The angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin distinctions being drawn by some 2024 presidential candidates when they are forced to talk about Donald Trump’s 2020 “stolen election” fables are mildly ridiculous to non-Republicans. Yet they are a matter of deadly seriousness to the candidates aiming for a share of the MAGA vote (if not a position in a future Trump administration), who can’t just concede to the nomination to the 45th president. Their goal is to identify with the vague belief of a large majority of Republican primary voters that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected without encouraging the idea that 2024 should become a triumphant vindication of Trump’s personal grievances.
Ron DeSantis has now come up with a clever, if risky, way to square this circle. He has long argued that Trump’s failure to finish the drill in 2020 and the former president’s preoccupation with that election are signs he’s not a good bet for Republicans in 2024. But now he’s actually arguing that Trump was the author of his own demise, as DeSantis told NBC News:
“Whoever puts their hand on the Bible on Jan. 20 every four years is the winner,” DeSantis told NBC News correspondent Dasha Burns in his first broadcast network interview since he launched his presidential campaign.
DeSantis continued to discuss all the ways he believed the previous presidential election was not perfect. But pressed further, he clearly stated that Trump lost.
“But respectfully, you did not clearly answer that question,” Burns said. “And if you can’t give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on whether or not he lost —”
“No, of course he lost,” DeSantis said, adding, “Joe Biden’s the president.”
The Florida governor’s new departure is to blame Trump rather than the evil Democrats for the alleged voting irregularities that made the election suspect:
“[H]ere’s the issue that I think is important for Republican voters to think about: Why did we have all those mail votes? Because Trump turned the government over to Fauci,” DeSantis said, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. “They embraced lockdowns. They did the CARES Act, which funded mail-in ballots across the country.”
So there you have it: DeSantis is suggesting that Trump is as much a perpetrator as a victim of the rigged election of 2020. Not only does this provide an elegant solution to the problem of validating stolen-election schemes without exonerating Trump, but it also nicely meshes with DeSantis’s strategy of running to Trump’s right. Trump’s alleged empowerment of devil figure Anthony Fauci has been one of DeSantis’s most consistent targets.
There’s a lot of cynical hypocrisy in a governor whose state Republican Party has long championed no-excuses voting by mail to suddenly make it sound as if the nefarious practice was invented by Fauci with an assist from Trump. But DeSantis’s candidacy is in trouble, and he needs to take some long shots. The suggestion that Biden didn’t legitimately win but that Trump helped rig the election for him sure does make the former president look like a loser, all right, without for a moment legitimizing President Biden, who just watched the White House fall into his lap.