DeSantis supporters will bend the knee to Trump
Despite ruthless bullying by the Trump campaign, DeSantis supporters will abandon their principles in the end.
Last summer, Republican influencer Pedro Gonzalez found himself at the center of a humiliating scandal when Breitbart published a trove of bigoted DMs he’d sent throughout 2019 and 2020. Pedro was not exactly a household name on the right, but after a career spent almost entirely in the wingnut welfare industry of dark-money funded conservative media he was finally building a modest profile. By 2021 one of the right’s most reliable decentralized marketing mechanisms had clearly targeted him for promotion: he was making appearances on Tucker Carlson, and Glenn Greenwald was advertising him as an exemplar of “actual independent thinking” that made “a genuine attempt to transcend dreary partisan reflexes”.
But that all came to an end in late June when the world got a first-hand look at what Pedro had to say behind closed doors. His DMs were an embarrassing parade of crude century-old stereotypes about Jews, Victorian era white man’s burden style bellyaching about how “whites are the only hope non-whites have of living civilized lives,” references to black women as “Negresses,” and so on. No one who’d paid attention to Pedro’s obsessively antiwoke politics and sinister network of media allies found much of this surprising, but it was at the very least a bizarre reminder of how often contemporary racists sound like they’re trying to cosplay as steampunk reactionaries.
But ironically, Pedro was not the victim of woke activists trying to unmask a media bigot. Instead, as he insisted himself, he had apparently been doxed by supporters of Donald Trump — some of the very people he’d sent the messages to. Why? Because he’d become a vocal supporter of Ron DeSantis’s doomed campaign for President. As Pedro put it:
The only reason my private messages — messages I exchanged with Trump supporters…are being used against me is that I’ve become the most effective critic of Trump since jumping off the Trump train…I’m not going to let the Trump campaign silence me…
Last night, Ron DeSantis ended his campaign for president. And shortly thereafter Pedro went on record: “That’s too bad. I’m still not supporting Trump.” Since then he has, of course, defended this rejection of Trump on political grounds, but if one reads between the lines one can see that Pedro clearly took MAGA’s scorched earth campaign personally.
Setting aside that the Trump campaign tried to make me unemployable while my wife was pregnant because I criticized Trump…I paid attention to how Trump betrayed his supporters and broke his promises. That’s why I went from fervently supporting and defending him for years to being an ardent critic.
Pedro, I suspect, will make good on his word. Not even out of principle, but because his humiliation was so extreme, and because he has nothing to gain professionally from a pivot back to Trump. Liberals love nothing more than magnanimously welcoming an apostate back into the fold as a demonstration of their high-minded pragmatism, but MAGA has always been a ferociously loyalty-based movement, and switching teams a second time would only bring Gonzalez further ridicule. He certainly knows this, which is why his best move at this point is to try to use a general election protest vote to polish what’s left of his brand as a heterodox conservative freethinker.
But Pedro, who was humbled so publicly and personally, is an exceptional case. So he compels the question: how many bullied, disrespected, and supposedly principled DeSantis supporters will bend the knee to Trump in the end?
Thirty years of bluster
In 1992, independent conservative Ross Perot won nearly 19% of the national vote. Contrary to popular belief, most of those votes do not appear to have come at the expense of the GOP; polling shows that 51% of Perot supporters preferred Clinton as a second choice, with only 42% preferring Bush. Nevertheless, that 8% was a mass defection from the GOP — the largest we’ve seen ever since.
Two decades later, Republicans had settled into a pattern so reliable that I was already writing about it in 2012:
The Tea Party has always promoted itself as a movement of principle, above the petty compromises that plague the Republican establishment and so-called “politics as usual”… [but] for all their talk of principle, they will abandon it completely in the hope of a short term win in the White House.
That year, Mitt Romney had survived a scathing primary campaign where opponents like Rick Santorum and Ron Paul framed him as a liberal creature of the Washington establishment. And throughout that primary, Romney’s Tea Party opposition staked their credibility in their willingness to deny Republicans the vote if they nominated a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only). By January of that year, only 23% of Republicans who identified with the “Tea Party” backed Romney.
But just a month later as Romney began to rack up victories, polling showed that Tea Party activists were “warming up” to Romney. By April, he was blowing other candidates out of the water among Tea Party voters. And when Obama won re-election in November, the verdict was in: Romney had firmly consolidated the Tea Party vote, but lost to Obama by losing Republican moderates:
…the exit polls are clear: Governor Romney didn’t lose because he wasn’t conservative enough. He lost because he couldn’t get enough moderates, independents, women, and Hispanics in states like Ohio, Nevada, Virginia, and New Hampshire.
Despite all of their bluster, the GOP’s post-partisan anti-establishment radicals capitulated to the most crass partisan logic in the end, preferring a vote-red-no-matter-who vote against Obama to any attempt to discipline their party. Much like today’s “heterodox independent” right-wing media apparatus, the Tea Party’s freethinking brand ultimately proved to be little more than that: a brand, carefully promoted and propagated by their dark money sponsors.
Bending the knee to Trump
Pedro Gonzalez is confused about a lot things, but he has one thing right: Trump’s campaign against DeSantis was ruthless, even as Republican campaigns go. As always, Trump supporters relied on a belligerent strategy of bullying, intimidation, and Machiavellian post-truth cynicism; doxing a former colleague with by leaking private messages they almost certainly agreed with exemplified their scorched-earth tactics. In Pedro’s case, they didn’t just dox him. They seemed keenly invested in puncturing the macho hypermasculine image he had tried to cultivate for himself in the media, routinely dunking on him as “little Pedro” and publicly demeaning his wife.
But Pedro was not alone in this, of course. Trump’s campaign against DeSantis himself largely revolved around the same playbook of ridicule and disrespect he so effectively wielded against Jeb Bush in 2016. “De-Sanctimonious” and “Tiny D” were just two of the more absurd nicknames he rolled out against DeSantis; his campaigns surrogates constantly promoted the theory that DeSantis was wearing special lift shoes to make him appear taller on the campaign trail; and little more than a year ago, he even took to suggesting that DeSantis was a pedophile. DeSantis’s supporters were the target of even more ferocious abuse, constantly degraded as pedophiles, Democrats, and (most frequently) “cucks” by MAGA Republicans.
If past is precedent, however, that last attack may end up hitting a little too close for home. DeSantis supporters may pose as principled and independent activists — and as fierce partisans who won’t compromise or capitulate to the bullies — but after a year of getting shoved in lockers the Trump campaign, it’s unlikely that they’ll maintain whatever dignity they have left for much longer. Instead, after a round of handwringing and rationalization, what we’re inevitably going to see among DeSantis supporters is a somber decision that as bad as Trump is, a Biden win would be even worse. It’ll be the exact same capitulation to vote-your-party-no-matter-who logic we always see from the most reflexive and unthinking Democratic voters, but draped in red instead of blue.
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