In all likelihood, Donald Trump will soon announce his re-entry into the presidential stakes — a decision that, with the exception of Grover Cleveland and Teddy Roosevelt, is largely unique to American history. In so doing, he plans to build on the success he had in office, the Supreme Court’s decisions on abortion and other matters, and the Biden administration’s mistreatment of the economy, the border and the culture.
But one thing that will absolutely prove to be problematic for Trump when it comes to a primary — which he will absolutely have, given the machinations of multiple politicians who take issue with his approach or who will seek to supplant him — is a defense of his own performance in the last year of his presidency, facing a global pandemic.
To say that Trump failed in this moment is putting it lightly. Virtually every decision he made was wrong, with the notable exception of a travel ban. The decision to maintain Anthony Fauci in his role was absurd and insane in retrospect. He kept on Deborah Birx and others long after they had proven to be incompetent. The outsourcing of decisions on keeping schools open was ridiculous. And time and again, he engaged in an approach that ceded authority to others rather than making decisions himself about the process of governance.
In contrast, Ron DeSantis governed as a leader not trapped by the vagaries of the moment. He made decisions the media judged, but stuck to them in spite of it. Trump, beholden as always to the whims of the newspapers and CNN, caved in the face of this pressure. He allowed Anthony Fauci and others to become the de facto policymakers of the moment. And he did nothing to defend the truly balanced perspectives of those like Scott Atlas and the signers of the Great Barrington Declaration, who risked their careers to tell the truth about what our national policy ought to be.
Trump will run in 2024 on a record of success. But his Achilles’ heel is a failure of monstrous proportion, at a moment when leadership was needed. The pandemic came, and in its face, he caved like a weakling to the dominant bureaucratic forces that put children in a box and imprisoned workers at home. He met the maskers, and let them run wild. Until he grapples with this failure, his foes in 2024 will be ready to exploit it. DeSantis got it right. Trump got it wrong. It’s time for Republicans to reckon with that fact.