Thunderdome: We Have A Podcast Now!
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Welcome to Thunderdome, where I have good news, everyone — we have a podcast now! The Spectator’s long-standing DC-focused podcast, The District, is going all Thunderdome for the 2024 primary season. Every week, I’ll be breaking down the latest in the 2024 contest with a pair of Washington insider friends, Dan and John, who will give us their experienced political takes on the state of play.
In our first episode, we talked about Ron DeSantis’s Iowa launch, Donald Trump’s Covid revisionism, Chris Christie and Mike Pence, and whether RFK Jr. is the start of something bigger on the Democratic side. Listen here and subscribe today!
Casey DeSantis, secret weapon no longer
Perhaps the biggest question answered this week about the Ron DeSantis campaign was how his flurry of events in Iowa would go off, particularly given the social requirements of politicking in the Hawkeye State. Well, we got an immediate answer, and that’s Casey DeSantis. The pair are settling into an approach which works as a reminder of their relative age, seeking to personalize them as young parents. The Florida first lady, gifted at presentation from her years in television, made quite the impression. Politico reports:
“At each of the governor’s first three stops in Iowa on Tuesday and Wednesday, Casey DeSantis opened her remarks with an apology for her slightly hoarse voice: she had been ‘negotiating with a three-year-old’ about not coloring with permanent marker on the dining room table. After DeSantis’s stump speech Wednesday, for exactly ten minutes of the couple’s half-hour ‘fireside chat’ in front of 150 people in a welding shop, the pair regaled the audience with talk of shuffling out of leotards and into T-ball uniforms, coloring on the walls, keeping track of the children’s birthday party social calendar and working out naptime.”
The role assignments seem to be: let Ron hammer away on the issues, let Casey remind people what it’s like to have a first family that resembles relatable White Houses of the past, not the aged leadership of recent years. Many a campaign spouse has been touted as a “secret weapon” that would help a candidate better connect with voters — the DeSantises aren’t waiting on that secret for even a minute. The personalization weapon is fully deployed and operational.
So the next question is: what happens when Donald Trump inevitably starts coming after Casey personally, just as he did with Ted and Heidi Cruz? How will they handle that differently?
Trump goes savage on Covid
It’s been a long time coming. Openly questioning Donald Trump’s decision-making during Covid isn’t something we’ve heard from prominent conservative politicians — not any more. And with DeSantis opening up this can of worms, Trump responded with his typical level of calm restraint: he just started blasting away at the Florida response, even working himself into the unenviable position of defending Andrew Cuomo as being better at handling Covid in New York. Which pleased, well, Andrew Cuomo! Other than that, I doubt many in the GOP would agree.
Trump is putting himself in a position that seems unwise to defend throughout this campaign. The lockdown approaches and the bureaucratic mess he presided over shouldn’t be the thing he’s highlighting or talking about — but every day he is talking about it is a day DeSantis doesn’t have to defend areas where he may have more vulnerabilities. By deciding to assert his own perfection and attack DeSantis’s strength, Trump only reminds people how badly 2020 was botched under his leadership.
Keep in mind, because it’s something absent from most analyses, that there are a ton of Republicans who like both DeSantis and Trump. To see them firing at each other so aggressively, so early on, is a sign that any hopes of an easy coming together after a harsh primary battle is unlikely.
One example of this: Trump lashed out at one of his most loyal staffers, Kayleigh McEnany, nicknaming her “Milktoast” because of saying something positive about DeSantis’s Iowa chances. McEnany is one of those Republicans who likes both men, but Trump is going to make everyone choose. There will have to be a lot of work done to pick up the pieces, whoever prevails.
Chris Christie is in, and he brought grenades
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie is set to announce he’s joining the presidential field at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire on Tuesday, in a long-telegraphed run that may turn out to be motivated more out of spite than out of designs at winning the White House. Much as I’d prefer to have Christie on the airwaves as opposed to the campaign trail, he is a brash communicator in a field not known for its capabilities on that front, and he has painted a target on Trump that he clearly intends to pursue as rigorously as when he was locking people up.
Christie’s missed moment in 2012 still haunts him, as does his inability to navigate around the animosity of Jared Kushner in the wake of his Trump endorsement in 2016. But there’s a nihilistic quality to this run that may hamper it from the get-go. Stephen Root’s character in Bill Hader’s recently concluded HBO series Barry comes to mind. A love interest urges him to give up a quest for revenge, telling him “Vengeance is like drinking poison, hoping the other person will die.” To which Root responds: “Well, at least he’d be dead.”
Mike Pence is getting in, too — more about him next week.
Big tech keeps giving RFK Jr. reasons for suspicion
This anecdote from a Free Press profile of RFK Jr. and Marianne Williamson is exactly the sort of thing that someone who regularly rails about Big Tech and corporate power will see as vindication — and it’s hard to see an explanation for why this would be flagged at this late date.
“RFK Jr. likes to talk about ‘Big Tech,’ ‘Big Pharma,’ ‘Big Media.’ A decade ago, when liberals were still hostile to supposedly greedy, publicly traded companies, that kind of language would have resonated on the left. Today, with many of those same companies implementing the DEI-ESG-Covid regime championed by progressive elites, the left seems mostly at home with corporate America — and any talk of Big This or Big That sounds conspiratorial.
“But consider Kennedy’s experience on Theo Von’s podcast This Past Weekend. In November 2020, Von, a comedian whose YouTube channel has more than 1.7 million subscribers, interviewed Kennedy, and they discussed what was then the new Pfizer Covid vaccine. Von posted a series of clips with Kennedy on This Past Weekend’s YouTube channel, and for two and a half years anyone could watch them.
“That is, until a little over a week ago, when YouTube, according to people at the company and the comedian himself, pulled them from Von’s page. Von told me he’d contacted YouTube to find out what had happened — why a few videos that hadn’t raised any eyebrows at YouTube for two and a half years suddenly disappeared a month after Kennedy announced his presidential bid.”
One last thing
For as much as DeSantis has hit Trump in the early going, he has done so without doing one thing: using Trump’s name. He finds ways around it, but it’s almost as if his approach to nicknaming the former president is to give him no name at all, treating him like Voldemort. As for Trump’s approach, it’s the total opposite. Don’t like this DeSantis nickname? I've got a million of ’em! But remember what they say about quarterbacks...