There Are Republicans Who Feel Low After Election Day—Then There’s Ron DeSantis

From a conversation between New York Times columnists Gail Collins and Bret Stephens headlined “There Are Republicans Who Feel Low After Election Day. And Then There’s Ron DeSantis.”:

Bret Stephens: Gail, remember the old Rolaids ad that asked, “How do you spell ‘relief’?” I think the answer is “m-i-d-t-e-r-m-s.”

Your thoughts about last week’s results?

Gail Collins: Feeling pretty chipper, Bret. The House breakdown looks like nobody’s going to be able to get anything much done, but that’s definitely not the worst possibility.

And the Democrats’ 50-vote Senate protection wall seems safe, now that Arizona and Nevada were called over the weekend. Which means, thank God, that Joe Biden will be able to get judicial and other important appointments confirmed. That’s even before we see what happens in Georgia next month.

Bret: If Herschel Walker loses the runoff in Georgia, I’ll be ecstatic. Simply the fact that every election denier who ran to become the top election official in a battleground state lost is a cause to uncork the champagne.

Gail: Wow, you’re certainly being fair-minded. For a conservative.

Have to point out that the Democratic winners don’t exactly have all your priorities at heart.

Bret: I know that. Still, the main takeaway from the election comes down to a line in E.E. Cummings’ poem, “i sing of Olaf glad and big,” about a conscientious objector during World War I.

Gail: OK, an E.E. Cummings reference wins you the round, even before I hear it.

Bret: In the poem, Olaf says, “there is some stuff I will not eat,” although the actual word he uses is a bit more pungent than “stuff.” And what Americans said last week is that — however else they feel about inflation or crime or the overall direction of the country — they aren’t about to eat stuff when it comes to reproductive rights, election denialism and Republican candidates who have the intelligence of turnips and the personalities of tapeworms.

Gail: I’m enjoying all the Republican backlash against Donald Trump, promoter of terrible candidates. I know you love anything that makes Trump unhappy, too. But what about the Republicans’ new star, Ron DeSantis?

Bret: At this point, I say: Run, Ron, Run. Anything to stop the Donald. I know you’re not a fan, to say the least, but isn’t there a bit of you that wants him to challenge Trump in a primary?

Gail: Well, maybe for the fun of it. But I’m not going to get wrapped up in a fight between our crazy ex-president and a guy whose policies I so deeply disagree with. DeSantis is bad news. And that video of his that talks repeatedly about how “God made a fighter” freaks me out. God is not rooting for Ron DeSantis!

Bret: On that point, you almost have to hand it to Trump: “Ron DeSanctimonious” is sort of brilliant. And the governor of Florida is definitely not my preferred G.O.P. nominee — that would be Nikki Haley or, if he were still interested in politics, Mitch Daniels. But I’d vastly prefer to see DeSantis over Trump. The governor seems to have figured out how to triangulate between the three core factions of today’s G.O.P.: Christian evangelicals, Chamber of Commerce conservatives and die-hard Trumpsters. And he’s just enough of each to appeal to all three.

Two questions: Do you think he’ll run for the nomination? And if he does, can he beat Trump?

Gail: No reason he has to run — DeSantis is only 44 and he can certainly wait out Trump — as well as most of the other top Republicans.

Bret: True, although bad things tend to happen, politically speaking, to those who wait. For instance, Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, should have run for the presidency in 2012, before the George Washington Bridge traffic debacle more or less destroyed his second term.

Gail: My other question about DeSantis is whether he’s actually good enough as a campaigner. Seeing him at big-time events, I’ve been struck by how … boring he is.

Bret: Boring is relative. Is Biden exciting?

Gail: So if it was DeSantis against Biden, who would you back?

Bret: Against Biden? At the risk of you never speaking to me again, probably DeSantis. The governor is obviously full of himself and I’m no fan of stunts like the flight of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. But I agree with him on policy questions like keeping schools open during Covid, he’s been a popular and effective governor and he obviously knows how to win elections.

Gail: Always comforting when we can totally disagree.

Bret I also doubt that Biden has the physical stamina and mental acuity for a second term. Liberals shouldn’t gull themselves into thinking that the midterms vindicate the idea that Biden is a more viable candidate than people thought. He’s still wildly unpopular. The Democrats need a different nominee, especially if they aren’t lucky enough to get Trump as their opponent.

