Trump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP’s future in a direct-mail piece

Credit: AP

By Myra Adams – The Hill contributor


Reposted from The Hill – June 23, 2021

Six months have passed since I declared myself “politically homeless” after 46 years as a loyal Republican, but still I am deluged with piles of GOP junk mail.

Recently catching my eye was a slick, oversized envelope from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with that distinct look of a fundraising appeal one would receive from a potential 2024 presidential candidate. In bold underline, the envelope screamed:

“The power-hungry Democrats, Big Tech Billionaires, and liberal media want to SILENCE conservatives like us. If you’ve seen me on TV, you know I’m fighting back and won’t back down! But I need your immediate help!”

Most intriguing was that the governor’s plea did not mention Florida or his 2022 reelection.

Coincidentally, moments before opening the mailer, I saw the Drudge Report headline “DeSantis Wins Straw Poll.” The poll had only 371 participants who were encouraged to vote multiple times among the 500 people who attended last weekend’s Western Conservative Summit in Denver. And they only voted for “approval,” of which DeSantis garnered 74 percent, edging out President Trump’s 71 percent.

The poll is junk, except for the fact that the outcome was widely reported — feeding the continuing narrative that Trump had better “watch out” for DeSantis in 2024. Undoubtedly, both men are on a collision course.

Given such high stakes, let’s “decode” what DeSantis wrote in the mailer. But honestly, no decoding is needed since the governor’s message is clear, bold, repeated several times, yet brilliantly subtle.  

DeSantis begins the four-page letter with a zinger title, “Future of GOP At Stake.” Is that a dog-whistle warning directed at the former president who, by all accounts, is still the undisputed leader of the Republican Party? Then DeSantis goes on offense with a positioning statement as his first sentence:  

“Dear Fellow Conservative, I’m writing you today because the direction of the Republican Party is totally up for grabs.”

How could the party’s “direction” be “totally up for grabs” when Trump and MAGA Trumpism is the GPS of the GOP and Trump rules with an iron fist? DeSantis knows repetition is an essential part of messaging, and why four short paragraphs later, he wrote:

“That’s why I’m personally asking you to help me set the right direction for our party and America over the next four years.”

The “help” DeSantis “asked for” was how the GOP “must not turn back to the old establishment apologists” (that means Mitt RomneyLiz Cheney and Paul Ryan). And why “we need to continue to pursue a conservative agenda like President Trump did and put hardworking American taxpayers first.”

Notice how DeSantis wrote in the past tense, “President Trump did,” instead of President Trump “does.”

The Florida governor, channeling Trump-like strength while positioning himself to be the national party leader, wrote, “I firmly believe Republican-led states like Florida must lead the way and help save America from the far-left socialist agenda that threatens our liberty and that of future generations.”

But “far-left socialists” were not among those who attacked national liberty and democracy in progress at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Therefore, let’s take a quick break from the governor’s leadership plan for a TV reality check that occurred on June 7 during Trump’s interview on Fox Business Network’s “Varney and Co.”  

Trump, who must always be on top, is the master of the political put down, especially when feeling threatened. And the former president’s blood pressure must spike when he hears the popular GOP catchphrase, “DeSantis is Trump without the baggage.”

Thus, Trump told host Stuart Varney, “I was at the beginning of Ron. I was the first one to endorse him when he came out as a congressman that a lot of people didn’t know. My endorsement helped him tremendously.”

That statement followed Trump asserting his dominance over DeSantis when first asked by Varney if he would consider DeSantis as his 2024 running mate. Trump answered: “Sure, I would. But there are numerous people who are great. I would certainly consider Ron.”

Reporting on the Varney-Trump interview was FloridaPolitics with the headline, “Did Trump create DeSantis? He certainly likes to take credit.”

A “yes” answer requires only 30 seconds of watching DeSantis’s most famous and embarrassing 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary commercial. The ad proves DeSantis — then virtually unknown in Florida — allowed himself to be created in Trump’s image.

One could argue that Trump did “create” DeSantis. However, there was reciprocity. In 2020 DeSantis helped deliver Florida to Trump by 371,686 votes, which he mentioned in the mailing, illustrating how the governor likes to placate Trump.

Moreover, DeSantis wrote that “Florida did one of the best jobs counting votes in the entire country. And you could never say that before the 2020 elections!” And he brags, “The ‘Trump Florida Firewall’ project I set up for the Republican Party of Florida was a huge success.”

That statement raises the question of why in May did DeSantis sign an election restriction bill currently being challenged with three federal lawsuits?

It is interesting that besides the photo of DeSantis on the envelope, the only inside photo is of Trump and the governor on the donate page. There, after three long pages of DeSantis touting his accomplishments from a national perspective and only once mentioning his reelection, does the reader learn that this is a fundraising letter for the Republican Party of Florida.

The mailer proves that DeSantis is a brilliant player, positioning himself as the GOP’s future while only lightly kissing the ring of his “creator.” Above all, DeSantis knows the creator must never lose or be overtly defeated because he will turn against the man he created.

Myra Adams writes about politics and religion for numerous publications. She is a RealClearPolitics contributor. She served on the creative team of two GOP presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008. Follow her on Twitter @MyraKAdams.

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