Sorry, Ron DeSantis, you’re not Donald Trump.

At the Atlantic, journalist Elaine Godfrey does not believe it. On stage, DeSantis is “a charmless, wax statue version of Trump.” Instead, she sees Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake as a politician who shares Trump’s gift for scab demagoguery but has more self-discipline: “Unlike Trump , she doesn’t brood over toilet flushing or offer random asides about stabbings or rapes. ”

There is a more believable answer to the question of who the next Trump is once the first Trump leaves the scene: no one.

The notion of being a Trump-like leader with discipline, or without what The Times called Trump’s “baggage,” is a logical contradiction. This baggage — or more specifically, the way Trump thrills his supporters with mild indifference to what political opponents or the media, applying conventional standards, call baggage — is a key source of Trump’s appeal. Lack of discipline—the jaw-dropping, moment-by-moment improvisation of a narcissist in general—is another.

A politician calculating how to mimic Trump’s appeal by definition is faking it. Trump, of course, speaks lies with ease. But on the subject that matters most to him, he does not pretend. He presents his true self. The self-confident, clinically involved artist who became president in 2017 had served in that role for 71 years. Since then, he has had five more years of practice.

It cannot be reproduced. As Lloyd Bentsen would say, Ron DeSantis is not Donald Trump. Neither does Lake Kari. Neither, I would dare, is anyone else. Whatever else you say about Trump, he’s an innovator. The thesis of the Times and Atlantic stories is that DeSantis and Lake are emulators — the latest in a parade of them.

The question of whether another figure will emerge as the natural heir to the Trump movement is more than a journalistic parlor game. It weighs on all of American politics and shapes the deliberations of both parties. Basically, it’s about what the past seven years have been like — starting with when Trump became the GOP frontrunner in 2015 —.

It is true that the Trump movement is partly an ideological movement. This includes aversion to illegal immigration, trade, globalization, elite law, etc. There are manifestations of this movement in many other countries. This suggests that someone other than Trump could indeed take over in due course.

The problem is that the real driving force behind the Trump movement was not ideology. It was psychology. Part of Trump’s magnetism was the simple fact that he had been a celebrity since the 1980s. At the same time, probably no other politician in American history has been so adept at harnessing pent-up resentments and marketing them. into a personal brand. Despite superficial similarities — an instinct for outrage and insult, electoral denial, a delight in offending establishment sensibilities — DeSantis or Lake are unlikely to possess Trump’s psychological hold on supporters. .

A thought experiment illustrates the difference. Let’s say the polls and focus groups came back with hard evidence that what the 2024 GOP electorate was looking for was a softer tone and a return to the “compassionate conservative” message that George W. Bush used (before the 9/11 doesn’t change everything) to get elected in 2000. Is there any doubt that someone as ambitious as DeSantis – whose determination to reach the top of the careerist greasy pole led him to Yale at 18, in Congress at 34 and in the governorship at 40 – would reshape his political persona accordingly? Yet it is virtually inconceivable to imagine Trump reshaping his political persona. He tried to be sober and traditionally presidential in the opening phase of the pandemic in 2020, then regained his form within days.

The Times article captured DeSantis squirming around whether he would ever seek the presidency in 2024 even if Trump runs again. But that wasn’t very convincing even in the likely event, based on current polls, that he wins re-election against Democrat and former Gov. Charlie Crist next month. The Atlantic, meanwhile, echoed speculation that Lake could be a plausible running mate for Trump in 2024 if she wins a gubernatorial race against Democrat Katie Hobbs, or a Senate candidate this year. there if she fails in this race.

Among Democrats, the fear about DeSantis and Lake is that they could be more dangerous than Trump because they allegedly combine campaign denial and appeals to bias in a more targeted and elective way. Among the Republican class of agents and fundraisers, where the majority of people believe it’s time for the party to overtake Trump, a common hope is that they could replicate Trump’s populist appeal while bringing the party back. to pre-Trump standards. The danger is that Republicans could end up with a standard-bearer with Trump’s loudmouth and divisiveness, but without his ability to defy political gravity.

What Trump achieves does not come easily, even to talented mortals. So far, there have been successive waves of attention to Republicans who, like DeSantis, combine Ivy League credentials with conscious and confrontational populist appeals. They understand the senses. Ted Cruz (R-Princeton), Tom Cotton (R-Harvard, Harvard Law), Josh Hawley (R-Yale Law) and Representative Elise Stefanik (R-Harvard). Their moments may yet come. For now, it seems clear that if Trump really intends to run, the 2024 GOP nominating contest will be a no-holds-barred affair.

Trump still has the singular ability to play by rules others can’t and walk away from episodes that seem fatal. In the 1970s, daredevil Evel Knievel performed motorcycle jumps that made people wonder, as they do of Trump, “How does he pull that off?” and conclude “He must be crazy.” On his stunt shows, announcers liked to say, “Kids, don’t try this at home.”

It may also be good advice for a generation of Trump imitators.


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