In a blink, following Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ declaring his candidacy, former President Donald Trump was on the attack.
Presidential primaries are not for the faint of heart.
Here’s but one headline, this from Business Insider:
Trump and his allies gleefully mock DeSantis during the governor’s glitch-filled presidential rollout on Twitter
And long before this moment, offense was taken in various quarters at Trump’s attacking DeSantis. Back there in November of 2022, our friends at the Wall Street Journal were complaining about Trump’s already targeting rival DeSantis, headlining an editorial this way:
Donald Trump Rallies for … Donald Trump
Even before the midterms, he’s mocking his potential presidential competitors.
To which I can only say: Good for Trump. And we ain’t seen nothing yet.
Just yesterday, Trump’s Truth Social site pumped out three blistering attacks on DeSantis.
The first said:
Ron DeSanctimonious had ZERO CHANCE of winning the Republican primary for governor of Florida before a man named President Donald J. Trump endorsed him!
The second went after the Florida governor’s record:
When the Ron DeSanctimonious facts come out, you will see that he is better than most Democrat governors, but very average, at best, compared to Republican governors!
And the third slammed:
“Rob” DeSanctimonious and his poll numbers are dropping like a rock!
For those who blanche at these and more forthcoming Trump attacks on DeSantis or other competitors? A fact of history: Presidential primary battles have always been, and will be again, brutal.
Recall the 2000 battle for the GOP nomination between then–Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain? McCain had pulled off an upset in New Hampshire, where Bush had been favored. The battle shifted to South Carolina. And all hell broke loose. (READ MORE: DeSantis Dives Into the Muck)
Over there in the admittedly far-left Nation in 2008 — when McCain was making his second, this time successful, bid for the nomination — was this recounting of the 2000 Bush–McCain showdown in South Carolina:
Eight years ago this month, John McCain took the New Hampshire primary and was favored to win in South Carolina. Had he succeeded, he would likely have thwarted the presidential aspirations of George W. Bush and become the Republican nominee. But Bush strategist Karl Rove came to the rescue with a vicious smear tactic.
Rove invented a uniquely injurious fiction for his operatives to circulate via a phony poll. Voters were asked, “Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain … if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” This was no random slur. McCain was at the time campaigning with his dark-skinned daughter, Bridget, adopted from Bangladesh.
Yes indeed. The fact that McCain had a “dark-skinned” daughter — whom he had adopted from Bangladesh — was made into an allegation that McCain had an “illegitimate black child” who was the result of an illicit affair. Bush won the primary and went on to win both the nomination battle and, eventually, the election.
Which is another way of saying that presidential primaries are brutal — and always have been.
In 1980, former Ambassador George H.W. Bush raced around the primary trail assailing former California Gov. Ronald Reagan as a believer in “voodoo economics” (that would be the combination of tax and budget cuts, aka “supply side economics) and more. Other Reagan nonsupporters insisted a Reagan nomination would mean the end of the Republican Party.
This problem of throwing everything including the kitchen sink at a primary opponent is not limited to the GOP, either. Go all the way back to the classic and huge Democrat battle in the 1960 West Virginia primary, featuring Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy versus Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey.
Humphrey had been rejected for service in World War II because he had, according to his draft physical, color blindness or some such. JFK, on the other hand, was legendarily the hero of PT-109, when the Japanese sank his torpedo boat and Kennedy rescued his crew. The Kennedy campaign sent Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., namesake son of a Democratic president who West Virginia Democrats loved, to run around the state and accuse Humphrey of being a draft dodger. Kennedy won, Humphrey’s campaign ended that night, and it wasn’t pretty.
The central point in all this history is that if you don’t fight, there is no chance at all of winning.
In 2014, I had the opportunity to interview then–private citizen Donald Trump. I mentioned that at the base level of the GOP, Republicans believe that their standard bearers — then, most recently, Mitt Romney in 2012 and McCain in 2008 — get attacked in the media and don’t fight back.
Romney had been pictured as a heartless, cold rich guy whose company denied the cancer-plagued wife of an employee health care — not to mention he was cruel to animals, a “fact” illustrated by Romney placing his dog in a cage attached to the roof of his car as he headed out for a family vacation. McCain, heretofore a media favorite, was suddenly depicted as a womanizer having an affair with a female lobbyist.
If he ran in 2016, I asked Trump, would he fight?
His answer was that he would absolutely fight:
And I will be doing that. I mean, as I go down the line, I enjoy exposing people for being frauds and, you know, I would definitely be doing that.
This time around, everyone who has paid attention to the former president knows that he is in this race to win — and he will fight. And any opponent who is seen to be making progress will find themselves in Trump’s crosshairs.
And, I would add, this is good. For a simple, blunt reason. The winner of the presidency will be instantly confronted with a small platoon of America’s enemies just looking to cause trouble for both America and the rest of the world. If a GOP candidate can’t handle another GOP opponent, the obvious problem arises: They will be seen as unable to handle Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping or Kim Jong Un or Iran’s mullahs.
DeSantis is now officially in the race — and instantly the former president has launched what can only be described as the first round of countless attacks.
So sit back, get the popcorn, and buckle in.
And know with certainty that this is how primaries do — and should — work.