendacity, lunacy, treason, evil and general shit as a human being and a president, but you can’t deny it’s a story. It’s easily understandable people have already made up their minds about it.

Trump is the only natural showman in the field. DeSantis is cosplaying his way into speaking at Nick Fuentes conferences with the idea that his campaign against woke ideology liberates him from the rest of the field. Wind factor binds him to a smaller and smaller addressable audience of voters.

Bankshots Don’t Work

Waiting for someone else to kill off Trump in a primary is a great strategy, right? It’s a clever bank shot that allows you to win the GOP primary without pissing off Trump’s legion of easily pissed-off minions.

It worked so well for Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and… Oh, fine, I’ll stop. This piece of history should be burned in the brains of every 2024 candidate, but the hypnotic amnesia of ambition has led them to play the same stupid game all over again. Every one of the lower-tier candidates is pitching a play right now that goes something like this; “I’ll wait for DeSantis to knock Trump out, then I move in for the kill.”

It’s as insane and inane as it sounds, but it’s what passes for political strategy these days in Trump’s Republican Party.

The Primary Isn’t Enough

Let’s have a little gedankenexperiment where Trump is killed by the debris of a Chinese spy balloon, and the field is suddenly dominated by the charmless, nasal whining of Ron DeSantis. Barring some massive externality, Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee. Imagine Biden on the debate stage with DeSantis, who has already parked himself far, far outside the political mainstream. He’s not a sui generis character like Trump. DeSantis will stand on stage while Biden says, “Ya banned Rosa Parks, Ron. C’mon, man,” as DeSantis sputters about woke mind viruses and hating Disney.

DeSantis speaks MAGA fluently, but the linguistic drift between the MAGA culture and America is increasing with dispatch. As the Roman empire declined in the first centuries after Christ, the dominance of Latin began to fade and shift as local dialects and languages reasserted themselves. So to MAGA today. They speak in conspiratorial codes, believe in a different ordering of values and politics than Americans, and increasingly present as a separate culture.

It’s necessary to hold them for DeSantis to win, but not sufficient. Trump, for all his grotesqueries, still was entertaining, even humorous at times. DeSantis has absolutely none of Trump’s showmanship and swagger. He’s a much, much harder sell.

As for the lesser-knowns, the entire predicate of their campaigns is that a stroke of luck will knock out Trump and DeSantis, and by some deus ex machina, they’ll soar to the fore, win over the Americans who see MAGA as a sick cult, and…profit? It’s the Underpants Gnome Theory of 2024, and the less time spent on them, the better.

The bitter reality of 2024 comes down to a simple truth. Not one of the candidates considering entering the field will say that if Trump wins the nomination, they will refuse to vote for him. Not. One. They know the Trump base is still the fiery center of the GOP, the seething, hissing core of the GOP, always angry, always vengeful, always punitive. The win against Trump will take more than elliptical “I’m working hard for Florida, and I won,” or “It’s time for a change in the GOP,” or “I’ll be a new generation of leadership.”

None of that works. It’s been nearly eight years now, and the GOP still can’t learn that lesson. The stove has burned them over and over, but now they’re clearly ready to touch it again.