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Nation Rejects Sweaty Pig

ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JANUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at LaBelle Winery on January 17, 2024 in Rockingham County, New Hampshire. DeSantis, who finished second behind frontrunner, former U.S. President Donald Trump in this week's Iowa caucuses, is campaigning in New Hampshire ahead of that state's primary on January 23 before moving on to South Carolina on Friday. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Over the past eight years the legacy politics press has dispatched whole entire legions of reporters on earnest Cletus Safaris and commissioned billions of words in an effort to understand The Appeal Of Donald Trump. They have done this despite Trump being a man whose value proposition could scarcely be more straightforward and legible to anyone halfway willing to see America for what it is; that obviousness, nearly as much as the value proposition itself, is the appeal. That same institutional press treated Ron DeSantis's personal and political appeal as if they not only existed, but were self-evident. That is very funny.

DeSantis ended his humiliating slapstick campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination over the weekend, after a miserable distant second-place finish in Iowa's caucuses. He'd spent months in the state, making a big show of covering its every acre and visiting all 99 of its counties. The campaign was wagering that a win or a strong finish there could redound to his benefit in the subsequent competitions in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he had otherwise failed to catch on. Trump, who has not yet in his whole life uttered the word "Iowa" with so much as half-feigned interest, walloped DeSantis there by 30 points. This is less because of anything Trump did or said—very little of his appeal has anything to do with that—and more because no one anywhere likes or admires Ron DeSantis or feels excited to vote for him or ever has. Even the outright neo-Nazis his campaign openly courted never saw any reason to pick him over Trump.

The above figuring most definitely does account, by the way, for the many serious pundit and columnist types who have worked over the past couple years to project an image of Ron DeSantis as, depending on their outlet, either the ascendant conservative golden child destined to restore executive competence and political know-how to the party's ongoing anti-human endeavors or Basically Randall Flagg. This is a tiresome and transparent ritual, in which performatively impartial and tastefully liberal-ish politicos accidentally reveal their own priors by treating the "elite credentials wedded to breathtakingly cruel intentions" profile as an electoral cheat code.

None of them wanted to vote for Ron DeSantis, either. (What if someone found out!) What they wanted was for enough other people to vote for him that they wouldn't have to, and maybe a new mystery to solve—instead of trying to suss out Trump's appeal in America's most hideous diners again, they could go to pretty much the same places and try to find out why everyone had fallen in love with this squinty, vicious little weirdo. What they want is reinforcement, always, for the claim that anything to the left of their own milquetoast striver centrism is untenable loony shit, offensive in its refusal to accept the world as they insist it must always be and the most ridiculous of minority positions. They want people to want something more like what Ron DeSantis was supposed to be.

This treatment gave the early, impressed coverage of DeSantis a peculiar uncanniness no less weird for having in earlier cycles radiated from the respectability press's work on behalf of, for example, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, and on and on and on back through time. The attempt to see these mediocre sadists as the future was embarrassing at the time and is inexplicable in retrospect. It's like reading a dinner table described as a horse. It has four legs and is taller than a dog. A horse! Reading it, you find yourself going, "Wait, that doesn't make it a horse, because it isn't a horse." But a guy can sit on it and it isn't a chair. A horse!

If none of those ghouls made exactly good vessels for this exercise in make-believe, DeSantis makes a particularly poor one. The thing with describing a table as a horse is that, at some point, beyond the plane of the screen where you're reading this, or at the very least on Youtube, someone will eventually encounter the table, and can see, pretty plainly, that it is not a horse. For chrissakes, had Jonathan Chait ever encountered Ron DeSantis? Live and in motion, ass jutting out to balance the cartoonish lifts in his ludicrous cowboy boots, the horrible grimace-smile smeared beneath his dead eyes like spilled canola oil, bleating incomprehensible n-chan gobbledygook in his wet smack of a voice, instantly repulsing everyone within earshot? Or maybe the better question is, had Jonathan Chait ever encountered anyone else?

DeSantis's quick campaign flameout is of no particular credit to anybody; opting out on being led by that sweaty leering cretin takes no stiffer moral spine than rejecting a tuft of hair in your Big Mac. Republican voters, to extend this horrible analogy, have every intention of finishing that sandwich. The ideas that DeSantis champions, which amount in each instance and all together to Let's Do Cruel Shit At The Largest Possible Scale, For The Joy Of Making Others Suffer, have some ugly appeal to our vilest voters, but they also simply have a better and more entertaining exponent already on the scene. That's what the lecturing class missed, or tried to; it is both very dismally revealing and even more dismally funny that when its members tried to imagine a silver bullet that could defeat Donald Trump within his own party, it was "Everything about Donald Trump, minus charisma, plus Yale."

A miserable pattern in this country's political and media economy is how it has evolved to treat boobish credulity and outright wrongness as verifying credentials—as not just valid, but affirmatively authentic and real. So like, for example, to have opposed the Iraq War from the very beginning doesn't mean that you were right about the war, which turned out to be exactly the moral and geopolitical horror its earliest critics knew it would be; instead, it only means you were a naive ideologue, reflexively opposed to the kind of Tough, Muscular Foreign-Policy demanded in These Complex Times. Having been right about the war from the beginning, if anything, disqualifies anything you had to say about it after: Well, of course you think it was a mistake; you would. The correct thing to have been, it turns out, and the key to being granted the license to speak authoritatively from a high public perch in advance of future needless conflicts, was a booster in the run-up to the war who later came to regard its prosecution as botched. That is sobriety and wisdom. To be wrong in an obvious and odious way, and later to sort of acknowledge your wrongness, if not quite own or—heaven forfend—learn from it.

The slaughter in Gaza will go the same way. To have called it by its rightful name—genocide—from the beginning is childish and irresponsible at best, genocidal (!) at worst. But to have defended it as What's Grimly Necessary now, so that one can 20 years from now look back in theatrical grief at What Terrible Times Those Were? That is what it means to be a grownup, someone worth taking seriously. The same applies at less grave scale to each next ridiculous tech-industry scam: Accurately pegging cryptocurrency as a Ponzi commodity from the jump was Luddite shit, while having eagerly swallowed it down at first, only later to grieve the wasted opportunity, is to have had vision. Anti-trans panic, which was the cause DeSantis pursued most viciously in his awful little campaign, will follow that same transit, and the concern-trolling scumbags who laundered his shit into the New York Times and the Atlantic will never be tarred for having done so, and certainly never held to account in ways that matter to them for having eagerly helped make life worse for painfully vulnerable people; quite the opposite.

So it goes, and so it will go with the people and press organs who looked at Ron DeSantis—a tissue-skinned tinpot Scott Walker, an asocial pissbaby with the charisma of a dog tick, only and entirely a figment of Florida's unique and engineered cultural derangement—and told the rest of us we were seeing a horse. In a just world there'd be some consequence for participating in even a failed swindle, but, well, you know the rest. I just wanted to make sure we both feel bad about it.

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