Donald Trump spoke at a rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa a week or so before the 2016 Presidential Election. As I drove past the jammed parking lot that night, I was struck by how many people attended.
The moment was a revelation that something seismic was afoot and an “uh oh” for me. It was the first time I believed Trump actually could win. It scared me then and still does.
I had the same reaction to the ex-President’s appearance at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit over the weekend. That event, also in Tampa, attracted young people from all over the country.
The Associated Press reported that Trump “received the rock star’s welcome he’s grown accustomed to over the seven years in which he’s reshaped the Republican Party.”
This greeting didn’t come from disgruntled seniors who caravaned from the Villages to pay homage. Those roaring their approval for Trump represent the coveted 18-to-30-something demographic both major political parties crave. And this crowd, at least, loved Trump. They connect with him.
Gov. Ron DeSantis also appeared at the same conference the day before Trump spoke. DeSantis also received an enthusiastic greeting, and that’s against the backdrop of the two men’s presidential ambitions.
A straw poll — read into it what you will — showed a marked preference for Trump over DeSantis. Trump received 78.7% support to DeSantis’ 19%.
You may wonder how anyone could support Trump after he repeatedly lied about a stolen election and incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. I’m not Nostradamus, but my best guess is that they believe President Joe Biden is feeble and out of touch.
Biden has the thankless task of satisfying a fractured Democratic caucus that often seems at war with itself. The progressives believe he doesn’t hear them, and the traditional Democratic wing thinks progressives are unrealistic with their demands.
Say what you will about Trump — prosecutors might just do that — but he has Republicans speaking with one voice. Florida GOP congressional candidates even promise to finish Trump’s border wall if/when they take power after November.
Guns? No compromise.
Border security? Send ‘em back.
Taxes? Cut ‘em some more.
Abortion? Get rid of it.
Those are just a few of Trump’s greatest hits. DeSantis learned from the master and amplified many of those points in his culture war on anything he didn’t like.
So, here we are, two men who dominate the GOP by doing things their way.
I believed that Trump’s candle was about to burn out and that DeSantis would be there with a cup of water to ensure it did. I figured Trump’s legal problems and advancing age would play into DeSantis’ younger, more energetic hands.
But maybe not.
This much I do believe, however.
Once the November election is over, there will be no bigger story in politics than the Trump-DeSantis dynamic. And after last weekend in Tampa, anyone who still believes the old guy is ready to be an elder statesman role should reassess.