The Political Insider’s Brett Smith recently sat down with historian and bestselling author Larry Schweikart to discuss the many factors that have turned former President Donald Trump and yet-to-be-announced candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis into such bitter rivals after spending years supporting each other.
Specifically, Schweikart explained the usage of political surrogates to go to war on certain candidate’s behalf, arguing that while others in the political class (including DeSantis) have had the luxury of having certain journalists and commentator’s fight their opponents for them in the public space, Trump has never had that option and instead has had to confront criticism directly.
This has been both one of Trump’s greatest challenges, but also argues Schweikart, his greatest strength.
Getting in the Mud
According to Schweikart, Trump had no choice during his 2016 campaign, or even now, other than to be directly combative with his opponents, whether through ad-hominem attacks or blasting them with (sometimes) pretty ridiculous accusations.
“Trump went after all those guys, they all went after him, the difference is I think, this goes to DeSantis as well, they all more or less had surrogates in the press that because they all hated Trump, they could go to some surrogate and leak out some information or some comment about Trump,” said Schweikart, “or some claim and he had to respond himself he couldn’t go through the press and have MSNBC say ‘well some say Ted Cruz’s wife is tied up with Goldman Sachs’, that didn’t work and so the same thing has occurred here with DeSantis.”
“DeSantis structured his campaign, which he knew he was running several months ago, the evidence has now come out that he knew he was running, this is not a recent thing and he set it up so that he would be up here and he would let all the surrogates attack Trump down here on Twitter, or wherever else, mostly over the record on vaxxes,” he continued. “Oh Trump! Trump is proud of the vax and Warp Speed and trying to kill everybody.’”
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Schweikart added that “DeSantis had tried to set himself up here as a pious, holier-than-thou guy who doesn’t get down into the mud.”
I guess DeSantis’s betrayal proves one criticism of Trump:
He’s not good at judging his friends.
— Larry Schweikart (@LarrySchweikart) April 4, 2023
Schweikart also dove into his theory behind why Trump decided to attach the label “DeSanctimonious” to DeSantis several months back when their relationship began to take even a sour turn.
“I didn’t understand it at first when Trump used the term ‘DeSanctimonious’,” said Schweikart. “If you don’t know anything else about Trump, understand that he knows what he’s doing all the time and that he has a goal, it may not be the right goal but he has a goal of what he wants to do and he understood that DeSantis was trying to run this holier-than-thou, pious campaign, ‘oh I don’t get into the mud with people’ but of course his surrogates were totally in the mud.”
“So by using the ‘DeSanctimonious’ and then he framed him just like he did a ‘little Marco [Rubio]’… you know same thing with ‘Low Energy Jeb’, he took Jeb Bush out with one comment in the first debate… Trump goaded DeSantis into a bunch of key mistakes.”
According to Schweikart, the first mistake was taking a generally conservative stance on the war in Ukraine by advocating against U.S. military intervention, and then after getting criticized for calling it a “territorial dispute” by the neoconservatives, and then backtracking. He appeared as a flip-flopper to conservatives while at the same time losing any potential support from establishment neoconservatives.
The second mistake was also not protecting Trump enough in regards of the politically-motivated indictment the former president is currently facing.
“The second thing he did was to provoke DeSantis to make this comment about the Manhattan D.A, where he had to throw in that ‘I don’t know anything about bribing a porn star’. He would have been just fine if he’d made his comment, it wouldn’t have satisfied me because it’s very clear DeSantis was trying to attack the weaponization of the entire legal system, but somehow keep it apart from Trump. You cannot do that, the whole structure is allied against one man,” said Schweikart.
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