Gail: We both feel Biden shouldn’t run, but that doesn’t mean DeSantis would be an improvement. Tell me which Democrats you’d still vote for if DeSantis were the Republican nominee.

Bret: I’d probably vote for Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, Governor-elect Wes Moore of Maryland, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota or Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. They occupy the sensible center of the Democratic Party.

Generally speaking, I like it when politics are played between the 35-yard lines. My hope for this midterm is that Republican voters notice that whenever they ran with normal conservatives, whether it was Brian Kemp in Georgia or Mike DeWine in Ohio, they won handily. Chance of that realization dawning? I’d say: 50-50.

Gail: All the scenarios you’re describing involve voters with lots of choice. Now that the midterms are over my dream would be to have Biden announce he’s not running so all those people you mentioned on the Democratic side could raise their hands, along with a dozen more.

Bret: While I’m at it, let me add Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina to the list.

Gail: Feel free to pile them on. I believe our president has been sounding at least a little more iffy lately when asked about another campaign.

Bret: The paradox of the midterm is that the strong Democratic showing weakens Trump’s hand, which makes it less likely that he’ll be the nominee, which in turn weakens Biden’s chances of winning re-election.

Gail: Meanwhile, the lame-duck Congress is coming back to work, full of stunned Republicans who thought they’d be celebrating a big midterm win — to which I say, hahahahaha. Any predictions?

Bret: No predictions from me, Gail. But an editorial in The Times on this very question spoke for me. Congress should immediately pass a bipartisan reform of the 1887 Electoral Count Act so that nobody ever tries to pull off what Trump attempted on Jan. 6. And we should get rid of the stupid debt ceiling once and for all to avoid the useless political brinkmanship that comes when it risks being breached. To adapt a line attributed to Mahatma Gandhi about peace, there is no “way” to fiscal responsibility. Fiscal responsibility is the way.

Gail: More pre-Thanksgiving agreement on the electoral count matter. I’m with you and I will refrain from mentioning (sort of) that I walk the dog every day past a statue of Samuel Tilden, the righteously elected president in 1876 who was denied the job by Southern racists who …

Bret: Threw the election to Rutherford B. Hayes, who kept his promise not to seek a second term.

Gail: Ever since that Tilden trauma, there have been periodic, generally unsuccessful efforts to reform the system. Hope this one works.

Bret: Same.

Gail: Let me change to a more positive note. I know one of your favorite Democrats was Tim Ryan, the senate candidate in Ohio, who lost but gave a very forthright concession speech. “We can’t have a system where if you win, it’s a legitimate election, and if you lose, someone stole it,” he said.

Sad as I was to see Ryan lose to the dreaded J.D. Vance, his response to defeat was pretty pitch perfect.

Bret: Agreed. And it reminded me of the exceptionally classy concession speech that John McCain delivered in 2008 on the night he lost to Barack Obama. Democracy depends on many things, but nothing is as important as knowing how to lose well. Ryan showed equal class and deserves the next open spot in Biden’s cabinet.

Before we go, Gail, our readers shouldn’t miss Douglas Martin’s terrific obituary for the comedian Gallagher, who died last week at 76.

Gail: Love when you end with one of your shout-outs to the brilliant work other sections of the paper do.

Bret: Don’t know what this says about me, but the obits are usually my favorite section of the paper.

I remember Gallagher for taking a sledgehammer to toothpaste, cake, watermelon and anything else he could obliterate onstage, ideally spraying the front rows of his audience with all the goop. What I didn’t know is that he got kicked out of high school for insubordination on his last day of school, then got fired from his first job out of college for going to work dressed as a gangster carrying a fake Thompson submachine gun.

Gail: Whoa …

Bret: Not sure what the point of that is, except that I’ll always miss someone who devoted his life to making us laugh. And maybe it will show Trump that he can still have a lucrative career destroying all kinds of stuff for kicks. It just doesn’t have to be our democracy.

Gail Collins is an Opinion columnist, is a former member of the editorial board and was the first woman to serve as the Times editorial page editor, from 2001 to 2007.

Bret Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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