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Cheeto Watch

Osita Nwanevu
5 min read
Ron & Casey DeSantis standing with Donald & Melania Trump, smiling at a camera in front of a blue background.
Ron & Casey Desantis, Donald & Melania Trump (Government of Florida)

Hey all. Let’s hop to it.

Recent Appearances

I was in conversation with Freddie DeBoer and Briahna Joy Gray about wokeness and the viral Bethany Mandel interview last week if you’ve any interest in all that.

Politics/Reasons to Be Cheerful

If the reporting’s right, the week is about to be consumed with commentary about Trump’s indictment in NYC. As I said on Twitter, I don’t have very many strong takes on what it might definitively mean for the Republican primary; it would be particularly daft for me to offer them in the middle of National Pundit Accountability Week.

I still believe though, as most political observers now do, that there isn’t going to be a legal solution to Trump or Trumpism. Josh Marshall reiterated the argument for me at Talking Points Memo; he concludes, as I do, that indictments against Trump are worthwhile anyway:

Some people think indictments of Donald Trump are a make-or-break thing for the future of the country. Among other things, they could be what blocks his path back to the White House in 2024. So getting it all arranged just right couldn’t be more important. But that’s misguided. Holding Trump accountable, especially for his actions surrounding January 6 and the events in Georgia, is very important. Judicial accountability is how a country speaks to itself about what is acceptable and what is not. But that means bringing indictments. We can’t control whether juries will find him guilty. And we certainly can’t control how the country at large will react to the prosecution of a former President.
The thing that is going to stop ex-President Trump from returning to the White House is voters refusing to vote for him. Indictments and prosecutions can play a role in that inasmuch as they are the society communicating to itself what is okay and what is not. The January 6 hearings played some of this role in the 2022 elections. But they operate that way only if there is an underlying belief in the population which charges underline and confirm. They can play a role in shaping public opinion but they are no replacement for an election. They are not a judicial deus ex machina which removes Trump from the scene. Expecting them to be is a big mistake. Judicial accountability for the past and an election about the future are two things that may influence each other. But they’re fundamentally two separate things running in parallel.

Some tentative thoughts on the GOP politics here: it seems significant that major voices in the party loudly and immediately rallied around Trump. It’s just another round of anti-anti-Trumpism so far ⁠— McCarthy and the rest are more interested in pushing a narrative about Democratic foolishness and overreach than they are in litigating Trump’s innocence. But they’re not running against him. DeSantis, who is, made a not especially subtle effort to foreground the actual charges Trump might face in a press conference today. From the Times:

After a reporter asked for Mr. DeSantis’s thoughts about the potential indictment and whether he might have a role in extraditing Mr. Trump to New York, the governor demurred, saying he did not know what was going to happen.
“But I do know this: The Manhattan district attorney is a Soros-funded prosecutor,” he said of Mr. Bragg, referring to indirect financial support the district attorney received in his 2021 campaign from George Soros, the liberal billionaire philanthropist. Those donations have been the subject of attacks from Mr. Trump and other Republicans.
[...] Then he twisted the knife regarding the actions over which Mr. Trump is likely to be indicted: hush-money payments made in late 2016 by Michael D. Cohen, then his lawyer and fixer, to a porn star who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” Mr. DeSantis said to chuckles from the crowd at the event.
“I just, I can’t speak to that,” he said. “But what I can speak to is that if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction, and he chooses to go back many, many years ago, to try to use something about porn star hush-money payments, you know, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.”

Trump responded to this, rather predictably, with insinuations about DeSantis’ own sexual history; we’ll see if anything solid materializes there. For now, even absent that material, DeSantis is plainly in a tough spot ⁠— one rather analogous to the political pickle Mike Pence was in on January 6th. As suggested above, the state of Florida might have a visible role in handing Trump off. If that happens, DeSantis will be fending off attacks over cooperating with an office he himself has said has been weaponized at George Soros’ behest. Even if that doesn’t happen, Trump’s camp isn’t going to take kindly to his needling Trump on the actual content of the Daniels case even lightly. But there’s little political upside to defending Trump more unreservedly either. That would just strengthen Trump and damage DeSantis’ only real asset in the general should he make it there ⁠— the sense that there’s a meaningful gap between him and Trump as a matter of character.

DeSantis’ book, per the Times’ Carlos Lozada, makes that case so tentatively you have to read it closely to tease it out. So far, Republican elites have done most of the work of pushing DeSantis as a responsible alternative to Trump and Trumpism for him. But in his book, DeSantis also makes the case, not without reason, that he was among the figures on the right who helped bring Trumpism about in the first place:

In the governor’s various references to Trump, the former president emerges less as a political force in his own right than a symptom of pre-existing trends that Trump was lucky enough to harness. Trump’s nomination in 2016 flowed mainly from the failure of Republican elites to “effectively represent the values” of Republican voters, the governor writes. DeSantis even takes some credit for Trump’s ascent: The House Freedom Caucus, of which DeSantis was a member, “identified the shortcomings of the modern Republican establishment in a way that paved the way for an outsider presidential candidate who threatened the survival of the stale D.C. Republican Party orthodoxy.”

Again, I think this argument is basically correct. But who is it for, really? It undermines the elite defenses of DeSantis, which have rapidly gotten wobblier since his remarks framing the war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” the U.S. should play no part in – a statement that instantly convinced the Times’ Bret Stephens to write him off as unfit for office. DeSantis needs to siphon off Trump voters to win; most won’t take kindly to his taking credit for Trump’s success. The elites have other options in the field while Trump’s base may leave this week more tightly bound to him than they were before. I might not know how all this is going to shake out, but I still believe, whatever happens, that DeSantis has a rocky road ahead of him.

A Song

"Cool Colorado" – La Femme (2020)