The politics of grievance is taking over the Republican Party. The race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination is likely to become a contest between the two most successful politicians in the US – former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Conventional politics should deal with problem solving, as scientists define it, “a deep belief in the positive ability of collective action to solve social problems and protect individuals from common risks.”
President Biden exemplified conventional politics when he acted to protect savers from catastrophic bank failures. “Americans can rest assured that our banking system is safe — your deposits are safe,” Biden said. “Let me assure you that we will not stop there,” the president added. “We will do whatever it takes.”
The grievance policy is based on resentment: “inciting, spreading and inflaming negative emotions such as fear or anger”. Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this month, Trump declared: “I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”
DeSantis takes aim at what he calls “woke” — meaning liberal — ideology. “In Florida we will never surrender to an awakened mob,” he said in California. “Ours is a country where awakening goes to die.”
The difference between the two Republicans is that Trump’s grievances are very personal. He promises revenge on his enemies, mostly Democrats, but also some Republicans — like, for example, DeSantis. Speaking in Iowa, Trump criticized DeSantis for opposing ethanol subsidies and for supporting changes to Social Security and Medicare. Trump even called DeSantis’ battle with the Disney corporation a “fraud.” Trump wrote on his website that the only reason DeSantis went after Disney was to show he was a “tough guy.” Trump claimed that Disney and DeSantis “probably worked together to make him look like a fighter.” Trump will not run for a rival Republican “fighter”.
DeSantis rarely mentions Trump, who remains very popular among Republican voters, except to praise him. In his new book, DeSantis argues that Trump brought a “singular star” to the 2016 presidential race.
Tom Edwards, a “moderate” school board member in Sarasota, Fla., who was targeted for defeat by Gov. DeSantis, said of the governor’s style of politics: “Honestly, it’s nothing but bullying. That’s the bullying he did to Disney … That’s the bullying he did to our LGBTQ+ students. And now he’s doing it to me.”
Both DeSantis and Trump embrace a populist ideology, which in foreign policy means isolationist. Both are critical of US involvement in the war in Ukraine. DeSantis dismisses the Russian invasion as a “territorial dispute” — a local conflict that poses no threat to the US. Florida’s governor warned: “We cannot prioritize intervention in an escalating foreign war over the defense of our own homeland.”
Their views on the war in Ukraine have put them at odds with more establishment Republicans in the Senate. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the downing of a U.S. drone by a Russian fighter jet should serve as a wake-up call to isolationists “that it is in our national interest to treat [Russian President Vladimir] Putin as the threat that he really is.”
DeSantis’ campaign style is more scripted, less spontaneous than Trump’s. A CNN poll of Republican voters conducted this month shows DeSantis has a clear lead over Trump among college-educated Republicans (41 percent to 23 percent).
DeSantis is poised to get everything he wants from the Florida Legislature, including tougher abortion bans, a ban on diversity and equity programs in Florida schools and a law allowing Florida residents to carry concealed weapons. “We will push his agenda across the finish line,” the Republican state Senate president promised.
Biden presents himself as a problem solver, but most Americans do not believe he has solved many problems. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll just before the State of the Union address last month, 62 percent of Americans said Biden had accomplished “not much” or “little or nothing” as president. If there is a severe recession or if Russia wins the war in Ukraine, Biden’s re-election prospects are likely to be sunk.
When problem solving fails, the complaint policy wins.
There will be many twists and turns between now and November 2024. For one thing, Trump could face criminal charges. Would that make him unelectable? Trump said at CPAC that he will not drop out of the race if he is impeached. He even said it would “probably … increase my numbers.” Maybe he’s right. Another complaint!
Bill Schneider is Professor Emeritus at the Schar School of Politics and Government at George Mason University and author of “Standoff: How America Became Ungovernable” (Simon & Schuster).
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, copied or redistributed.