The presidency of Donald Trump from 2016 to 2020 was a golden era for American foreign and social policy, even considering the COVID-19 outbreak. Yet, it was the worst thing to happen to Trump’s political career.
American politics is a breeding ground for paradoxical occurrences, and the presence of Donald Trump is no exception. Indeed, it is unequivocal that the catalyst for Trump’s 2016 victory was his ‘outsider’ aura. He was an antidote to the establishment who put people over politics and crushed the ‘swamp creatures’ with his populist sentiment.
Yet, post-presidency, Trump is the swamp itself, and the trees and wildlife along with it.
This is epitomised in the 2022 Midterm Election where the quality of candidates was sacrificed to kowtow to the puppeteering of pro-Trump candidates, pushing the tired message of election fraud and the ‘outsider’ archetype.
Let’s face the facts: Mehmet Oz lost to a mentally impaired walking contradiction and
Herschel Walker couldn’t convert a touchdown, all while Ron ‘DeSanctimonious’ steamrolled all of Florida (Trump can’t even come up with good nicknames anymore). Indeed, DeSantis is Trump without the toxic ego and one that has practically delivered for Florida on a truly conservative social and economic basis. Trump is too focused on the past and individuality, while DeSantis is the conservative future to reject the woke establishment.
Before the case for DeSantis is put forward, one must understand the anatomy of Trump’s presidency and the ungraceful ending that catalysed a 2020 loss. Trump’s 2016 victory was a manifestation of the amalgamating distrust between the American people, especially in non-major cities, and the so-called American establishment. This was exacerbated by Hilary Clinton’s robotic adherence to tired talking points and the seeming repetition of previous moderate administrations who make promises and subsequently break them. The cogs of the broken political machine turned in perpetuity – starting unnecessary wars, wasting money on futile domestic endeavours and aiding other countries more than its own. The US was a dying breed, fading away painfully slowly.
Trump was the outsider.
He was the antidote to this mundanity and with his enthusiasm and unpredictability created a populist movement to disrupt the fabric of the establishment. This was initially successful, the US saw a 56% increase in the Dow Jones, and 2.5% average economic growth with genuinely conservative policies. Rogue states such as Iran and North Korea were destabilised alongside Putin being kept in check as a result of Trump’s unpredictability – an inherent asset in foreign affairs.
Yet, it was precisely Trump’s volatility and ego that also engendered his downfall.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the fabric of the world order was disrupted. Now the tables had turned, America needed a stable leader to offset this external unpredictability. This was the moment where Trump’s asset turned into a fatal liability, provoking fear by asserting through ignorance to bleach oneself and pushing contradictory messages on vaccines and lockdowns. Suddenly, America and the all-important ‘swing voters’ yearned for that same stained stability pre-2016 and manifested in the election of Biden – an obviously unfit candidate for the Oval Office.
Furthermore, in Trumpian fashion, this exciting but fracturing ego pushed a tired and largely unsubstantiated message of election fraud. Only Trump could think evaporating his base’s trust in the voting system would get him more votes! This led to the mobilisation of the far right of the party culminating in the January 6th insurrection. This allowed the media to shift Trump’s image to one of anger – one that is distasteful towards the swing votes who decide elections.
This led to a curious subversion – the people weren’t with Trump, yet the whole establishment had been subsumed by him.
Some will argue this was a result of circumstances outside his power, yet I believe in this as a teleological truth. Trump’s presidency would inevitably be usurped by that which got him there. Trump is a transition candidate, whose place is to reinvigorate the people and the Republican Party to break this cycle of destructive Democrats and the useless Romney type of candidate.
The best proof of this paradigm was the 2020 midterm elections. As previously alluded to, Trump’s subverted place as the unpopular omphalos of the party led to disappointing results and a wake-up call for Republicans. The midterms showed a core incongruence between thoughts and votes. Exit polls and Biden’s horrific approval rating indicated a Republican tsunami, yet we only got a trickle. Ultimately, this is a symptom of the yearning for practical conservatism that is not provided by low-quality Trump candidates and his expired ‘outsider’ archetype. Had Trump been a less central figure, Mike McCarthy wouldn’t have been embarrassed into losing 14 votes before becoming the speaker. The ‘Trump’ doctrine is an expired medium that served its purpose to direct the conservatives from the ‘squishy’ Romney type to practical DeSantian conservatism, and the Republicans are starting to realise it. This is why as of 16th February 2023, DeSantis only trails Trump by 6% according to a Quinnipiac poll. If we know anything from Trump’s victory, it’s that being a polled ‘favourite’ doesn’t mean much.
Technically, we don’t know whether DeSantis will even run yet. But the one thing among the lies and paradoxes that is an eternal truth in politics is that one must answer the door when it knocks, and DeSantis’ door is currently being bulldozed.
He must answer the call.
DeSantis is Trump without the crazy – nothing says ‘man of the people’ quite like a golden toilet bowl. Whilst Trump’s power is a miasma of party influence, DeSantis’ power comes from the roots of real conservative policy in Florida. With DeSantis’ socially conservative policy appealing to the masses against the loud voices of wokeism, Florida has gone from a purple tossup to a republican stronghold. His ability to be consistent in policy and willingness to go against Trump demonstrates the talent required to win the presidency.
His ability to stand up to the woke institutions and responsible fiscal policy are micro victories that can be superimposed on a national scale, achieving a truly ‘greater’ America without Trump. As an example, DeSantis stood up to the major institutions driving the pseudo-progressive woke agenda with a bill giving new control over Disney. It turns out that restricting a company with an overt investment in youth indoctrination is a not-so-radical move for most Americans, showing he’s ready to take on the woke’s monopoly of corporations and big tech. If I were Ariel, I would stay ‘Under The Sea’ in this political climate.
The most striking speech from DeSantis came after his nearly 20-point victory in the midterms where he proclaimed that “We fight the woke in the legislature. We fight the woke in the schools…We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.” A clear exemplification of DeSantis’ current and practical superiority over Trump, this message is one which should drive the Republican party.
Not more arbitrary tax cuts and disadvantageous free trade agreements. Not more egotistic election fraud signalling. Not more Romney or Trump, but more of a practical fiscal and socially conservative DeSantis.
Perhaps a better word for Trump than crazy is ‘unconventional’ – this is an inherent foreign policy asset and contributes to the ‘outsider’ aura that got him elected. However, when this bleeds into obscure public messaging it becomes unhelpful. More abstractly, he has become completely conventional in his control of the party as seen in the unsuccessful Midterms, yet still holds his prior unconventional sins. This paradox makes him a weaker candidate than DeSantis, who is positively unconventional.
I don’t deny the large faction of diehard Trumpers, but ultimately the political centre decides elections and a 2024 Trump candidacy would be a grave mistake. Trump is a one-time wonder, a vessel to shift the Republicans back into line. A line that moves forward not into a ‘progressed’ dystopia, or an egoistic celebrity fest, but a practical conservatism that starts with DeSantis.
However, Trump’s recent indictment has proven to be a blessing in disguise. Again, Trump is portrayed as the victim.
The more the institution gives him attention and goes after him, the stronger he gets – a reverse poison. This has led to a surge in the polls favouring him over DeSantis as of May. We will see in 2024 whether his name and enthusiasm or DeSantis’ solid track record will prevail.
Aryan Ilkhani is a Member of the University of Sydney Conservative Club