Mark Meadows: Ron DeSantis is too smart to challenge the leader of the “party of Trump”

One of the tricky aspects of interpreting media coverage of the Trump/DeSantis feud which both sides are pretending isn’t actually a feud is trying to figure out which cronies are freelancing when taking shots at the other team and which are acting at the behest of one of the principals.

For instance, I’m guessing MAGA fanatic Wendy Rogers is freelancing. No input from Trump on these:

That’s just Rogers being thirsty for some attention from her leader, I suspect. Although it’s interesting that she’s not following the typical populist spin that the the Trump/DeSantis tensions are a media invention aimed at dividing the right. That spin conveniently protects the people who are pushing it from having to take sides between the two, but Rogers has no such qualms. She’s all-in on Trump.

I’m 50/50 on whether this guy is freelancing or was recruited by Trump to serve as a surrogate:

I lean towards freelancing. People like Stone and Rogers are opportunists, forever looking for ways to worm themselves into — or further into — Trump’s circle of trust. They’ve read the media reports about him badmouthing DeSantis privately and so they’re probably hoping to earn some cheap goodwill from him by badmouthing the new guy publicly. Trump doesn’t have to say a word to get them to act.

Mark Meadows going after DeSantis feels different. He’s already in the circle of trust (sort of) and his tone here is far more diplomatic than Stone’s or Rogers’s, which is what we’d expect from Trumpworld at this early stage of a rivalry. He sounds downright friendly to the governor, never directly accusing him of wanting to usurp Trump. But his message is clear and unmistakable: He’s throwing a brushback pitch at DeSantis, warning him to remember his place in the Republican hierarchy and not get any funny ideas about 2024.

Americans “want Donald Trump back in the White House,” Meadows reassured host Jenn Pellegrino.

“I can tell you, Gov. DeSantis is doing a great job in Florida, but he’s also smart enough to know that this is the party of Trump. This will continue to be,” Meadows continued.

“It’s his decision on whether he runs for president or not, but I can tell you, if he does, it won’t be Ron DeSantis challenging him. It will be the media trying to create this conflict that obviously is not there.”

“It won’t be Ron DeSantis challenging him”? Since when does Mark Meadows speak for DeSantis?

He doesn’t, of course. As a former chief of staff and confidant, he speaks for Trump. And he’s speaking for him here, I’d bet.

Does the GOP base agree with him that this is still the “party of Trump”? Depends on whom you ask, of course, but Kurt Schlichter has a notable piece out today titled “Trump v. DeSantis: Advantage, DeSantis.” My sense is that most of the populist commentariat also favors DeSantis but whether rank-and-file populist Republicans do too is a separate question. Ironically, there’s a nonzero chance that the pro-DeSantis wing of MAGA punditry will find itself in 2024 in the same place traditional conservative pundits found themselves in 2016, begging the primary electorate to opt for a smarter, more electable candidate and ending up ignored.

The purported shot at DeSantis over jabs last week seems significant. Trump is super proud of his vaccines, which is definitely not where the base is at right now. Does he know that? He’s off in his own world and TV does not reflect the depth of the anti-COVID dissension. He did a rally in Arizona and that’s nice, but the more he defends his COVID record – which includes not firing that malignant dwarf Fauci – the less the base is going to dig his rap…

I did another Twitter poll on Trump v. DeSantis, which is unscientific yet still more scientific than the people telling you to wear a face thing and take a vaccine that doesn’t work as advertised. My previous one in June had Trump 45.7%, DeSantis 50.1% and others 4.1%. This week’s poll was Trump 33.4%, DeSantis 59.7% and others 6.9%.

That’s a big drop for Trump among my hardcore audience. Two-thirds now are looking elsewhere.

Schlichter thinks Trump will end up passing on a run in 2024 but that he isn’t yet comfortable relinquishing his status as head of the party to DeSantis. I think it’s the opposite, that Trump is increasingly intent on running — just look at Biden’s approval ratings — and believes he’s on a glide path to a second term provided that no ambitious newcomers on his own side get in his way. It’d be easy enough for a man of Trump’s age to run a short general election campaign in 2024. It’d be harder if he had to run for a full year, battling a formidable and much younger candidate in the primary.

It’s strange and surprising to me that DeSantis won’t give him the reassurance that he’ll stand aside, knowing that if Trump lost the primary he’d inevitably declare that it had been rigged and would lobby his loyalists to boycott the general election in protest. Trump doesn’t have to control a majority of Republican voters to hold the party and its leaders hostage. All he has to do is command the total devotion of 10-20 percent, enough to wreck the party’s chances of winning in November if he orders them to stay home. DeSantis running in 2024 would be a wager that Trump no longer enjoys that devotion. That’s a high-stakes bet, to put it mildly.

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