Sunday, January 21, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: A Trump tweet doesn’t make DeSantis Florida’s gubernatorial front-runner

Trying to understand why politicians do what they do is something of a combination of anthropology, psychology and no small amount of befuddled head-scratching.

Take the curious case of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Who? Me?, who received a ringing endorsement from President Donald Trump to become Florida’s next governor in 2018.

Shortly after landing in Palm Beach to spend Christmas at his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump tweeted that DeSantis would make a "GREAT Governor of Florida," and, oh by the way, he is also "a true FIGHTER!" All those caps. So it must be true.

The only problem here is that while it is hardly a big secret that DeSantis is pondering a gubernatorial run, he has not formally announced his candidacy.

Apparently the president made the political decision to throw his considerable weight behind the northeast Florida congressman after watching a Fox News profile of DeSantis while aboard Air Force One. Well, it could have been worse. Imagine if the last thing Trump saw on Fox had been a segment on Barney, an Irish setter, while his plane descended into the Sunshine State.

To be sure, DeSantis has been doing his level best to eagerly earn his stripes as a Trump acolyte, attacking special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Kremlin, while also supporting the president’s announcement to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Alas, there is just one itsy-bitsy hiccup in DeSantis’ way to Tallahassee, despite receiving that coveted presidential tweet.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is already the announced presumed prohibitive frontrunner for the Republican nomination. You could argue Putnam has had his eye on the governorship since the day he was born on July 31, 1974.

Now it is entirely true that Putnam could always fall down an elevator shaft, or get caught up in some tawdry Tallahassee scandal. But don’t count on it.

Putnam has been so busy burnishing his gun-toting credentials, it’s a wonder he’s not showing up on the stump channeling his inner Seal Team 6. Indeed, the commissioner has bragged in campaign materials he is a proud sellout to the NRA’s interests.

DeSantis would seem to be far behind Putnam in locking up that all-important obsequious vote.

But that is only the start of DeSantis’ challenge in overtaking Putnam.

To date Putnam has amassed a $15 million campaign war chest. And he has a steep advantage over DeSantis in statewide name recognition.

It is certainly true that heaping piles of money can do a great deal to enhance a pol’s public profile. Gov. Rick Scott proved that. But Ron DeSantis doesn’t have that kind of cash. All he has is a Trumpian tweet, an asset of dubious value coming from a president with historically low approval ratings hovering just under 40 percent.

As well, Donald Trump hasn’t exactly been a keen hustings prognosticator of late. His endorsements proved to have precious little effect in recent elections in Virginia and especially Alabama, where even his blessing didn’t help an accused pedophile trying to win a U.S. Senate seat.

Trump’s process of selecting victors in political campaigns seems to have no rhyme or reason to it. It is like going to the track and betting all your money on a long shot simply because the nag has a pretty forelock.

Barring some unforeseen implosion, Putnam’s campaign for the Republican nomination is his to lose. This is a candidate too calculating, too experienced, too savvy to do something dense to undermine his ambition.

At the same time, you could argue Donald Trump needs Adam Putnam far more than Adam Putnam needs Donald Trump. So it makes even less sense that a deeply unpopular president would go out of his way to irritate, if not alienate, Florida’s likely next Republican governor, someone whose support he will sorely need if Trump decides to pursue a second term in 2020.

With degrees from both Harvard and Yale, DeSantis certainly is a smart chap. Ambition is a wonderful thing. So is patience. The Navy veteran has to make a decision. Does he want to give up a safe seat in Congress to challenge Putnam? Or, at 39, is it better to wait for another opportunity to move up the political food chain?

Ron DeSantis might very well be "GREAT." He might also be a "FIGHTER!"

The real question might be: Can he be "DELUDED!" by a tweet?

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