The legendary Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Bob Prince had an infectious optimism.
When his beloved Bucs scored an improbable comeback victory, Prince was given to declaring, “We had ’em all the way.”
Ron DeSantis should be so lucky.
If ever there were a candidate in desperate need of a miracle comeback, he’s the one.
The man I and many others viewed as the future of the Republican Party approaches the first presidential primary debate Wednesday as a wounded disappointment.
The polls say he’s in second place, behind former President Donald Trump, but the Florida governor is closer to being toast than he is to being the front-runner.
The RealClearPolitics average of August polls shows Trump thumping him by 40 points, a spread that continues to expand.
It’s a remarkable change considering that DeSantis was on top late last year.
And Trump’s lead, which has grown or held steady after each of his four criminal indictments, isn’t limited to national polls.
He’s ahead by 27 points in the RealClearPolitics average in Iowa and 31 points in New Hampshire.
As a result, there is no end to the advice DeSantis is getting from outside his campaign.
“Do more of this and do less of that” pretty much captures the sense of the peanut gallery.
Even the ideas in the leaked memo from his super PAC were predictable: “show emotion” and attack Joe Biden and the media.
Brilliant! Just think, a consultant got paid for that.
A more sophisticated idea comes from Scott Walker, the former Wisconsin governor.
Like DeSantis, Walker was highly successful in delivering a conservative agenda in his state and, along with Florida’s Jeb Bush, became an early favorite in the 2016 GOP primary.
But Walker never got close to the Iowa caucuses, dropping out in the summer of 2015 when his support collapsed after two flat debate performances.
In a June Wall Street Journal op-ed that reads like a direct message to DeSantis, Walker wrote that “The lesson from my failed campaign is simple: Bold ideas trump strong records.”
“A record of strong conservative policies may get you onto the debate stage, but you must build on those successes with equally tenacious proposals to go further,” he added.
That advice reminds me of a friend’s observation, that DeSantis sounds as if he’s running to be governor of the United States.
Like Walker, he’s having trouble translating his Florida achievements into a national agenda that is larger and more inspiring than a rehash of state programs.
But Walker also noted something else about his experience that has huge relevance to DeSantis.
“Everyone knew what Mr. Trump wanted to do,” he wrote.
“ ‘Build the wall,’ ‘lock her up’ and ‘drain the swamp’ were clear battle cries at his rallies and in his remarks during debates.”
Eight years later, Trump is following the same playbook and making some of the same promises.
His enemies’ list is considerably longer and includes the prosecutors and some of the judges handling his cases.
No matter the grievances and targets, his supporters love it now just as much as they loved it then.
Echoing his language about the Russia collusion probe when he was president, Trump took to Truth Social after the Georgia indictment to rail: “So, the Witch Hunt continues!”
And late Friday, citing the House report that President Biden used pseudonyms in emails as vice president, Trump’s campaign sent a fundraising email where he pledged to “FIRE the CROOK in the White House.”
Just as Walker, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Christie and other primary rivals had no answer for Trump’s smash-mouth politics eight years ago, DeSantis appears equally confounded.
But what if all the advice, even the best of it, is meaningless?
What if there is nothing more DeSantis or anyone else could have done to change the trajectory of this year’s race?
Consider this possibility: Trump has a lock on the nomination and all the tough talk and smart money spent trying to take it from him is wishful thinking.
Most challengers, and their donors, operated on the theory that Trump had an unshakable level of support that was about 25% of GOP primary voters.
Everything above that was, in the opponents’ views, soft and therefore persuadable.
That seemed reasonable at the time because Trump’s support mostly ranged from 35% to 40%.
There was also a fatigue factor leading GOP opponents to argue that Trump could not win a general election, a move designed to help peel away those soft supporters.
But so far, the theory and the unelectable argument have fallen flat.
In polls throughout much of the late spring and summer, Trump scored a solid majority of support and averages nearly 55% in the last 10 national polls counted by RealClearPolitics.
In effect, the supposed soft support has hardened and grown.
It could be that DeSantis and others simply failed to persuade the persuadables.
Or it could be that the history-making indictments — all brought by Democratic prosecutors — expanded and solidified Trump’s base and there was nothing his opponents could have done to get it.
Of course, the race is far from over, with the Iowa caucuses still nearly five months away, on Jan. 15, and the New Hampshire primary about a week later.
While emerging evidence in the criminal cases against the former president could yet take a toll, it would be foolish to assume that.
To win, someone will have to take the nomination from him.
Trump seems to realize as much, with his plan to skip the Wednesday debate on Fox News and do a counterprogramming Twitter interview with ex-Fox anchor Tucker Carlson a sign he believes he has nothing to gain from mixing it up this early.
His move is a clever end-run that puts him — and Carlson — in direct competition with Fox and the other candidates for attention.
Beyond Trump’s legal peril, there is one other wild card in the race — the scandal enveloping Joe Biden.
Left-wing media outlets that have sneered at the claims Joe was directly involved and profited from Hunter Biden’s influence-peddling schemes are finally recognizing that they can no longer hide from the growing body of evidence.
Although they’re still protecting Biden by calling the story just a political liability, I believe the day is rapidly approaching when they will have to concede the evidence is compelling that Joe sold his vice presidency to Chinese Communists and foreign oligarchs and that Hunter was just the bag man.
If so, the resulting panic among Dems to replace Biden could scramble the GOP field as well.
Although it’s probable Trump would be the main beneficiary, we could be approaching a Katie-bar-the-door moment where all the wheels are in motion and anything is possible.
That’s the reset America desperately needs.
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