On Aug. 8, Jacksonville University hosts a governor’s debate between Ron DeSantis and that guy, the one who knows Florida best.
Will the debate between the Conservative Warrior and that dude whose name is on all the best gas pumps and algae blooms matter?
In fact, the case can be made that—for Republican voters—Adam Putnam doesn’t matter. Not after President Donald Trump came into Tampa and, with all the sentimentality of a man cleaning a fish, eviscerated Amnesty Adam without even mentioning his name.
Trump endorsed DeSantis. Then said it again. And again. All the while, he didn’t speak Putnam’s name. As if DeSantis is running against Rocky De La Fuente instead of the man who’s been running for Florida governor his entire adult life.
In the words of noted political theorist Li’l Flip: “Game Over.” Li’l Flip likely would agree that there is, indeed, a certain schadenfreude to all this.
Putnam has, for months and months, clung to Trump like a homunculus with a flag pin and a campaign account larded by every Tallahassee interest there is. It read to some as overcompensation: Putnam was one of those Republicans who was, shall we say, late in seeing the president’s virtues.
He somehow thought Trump was “vile and obscene.” Imagine walking that one back.
Trump had already endorsed DeSantis twice on Twitter, and the GOP race changed from Putnam being up 20 to down 20 in a matter of weeks once the ad spotlighting the Trump endorsement came through.
Just before that change happened, I pissed off DeSantis in a media avail, and got him to say some things about Putnam that have since been excised from the talking points.
“Adam Putnam has been running for office since he was 22,” he thundered. “[Putnam] has not had a career outside of politics, he inherited his money, he was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. I’m somebody who was a blue-collar kid. I started making six dollars an hour. I worked myself. I got nothing handed to me,” DeSantis said.
That very real grievance, as much as Putnam’s flip-flop on Trump’s vileness and obscenity, seemed to drive DeSantis as he made gains through July and into the catbird seat of inevitability in August.
I kept asking DeSantis and his campaign team how he would compete with Putnam’s money and backers and so on. The answer was always Donald Trump.
I didn’t buy it. But I do now.
It’s easy to miss the point of Donald Trump. Many reading this see him variously as the erosion of what gains may have been made socially in the 20th century, a Russian dupe, an economic halfwit, a would-be strongman at war with his own intelligence services and nation’s media, a road to national bankruptcy, a moral void, and other such unpleasantries.
Yet, as poll after poll reports, about half the nation is on board. Sure, it’s the half that, by and large, swole our unfunded liabilities and shrank our civil liberties, voted for the people who built the biggest prison industry in the world, championed war with infinite duration and infinite fronts around the world while dropping the hammer at home, and so on.
But it’s the half that dominates our civil discourse. And you can bet money that the rhetorical model of President Trump will prevail. He is our Hugo Chavez, our Fidel Castro—pushing a nationalist mythology to detract from the erosion of American ideals elsewhere.
People may like the nationalism, but they really like the tough talk. It mirrors their frustration, the equivalent of a “worked shoot” in professional wrestling (where maybe it’s still all bullshit, but the introduction of verifiable realism spices it up a bit).
Way back in January, I wrote a column asking the question: “Did the Gov race get Trumped?”
Seemed unthinkable at the time. Putnam had all the cards. Except the Trump card.
And the Trump card was at low ebb, after Trump endorsed the loser in both the primary and general in the Alabama Senate race.
As I wrote then: “But Ron DeSantis is the antithesis of Roy Moore; DeSantis is generally the smartest guy in the room, and those who have seen him and Casey Black together will assert that he definitely married up.”
And, as those who saw Casey DeSantis’ ad go viral last week, her pitch-perfect delivery and media savvy may have been the final nail in Putnam’s coffin.
So, yeah, about that JU debate. It might as well be canceled. Donald Trump picked the winner in the governor’s race.
The only person happier than Ron DeSantis? Whoever emerges on the Democratic side in three weeks.