A ‘meh’ debate performance from DeSantis will only fuel Republicans’ push for Trump

It was the same old Ron DeSantis at the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee Wednesday.

Sure, the Florida governor hit his talking points. He called the United States “a country in decline.”


He vowed to take on Joe Biden and “Bidenomics.” He touted his own COVID response in Florida and bragged about fighting crime by removing two “radical left-wing district attorneys” from office..

He dodged a question on whether he’d support a federal abortion ban. He wiggled away from any talk about Donald Trump’s betrayal of the country, saying we have to focus on the future, not the past.

He promised to declare the border a “national emergency,” repeating his well-honed, blood-thirsty line that drug traffickers will be left “stone cold dead.”

He was energetic. He was angry. He was well-rehearsed. He was … meh.

And yet that didn’t really matter. Because, despite the pressure on DeSantis to win back Republican voters who have soured on him, most of the attention was still on The Man Who Wasn’t There.

In Milwaukee, the stage was brightly lit. DeSantis was smack in the middle. But a Trump-shaped shadow was cast over everything.

And it showed. When the Fox hosts asked about Trump in the middle of the debate, you could feel the tension rise. DeSantis was among those who raised their hands to say they would support Trump if he becomes the nominee. That, even though he recently admitted that Trump lost in 2020.

And yet you have to give DeSantis credit. He learns from his failures. He was happy to trot out his Florida record but steered carefully away from using the word “woke” — though he has based much of his campaign on being “anti-woke” — because the term hasn’t been landing with voters outside of Florida, who seem mostly to be confused about what it means. He focused on immigration and law and order, as he has in recent speeches.

He even tried to create a Trump moment of his own. He said presidential adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, who led the White House COVID-19 pandemic response under the Trump administration, should have been dumped. “You sit him down, and you say, ‘Anthony, you are fired,’” he said, to a round of applause.

It was a weak attempt to brand himself as the new standard-bearer for the party, that elusive figure who can carry on Trump’s work without actually being Trump.

DeSantis may not have been stand-out but he did fine. Ramaswamy made, perhaps, a bigger splash, if the number of attacks from other candidates was a measure. And Ramaswamy landed a shot on DeSantis when he called the others on stage “Super PAC puppets” — a reference to the Florida governor’s leaked debate preparation memo.

But watching the performance Wednesday night — of DeSantis and Ramaswamy and Christie and the others — leaves us with one question. Has the Republican Party given up trying to rid themselves of a four-time indicted leader who wanted to overturn a legitimate election so he could stay in power?

It sure looked like it.

—The Miami Herald

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