RICH LOWRY: Donald Trump, the desperate front-runner
Trump is like no front-runner we’ve ever seen — not necessarily in his strength or in his weakness, but in his manifest insecurity.
March 23, 2023 - 9:00 pm
Social media exposes all of us, but perhaps none more so than the former president of the United States.
Donald Trump’s Truth Social account is a daily advertisement for a sense of political desperation seemingly at odds with his position in a Republican field he currently dominates. Trump, by any measure, is the front-runner. He leads in the multi-candidate polls, and a recent Emerson survey had him ahead by 40 points in New Hampshire. That number is hard to believe; on the other hand, no one else is leading by 40 in any polls.
Yet Trump is like no front-runner we’ve ever seen — not necessarily in his strength or in his weakness, but in his manifest insecurity.
Front-runners usually try to glide above the rest of the field, seeking to reinforce their dominant status by their lack of engagement with mere also-rans. This doesn’t always work, but they still don’t show desperation, unless they’ve been seriously wounded (think George W. Bush, after losing New Hampshire to John McCain in 2000) or they’ve fallen off a cliff (John Kerry in 2004 and McCain in 2008 after their front-running campaigns briefly collapsed).
Whatever the Trump 2024 campaign is, it’s not above the fray. Following Trump’s Truth Social account, you’d think Gov. Ron DeSantis was running away with it, and an envious and obsessed Trump was trying to figure out some way, any way, to begin to close a 20-point gap. Either that, or you might figure Trump was simply having some sort of personal meltdown.
Authors tend not to be thrilled with the success of other authors, but they don’t usually post publicly about their feelings. Trump isn’t so inhibited. He can’t abide the stories about DeSantis’ new bestselling book, “The Courage to Be Free.” Don’t be fooled by reports of its success — Trump wants it known that political groups have been buying it, and it was already discounted 30 percent on the first day. Just wait till his own volume comes out: “LETTERS TO TRUMP has much different pricing, and is a coffee table book.”
Naturally, he’s intensely interested in the size of DeSantis crowds and dismissive of them. “Very small crowds for Ron DeSanctimonious in Iowa,” Trump posted the other day, against the evidence and included the remark: “No other President was as PRO FARMER as me. Tell that to Ron DeSanctimonious when he shows up to your door, hat in hand. Tell him to go home!”
He reduces DeSantis’ governing success, built on a couple of decades of Republican political effort in the state, to the pleasant weather. “FLORIDA WAS DOING GREAT FOR MANY YEARS, LONG BEFORE RON DESANCTUS GOT THERE. THE SUNSHINE AND OCEAN ARE WONDERFUL THINGS TO HAVE!” he pronounced. And, inevitably, “DeSantis is a RINO and GLOBALIST.”
His associations tell the tale, according to Trump, from Jeb Bush to (bizarrely) George Soros. Trump claims DeSantis is “a disciple of RINO Paul Ryan” and lumps him in with the alleged globalists at what Trump calls the “Club for NO Growth,” the free-market-oriented political group. He’s happy to recycle any Democratic demagogy so long as it’s a convenient tool against DeSantis, especially on entitlements. “Ron fought hard to very unfairly cut Social Security and Medicare,” Trump inveighed recently, in a constant refrain. “Also, wanted to raise the age limit for Social Security to at least 70-years-old.”
Trump is an adept guerrilla marketeer, so maybe a year from now, one of the chief things that Republican voters will know about DeSantis is that he’s allegedly an entitlement-cutting RINO.
Certainly, it’s better for a front-running candidate to be vigilant about potential threats rather than complacent. But being on guard is one thing. Being in a near-panic — and advertising ill will, pettiness and an extreme defensiveness — is another.
There are signs that Trump is in a strong position in the nomination fight — his fixation with Ron DeSantis is not one of them.