I think it was the once-renowned critic Clement Greenberg who gratefully acknowledged that his job as a cultural commentator allowed him to conduct his education in public. I suppose we all do it, more or less furtively, though what prompts me to mention it now is the realization that I do not know the answer to any of the questions that have motivated this column.
I write in the immediate aftermath of Ron DeSantis’s official announcement that, yes, he is running for the presidency of the United States in 2024. The announcement itself was no surprise — everyone has known DeSantis was running for months. The form of his declaration did raise eyebrows since he was supposed to bypass the stodgy traditional method of holding a press conference or some other public event in order to enlist as many television cameras into the game as possible.
As the world knows by now, DeSantis took to the audio-only format afforded by Twitter Spaces, where he was introduced by Elon Musk and co-host David Sacks. Why did he do this? I do not know. Because it seemed clever to associate the big announcement with the celebrity of Elon Musk? Maybe.
In the event, the clever-seeming expedient of forsaking “corporate media” for Twitter backfired. Massive technical difficulties delayed the broadcast for some twenty minutes, by which time more than two-thirds of the listeners had checked out. DeSantis then proceeded to read one of the dullest and most cliché-ridden campaign speeches known to man. The fact that he read a script rather than engaging extemporaneously with the audience is a mystery, as was the sequence of prepared-in-advance softball questions posed by obvious DeSantis supporters. Why did his handlers allow this? Again, I do not know.
The rationalizations flew quickly, led by Elon Musk’s comment to the effect that it was actually a good thing that DeSantis’s appearance “melted the servers” because it showed how many people were eager to hear what he had to say. “DeSantis is so popular that he broke the internet!” Did anyone buy it? I don’t know, but if not it wasn’t for lack of Musk’s repeating that aperçu.
There are so many things I do not know the answer to. For months now, a popular refrain has been that Republicans should line up behind Ron DeSantis (or possibly one of the many other candidates) because “Trump can’t win.” What evidence do the people who say this offer to support their claim? Some of them say the 2020 presidential election and the 2022 midterm elections, in which many candidates supported by Trump lost, show that Trump cannot win in 2024. Is that convincing?
Others say that Trump’s behavior during the ruckus at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 shows that he cannot win or at least that he shouldn’t. The two are often conflated. Trump’s actual behavior on that day seems to me far more laudable than the behavior of the FBI or the congressional leadership, but let’s shelve that can of invertebrate squirmy things.
DeSantis was scheduled to get a big bump after his announcement. That has yet to materialize. Perhaps it will be visible by the time you read this. As of this writing, Trump still has a thirty- to forty-odd point lead in most of the polls.
DeSantis himself has said that Trump is not the same fellow he was in 2015 and 2016. Back then, he said, Trump was fresh and exciting. Now he is bitter, nostalgic, caught in the past. Didn’t he anticipate that Trump’s people would run and rerun the Trump-friendly clips from DeSantis’s gubernatorial campaign — for example, clips showing DeSantis teaching his children to read by reciting from a book called The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump? Yet another thing I don’t know the answer to.
Indeed, I am not even sure who the Democratic candidate will be. At this point, everyone says Joe Biden. But will the Dems really run a man whose mental incapacity becomes more patent by the day? My suspicion is that the answer to that question may be, “perhaps not,” and for evidence I would point to the renewed activity regarding Hunter Biden, his laptop and the millions of dollars that have been siphoned from foreign entities into the bank accounts of various people named Biden.
These facts have been out there for years now. But why are they suddenly gaining fresh circulation and media scrutiny? The “Deep State” can bury any story it likes. What does it mean that this cluster of stories is making a comeback? Does it portend the substitution of some understudy for the top spot on the Democratic ticket? Maybe. But how will the powers that be jettison Kamala Harris, something that would have to happen were the Dems to have a prayer at taking the White House? I wish I knew.
Perhaps the most irritating thing about my ignorance of such matters is the contrast I discern between my uncertainty and the crisp certitude expressed by other commentators. From what emporium, I have often wondered, do they get their slabs of certitude? I have yet to discover the source, but I do occasionally entertain myself by recollecting earlier exhibitions of such certitude. In 2016, for example, I was regularly told, by the anti-Trump right as well as the left, that Trump could not win. The very idea was risible, the prospect obscene, the eventuality impossible. The sudden metamorphosis of the impossible into the inevitable was amusing to witness, but I have been assured that nothing like that could ever happen again.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s July 2023 World edition.