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Inside politics

Americans don’t want Trumpism without Trump

Charisma-free: Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Giorgio Viera/Getty

It was often said that when Bill Clinton walked into a room, “each person thought he noticed them in particular”, says Edward Luce in the FT. That’s what made him the “ultimate retail politician” – he liked people, “and they knew it”. When presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis turns up, even his most ardent backers feel he “harbours a special dislike for them”. But the fact that the Florida governor is a “black hole of charisma” is only part of the explanation for why he has gone from being a favourite to win the Republican nomination in 2024 to America’s “most rapidly falling meteor in years”. In truth, his “electile dysfunction” comes from a deep misunderstanding of his fellow conservatives.

What DeSantis offers is simple: “Trumpism without Trump”. Specifically, without the indictments and the possible future jail time and the drama – a version of Trumpism that “college graduates could vote for without apology”. But, of course, that isn’t what the millions who backed Trump in 2016 want at all. “MAGA [Make America Great Again] voters cannot get enough of the Trump drama.” Part of the thrill of electing him was precisely the fact that he was “unelectable”, and that educated types said he was “unsafe and not respectable”. It’s now clear that the whole “DeSantis hypothesis” is a fatal misreading of what these voters want.