Last week at CPAC, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade attempted to find somebody — anybody — who said they wanted Ron DeSantis to be president over Donald Trump. Every person he asked said they preferred Donald Trump, until he found somebody in a Ron DeSantis shirt — who told him they she didn’t have a preference one way or the other.
When the traditional poll of who the best conservative in America is was finally held, Donald Trump won with sixty-two percent of the vote compared to Ron DeSantis’s twenty percent. Although this on its own is not all that important, it does show where the minds of the hard-core conservatives who attend CPAC currently are. CPAC — short for the Conservative Political Action Conference — has traditionally been essentially a yearly version of the Republican National Convention, with specific focus on the hardest of the right-wing allowed in mainstream politics. These are the same members of the far-right who vote in Republican primaries and are active in Republican politics — to put it another way, they are the people whose ideas trickle down to the general population during the general election.
Of course, 2023 was an odd year given how many high profile conservatives decided to not attend the event. The aforementioned Ron DeSantis did not show up, nor did Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, or Mike Pence. For so many high profile Republicans — especially ones so firmly established as hard line conservatives — to not attend an event specifically designed to allow them to say their views unchallenged is down right unheard of.
Personally, I think the main reason DeSantis didn’t show up is because Trump did, and DeSantis has been trying rather hard to distance himself from the Trump crowd. DeSantis is currently trying to make his name as a more marketable Trump — even scoring the endorsement of Trump’s old primary opponent Jeb Bush, who was seen as the “establishment candidate” back in 2016, and whose defeat by Trump was supposed to be a massive blow against the old ways of the Republican Party.
The rise of DeSantis among Republican elites is not something anybody is surprised by. It was a joke among the left during the 2016 Presidential Election that all of the Republicans declaring themselves “Never Trump” were only doing so because of his mean words, not because of disagreement with his policies. I imagine DeSantis feels the same way, hence why he is trying to brand himself as the nicer equivalent of Donald Trump. However…