National Review Republicans who understand that winning elections requires moving on from the erratic and embarrassing loser Trump but also desperately want the pro-plutocracy tax cuts, deregulation and judges Trump’s brand of extremist politics makes possible are lining up behind Ron DeSantis. The problem is that DeSantis rocketed to the top of the wingnut heart throb list by aping Trump.
So, Republicans who want to move on from Trump to DeSantis have to separate the DeSantis brand from the Trump version, but their challenge is that the differences between the two aspiring autocrats are mostly cosmetic. DeSantis boosters are afraid that fellow Republicans who rejected Trump will reject DeSantis for the same reasons, and they worry that mainstream pundits and/or political reporters will portray DeSantis as a continuation of the failed and discredited Trump strain of Republican politics.
Addressing the first audience, culture war bullshit purveyor Christopher Rufo put it like this on Twitter:
The test for “NeverTrump” intellecuals [sic] is where they stand on DeSantis. He should be their guy: elite education, military background, leadership experience, impeccable character. If they can’t get behind him, the takeaway is clear: it’s not about principles; they serve the Left.
Addressing the second, conservatives like Rich Lowry are saying Democrats should welcome a return to norms that DeSantis represents. Lowry and others assure us that DeSantis would concede an election defeat, even though the governor responded to Trump’s stolen election lies by further restricting ballot access in Florida and setting up an election police force answerable solely to himself.
Surprisingly, at least to me, Liz Cheney isn’t buying any of this nonsense:
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), whose criticism of former President Trump has alienated some Republicans, said in a new interview that the GOP is “very sick” and predicted it could take “several cycles” for the party to heal from internal strife and aggressive extremism.
Cheney told The New York Times a little more than a week before her primary challenge against a candidate endorsed by Trump that she is a Republican for life but not a supporter of the current state of the GOP.
She said the GOP is “continuing to drive itself in a ditch and I think it’s going to take several cycles if it can be healed…”
The Wyoming lawmaker told the Times that DeSantis has “lined himself up almost entirely with Donald Trump,” which she said could be “dangerous,” and also that she would rather serve with most Democratic women than Republicans like Greene and Boebert.
“What the country needs are serious people who are willing to engage in debates about policy,” she told the Times.
Good for her. American politics are so goddamn messy. There are so few bright lines or straight lines. Lots of Democrats firmly believe Cheney’s father and GWB stole the 2000 election. You can credibly make that argument, though Florida 2000 theories can get into grassy knoll territory pretty quickly. IMO, the best “Republicans stole it” argument involves the voter roll purges that took place prior to the election.
Unfortunately, we’re stuck with the anti-democracy relic that is the Electoral College, and there will always be corrupt and/or at least questionable shenanigans at the state level, so it’s likely future close elections will be affected by these factors. But one bright line even a debilitated democracy like ours should still be able to draw is that it’s unacceptable to lie about election outcomes, ignore court rulings on the legitimacy of ballots cast by the people or use violence to cling to power.
Since Republicans’ most recent standard-bearer corruptly attempted to overturn an election using all of those tactics, every single one of his would-be successors, including DeSantis, should be asked, explicitly and repeatedly, if they believe Trump lost the 2020 election. They should be asked, explicitly and repeatedly, whether Trump’s attempts to invalidate the election were a legitimate use of presidential power. They should be asked, explicitly and repeatedly, whether they agree with schemes to remove the people’s power to decide elections and invest it in state legislatures instead.
I wish I were confident the Beltway press will get this right. I’m not. But Cheney’s stand is potentially useful because it cuts through the bullshit about personalities and focuses on democracy. Republicans who are silent on these issues are dodging the most important question of our time: do they believe in the people’s right to choose their leaders or not? That’s the question. That’s the only question that matters.