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VICTOR JOECKS: Trump turns RINO to attack DeSantis

The Donald Trump of 2016 would have had a lot of fun attacking the Donald Trump of today.

Trump has a large polling lead in the Republican presidential primary. But it’s obvious he believes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis poses a significant threat. DeSantis isn’t officially in the race, but he’s preparing to run. He wrote a book. He’s traveling around the country and world. Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a longtime friend of the Florida governor, is running a super PAC backing a DeSantis presidential bid.

Ironically, for the king of insults, Trump is struggling to find an effective nickname or even a good line of attack on DeSantis. Just look at a recent Trump TV ad. There’s no mention of Trump’s accomplishments or vision for the future. DeSantis is the star of the ad. It’s supposed to be an attack, but the criticism is that DeSantis is being ungrateful to Trump by daring to run against him. Trump boosted DeSantis’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign with an endorsement. That’s a petty personal gripe, not an issue most voters care about.

Imagine 2016 Trump’s reaction if an establishment politician had told him to wait his turn. Plus, Trump should want a crowded field. It’s a tactical mistake for him to imply to voters it’s a two-man race.

One of Trump’s great strengths has long been his willingness to break with convention. In the 2016 primary, Republican voters had a deep dissatisfaction with their leaders, especially on illegal immigration. Many felt GOP leadership actively undermined their efforts to advance their preferred policies. Trump made stopping illegal immigration a centerpiece of this campaign.

In this election cycle, the comparable issue is fighting woke corporations. Many Republicans believe — correctly — that major institutions are using their power to push a cultural revolution based on woke-ism. As the Twitter Files revealed, sometimes that’s even done in conjunction with government actors. Republicans are desperate for leaders who’ll punch back.

DeSantis is doing that in Florida. Disney vocally opposed a bill there protecting schoolchildren from indoctrination in radical gender theory. DeSantis then moved to take away Disney’s control of a special governing district.

Many Republicans love what DeSantis is doing. Trump doesn’t. He wrote on Truth Social that it was a “political stunt” and that DeSantis “is being absolutely destroyed by Disney.” Apparently, Disney didn’t get the memo. It’s suing DeSantis for hurting its business.

DeSantis has also voiced support for a conservative boycott of Bud Light. The beer brand is in a free fall since having Dylan Mulvaney, a biological man who wants to be a girl, promote its product. Trump hasn’t weighed in. Turns out he owns at least $1 million in stock in Bud Light’s parent company.

In 2016, Trump wanted to “drain the swamp.” His new slogan may as well be “protect the politically connected.”

Trump’s base loves DeSantis. They would support him for president in 2028. You can see this in how awkwardly silent the crowd is at Trump’s rallies when he attacks the governor. One might say those sequences make Trump look low-energy. That’s a difference from 2016. The base didn’t trust Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. But while Trump attacked them from the right, he’s now attacking DeSantis from the left. On Truth Social, Trump has linked to pieces hitting DeSantis from Politico and MSNBC.

The former president has survived intellectual inconstancies before. But even for Trump, running as a RINO is a risky strategy.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at noon with Kevin Wall on AM 670 KMZQ Right Talk. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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