Ron DeSantis just came out against the U.S. providing Ukraine with cluster-bomb munitions. This echoes Donald Trump, who recently said that President Joe Biden “should not be dragging us further toward World War III by sending cluster munitions to Ukraine.” So, once again, DeSantis fails to distinguish himself from the man who, according to the RealClearPolitics poll average, is almost 33 points ahead of him in the Republican nomination race. As Politico put it the other day, “The DeSantis-is-stalled news cycle is now in full effect.”

There are varied theories about the roots of DeSantis’s woes: His team isn’t ready for prime time. He’s too focused on the culture-war concerns of right-wing Twitter. He hasn’t properly brought the fight to Trump. Voters aren’t sufficiently aware of his impressive record as governor. Broadly speaking, he hasn’t made a powerful argument for his nomination or offered a winning vision for the country under a DeSantis presidency.

Arguments, vision—are these even capable of altering the shape of the race? Is Donald Trump way out ahead among Republican voters because of the strength of his arguments and the clarity of his vision for the United States?

Hardly. While Trump’s argument against a crooked establishment and his vision of populist retribution are welcome among a broad swath of Republican voters, they’re not his alone. What Trump preaches has become boilerplate on the right. It’s easier to count the elected Republicans who dissent from new-right populism than the ones who embrace it. And DeSantis not only embraces it; he speaks it more coherently than Trump and makes headline news by enacting bold new-right policies. If argument and vision counted as much as we’d like to think, DeSantis would be, at least, in striking range.

We’re eight years into the Trump phenomenon and long overdue in facing this simple, absurd, fact. What people love about Trump is Trump: The sub-Catskill zingers, the bronze-plated pomposity, the boundless egomania that winks at self-mockery, the tacky marketeering, the tabloid outrage, the fearless lying, the sincere disdain for standard political cant, the simpleness of his spite, even his idiosyncratic gestures and aborted sentences. They love the reality-show, pro-wrestling conflation of real life and theatrical battle.

It’s not about policies or ideas. Why would Putin apologists support a man who, as president, was arguably tougher on Russia than any other occupant of the White House? Why would anti-vax, anti-lockdown right-wingers support the man who greenlit Operation Warp Speed and gave Anthony Fauci extended free rein to experiment with the American population? Because they love Donald Trump, the man.

And then there’s Ron DeSantis. If you created an A.I. program to govern a state successfully as a Republican populist, you’d be lucky to end up with something like DeSantis’s record in Florida. From ensuring personal freedom during the pandemic to attracting businesses and residents to the state to bringing down unemployment to ridding schools of progressive poison and ensuring parents’ rights, DeSantis has much to boast about. The problem is that the A.I. program might beat him out on personal appeal. It’s not that there’s anything actually wrong with DeSantis’s demeanor. And he’s not the awkward weirdo that his detractors want to portray. He’s mild mannered and tremendously intelligent. He just gives you nothing extra. And Donald Trump is all extra.

It would be nice if arguments and vision were decisive. But that’s not where we’re at. If Trump is unbeatable on the right, he’ll remain unbeatable until and unless someone else comes along who, by strength of personality, can capture the love of the crowd.

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