How to Fight Donald Trump? Targeting His Inability

While conservatives and progressives alike have mocked Florida governor Ron DeSantis for a campaign that has, to be nice, struggled to gain traction, Phillip Klein of The National Review raised a good question. “How,” he asked, “[do] you run against someone who is still polling over 50% in the Republican primary?” DeSantis has done an impression of former President Donald Trump while campaigning – attacking the media, saying migrants are making the country more dangerous, never apologizing, etc. – but, as Donald  Trump advisor Jason Miller put it, why would you watch a Rolling Stones cover band when the Stones are still touring?

How To Beat Donald Trump

So if “out-Trumping Trump” isn’t an option, what can DeSantis do to distinguish himself?

Well, how about attacking Trump’s competence, or, rather, his complete lack of it?

Republican challengers can cut into Trump’s support by reminding Republican voters of the core fact of the Trump Administration: Trump, for all his bluster and for all his ability to dictate the national conversation, did not succeed in achieving his own objectives while in office. Even if you agree with what he says he wants, Trump’s lack of focus, weak grasp of policy, and inability to persuade or negotiate means he will never deliver. 

Trump said he’d build a wall on the southern border. After four years, he built a few hundred miles of wall – most of which already had barriers – along a 2,000 mile border. The wall is already in disrepair and even the wind can knock it over. Needless to say, Mexico never did pay for the wall. 

Donald Trump said he’d slash our trade deficit, particularly with China. Well, our trade deficit with China shot up by $100 billion dollars a year, or roughly 39%, during the Trump Administration. Our overall trade deficit shot up $121.25 billion a year, or roughly 24%, during his time in office.

Trump said he’d be the “law and order” president. The murder rate rose 21% during his administration. Lest you think this was a problem of “Democrat cities,” “rural gun violence rates match[ed] or outpace[d] cities,” according to the National Criminal Justice Association. 

Trump said coal workers would be “working their ***** off,” but coal industry employment fell by 14% during the Trump years. He said he’d get opioids under control, but U.S. opioid overdoses exploded by 44% from 2017-2020.

Trump said he’d “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Yet when the time came, not only did he not have a replacement ready, but his disengagement from reforming healthcare effectively killed the effort. 

Trump said he’d rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, but he never passed any major infrastructure legislation, and “Infrastructure Week” became a running joke during his term. 

The list goes on, but you get the point: the losses during the Trump Administration far outweighed the wins. The wins he did get, like appointing conservative Supreme Court justices, was one any other Republican could also have done. 

Put another way: you can like talking with your mechanic. You can think he’s a good guy. Yet if every time you go to him to put in new spark plugs or change a headlight he ends up cracking your transmission or cutting your brake lines, you find another mechanic. 

Ron DeSantis can very effectively argue that it’s time for the Republican Party to find another mechanic.

Trump’s most strident supporters, of course, will blame “obstructionist Democrats,” the media, RINOs, or a (non-existent) “deep state cabal” for Trump’s myriad failures. But those are excuses, and ones other presidents have overcome. Trump, after all, was hardly the first to deal with an opposition party that didn’t share his agenda. His decision to relentlessly attack the media hardly won him any friends within it. And as for RINOs and the “deep state cabal?” Why, Republicans should ask themselves, did he so thoroughly fail to bring them to heel? Why, when he has the powers of the presidency, would people still not follow him?

The real culprit for the failures of the Trump Administration is Trump himself. He couldn’t focus on policy. It was telling the GOP didn’t even put out a policy platform in 2020. His highly-touted negotiating skills were nowhere to be found. His tendency to rely on easily-disprovable statements limited his ability to persuade anyone who didn’t already agree with him. The constant staff turnover and drama meant his team could never stay focused on objectives and frequently had to start efforts from scratch with new personnel. 

As Tucker Carlson put it, Donald Trump was good at destroying things, not building them. 

Perhaps all the GOP base wants is to destroy things; if that’s the case, Trump already has the nomination locked up. But if the GOP is interested in building things, DeSantis (or Tim Scott, or Nikki Haley, or Mike Pence . . .) could convincingly make the case that Trump is simply too incompetent to build anything the nation needs.

That is a line that would stick.

Neal Urwitz is a public relations executive in Washington.


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