Why would a candidate for the presidency purposefully undermine his greatest achievement in government — one that required the movement of heaven and earth, one that his opponents deemed impossible, but one that he ultimately delivered to the broad benefit of the American people? It seems ridiculous. Yet that is what Donald Trump seems to be doing, in his typically scattershot way. You have to ask: why?
Trump, via his TruthSocial account, has been posting at record pace criticizing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — whom he maintains he voted for — as a “globalist,” knocking DeSantis for favoring lockdowns (which he didn’t) and for pushing people to get vaccinated (which he did). In the process, Trump is essentially eliminating any political benefit he could realize as the head of Operation Warp Speed, the deregulatory effort through which pharmaceutical companies were able to provide incredible amounts of the Covid vaccine at record speed.
It wasn’t too long ago that Trump was happy to tout the vaccine as a great triumph and demand credit for it. The media at the time had doubted and criticized it as an overpromise, while Joe Biden wondered whether it was sufficient. Kamala Harris even claimed in the vice presidential debate that “if Donald Trump tells us I should take it, I’m not taking it.” (She did, in fact, take it.)
Rather than tout their accomplishments, Trump’s team seems determined to lean into the latent vaccine skepticism on the right. In so doing, they’re both elevating Ron DeSantis as the clearest threat — Trump has criticized him more than any of the potential 2024 candidates, and DeSantis hasn’t even announced he’s running — and flipping the script on what should be a major talking point in the former president’s favor.
The talking point is obvious: “The leftist media said I couldn’t do it, and I did it. They won’t give me the credit, but we’re proud of what we accomplished.” Instead, Trump’s team is actively pushing opposition research that shows Ron DeSantis doing the awful thing of — wait for it — pushing the wheelchair of an elderly woman to get the vaccine.
Roger Stone, on Google Image search: "Bwahaha, we've got you now, DeSantis!" pic.twitter.com/rmrq9x6KVQ
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) February 1, 2023
What Trump appears to be recognizing, and reacting to in his normal “I’m not a puppet, you’re the puppet” way, is that DeSantis has the better of him when it comes to actual lockdown policy and management of Covid. Where Trump retained his established bureaucratic management team under Anthony Fauci, which made one bad decision after another, DeSantis fired those who got in the way of his approach and engaged in partisan and fraudulent leaks to the press. And where Trump doubted reopening, DeSantis pushed forward with it.
What Trump is left with is his normal attitude of “forget the thing I said.” Loving the vaccines is now out of bounds. So the same Trump who claimed the vaccines would be remembered as “one of the greatest achievements of mankind” a little over a year ago is now shitposting: “The real Ron is a RINO GLOBALIST, who closed quickly down Florida and even its beaches. Loved the Vaccines and wasted big money on ‘Testing.’ How quickly people forget!”
As early shots across the bow go, this is not the sort of thing that is going to deter the latent DeSantis campaign. In fact, it’s an illustration of how difficult a challenge the Florida governor presents to the former president, who makes a big deal about endorsing him in the first place. What a mistake! If only Trump had known Ron would be so successful, he never would have done it.