Oh! How the mighty have fallen! – Part two

Oh! How the mighty have fallen! – Part two

A week is a long time in politics. – Former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson

Yes it is! And Mr. DeSantis didn’t seem too terribly concerned with any practical sense of political timing which, when you’re essentially running against a presidential incumbent, can be the kind of thing that ends political careers.

But let’s get a little more specific before we reach that inevitable end:

3. A too-late launch

It was as if DeSantis fully bought into the Stones-esque notion that makin’ ‘em wait incites the faithful to a fever pitch. The problem with that theory is, none of his campaign people were willing to tell him he’s no Mick Jagger.

So, by the time he decided to officially announce in May, his against-Trump polling numbers had plummeted from a February dead heat, to just 20 percent and Ronnie never recovered. If you look up “squandered opportunity” in the Merriam Webster, you’ll see DeSantis’ dour visage right beside it. This inexplicable failure to build on that initial momentum was more than enough to doom his campaign.

Whenever a client tells me they want to take on an incumbent, I strongly advise them to “announce NOW!” And I recommend that peremptory strike because a three-way (or more) race always favors the incumbent. It’s not a foolproof strategy, but making your intentions known as soon as possible just might scare other potential candidates who also understand the three candidate – incumbent dynamic.

Since we already know politics abhors a vacuum, Republican after Republican entered the race as DeSanti simply sat back and watched his chance to beat Trump mano a mano slip away. It’s more evidence that the man really thought he was on a mission from God.

 

4. A botched announcement – and the actual campaign was even worse!

When he finally did announce, he, once again, resorted to his self-imposed rock star status by attaching himself to Elon Musk, one of the most polarizing people on the planet. We’ve already discussed, ad nauseam, why that’s a really bad idea for any candidate.

Sure! Take Elon’s money, but do you really want to be photographed with the nitwit who told his advertisers to “go fuck” themselves, sending Twitter directly into the toilet?  

To make matters worse, that purported cutting edge X announcement was fraught with the kind of technical peril that made it late-night comedy gold. It takes a special skill to screw up your presidential proclamation.

Then, when it appeared as if his campaign had nowhere to go but up, Ron proved everyone wrong by sending it into the depths we’d expect from a Trump reality show. There were the glorious hirings and ensuing layoffs, the legendary infighting, no one seemed to be in charge, and there was no coherent message.

And that dysfunctional dynamic persisted till the very end, too.

 

5. “It’s money that matters”

(Cue the Mark Knopfler guitar riff) Again, buoyed by that early cash influx, the DeSantis campaign thought money would continue to flow in like manna from heaven. But since getting elected is a cyclical game of “what have you done for me lately,” after Ronnie proved to be just another Trump-lite, Ken Griffen closed his checkbook and a host of GOP donors followed suit. 

I’m convinced the billionaire warned DeSantis’ people that the gravy train was about to end, but they ignored it out of a brand of hubris that means everyone else is always wrong.

 

6. “Toto! I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The DeSantis team never seemed to adjust to the fact that they weren’t in Florida anymore, and Florida is hardly representative of the rest of the country.

It’s not a Southern state, but it’s not a Northern one, either. The 42.4 median age is four full years above the country’s 38.1, which is HUGE if you understand statistical means, averages, and standard deviations. And the state boasts some rather unusual demographics.

It’s only 51.5 percent white (Illinois is 60.2 percent Caucasian), 26.6 percent Hispanic (Illinois 7.6 percent), and 14.5 percent black (Illinois 13.8 percent). The irony there being DeSantis managed to appeal to EXACTLY the kind of voters that could’ve sent Trump down to defeat, but the Governor couldn’t extrapolate that success outward largely because he didn’t understand it himself!

How does that old adage go? “It’s better to be lucky than smart.”

 

 7. He targeted the wrong Iowa voters

Targeting the right voters is where every political campaign begins and ends. It’s why Barack Obama won two terms in the face of a fierce opposition.

This is as close as I’ll ever come to divulging one of my closely held campaign managing secrets. A candidate has to implicitly understand who WILL vote for them, who WON’T vote for them, and who MIGHT vote for them. Everything else flows from those accurate propositions.

But when it came time for Iowa canvassing, the DeSantis team focused on the older rural voters who were dead set on sending Agent Orange to Washington. Had they targeted a demographic that more closely resembled Florida, particularly older urban and suburban Iowa voters, the result might’ve been quite different.  

 

The bottom line is, in the words of that great Kane County philosopher, Jack Cunningham, Ron DeSantis didn’t “run scared.”

“Run scared, Jeff? Why would any self-respecting candidate want to run a timid race?”

Though that’s how that advice is often perceived, what it really means is take NOTHING for granted. In the words of blues legend B. B. King, the campaign process should be something akin to  “Nobody loves you but your mother, and she might be jivin’, too.”

Instead, DeSantis took his Florida momentum for granted and announced far too late. He believed he was above the process and made some of the worst policy decisions any presidential contender’s ever made. He failed to understand Trump’s appeal to his rabid base and thought he could out-Trump the original. DeSantis considered his campaign to be nothing more than a show on the road to his impending coronation and he never took it seriously. Then he failed to target the kind of voters who put him on top in Florida.

And now his presidential aspirations are forever dashed on the rocky shores of that vast conceit.

I’m going to say it again, every last pitfall we’ve described in this two-part series is equally applicable to any election effort. Put more simply, like Jack said, always run scared.

 

 

And speaking of running, if you’re facing a general election opponent and you want the kind of leg up that only a campaign manager with a 70 percent winning track record can provide, please feel free to reach out to me at jeff at forwardcom dot me (simply replace the “at” and “dot” with the more appropriate symbols). I’ll be happy to discuss the possibilities.

Leave a Reply