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August 25, 2023

A Listless Nothingburger

An offhand remark by Ron DeSantis turned out to be a lot less politically costly than some had hoped.

If a listless vessel were a dog, then this one wouldn’t hunt. And if you have no idea what we’re talking about, then we’ve already made our point.

Last weekend, Ron DeSantis sat for an interview with The Florida Standard, a conservative online publication that aims to “right-size the Florida media environment” with content “rooted in truth.” During the interview, while discussing the tendency for some Trump supporters to view those who don’t support their guy as somehow insufficiently conservative, DeSantis remarked that a durable political movement must be based more on principle than on personality.

In doing so, the Florida governor used the term “listless vessels” to describe that tendency toward reflexive, uncritical support for Trump, and some Trump staffers immediately pounced on the remark, even calling it a “basket of deplorables” moment, referring to Hillary Clinton’s stunningly arrogant and idiotic statement about Trump supporters during the 2016 campaign.

It was nothing of the sort. Take a look and see for yourself:

As DeSantis put it: “A movement can’t be about the personality of one individual. The movement has got to be about what are you trying to achieve on behalf of the American people, and that’s got to be based in principle. Because if you’re not rooted in principle, if all we are is listless vessels that are just supposed to follow whatever happens to come down the pike on Truth Social every morning, that’s not going to be a durable movement.”

Taken dispassionately, the statement above is hard to argue with. After all, politicians come and go, while political philosophies endure. But taken in the heat of a political campaign, it’s easy to see how it could be seized upon.

And seize they did. “DeSantis is now running the same failed playbook as Hillary Clinton,” said Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung, while Trump adviser Jason Miller tweeted: “Looks like Ron DeSanctimonious just had his ‘Basket of Deplorables’ moment. Not good!”

Whoa, Jason. Who’s being sanctimonious here?

Just before he made the “listless vessels” remark, DeSantis named two Republican congressmen and one Republican senator to illustrate his point. The two congressmen, Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, are DeSantis supporters. They’re also patriots with rock-solid conservative credentials. The one senator, meanwhile, is Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who’s a Trump supporter, and who’s also a grandstander, a shape-shifter, a profligate spender, and a seeker-out of stupid wars.

Roy and Massie both have American Conservative Union ratings of 100. Graham’s ACU rating is 55. If you’re fighting a conservative fight, which of these men do you want in your corner? And guess which of them are being called RINOs?

We can hear ‘em now: Douglas Andrews is a RINO!

Taking a step back, we can take issue with DeSantis’s delivery. He didn’t need to say, “unless you’re kissing [Trump’s] rear end,” and his swipe about “whatever happens to come down the pike on Truth Social every morning” was unnecessary. Still, it’s easy to see why DeSantis said what he said. He said it because his great strength is policy, while Trump’s great strength is personality. And, frankly, he also said it because he’s struggling mightily against Trump, whose lead in the national polls is now more than 40 points (though less in the early voting states), and because DeSantis is confounded by and perhaps envious of the remarkable affinity and allegiance that Trump has built among his supporters.

But as for “listless vessels” being the next “basket of deplorables” or the next “bitter clingers,” they’re not in the same ballpark. Republicans should be able to make good points and draw legitimate distinctions between each other without being clubbed by the language cops.

“In other words,” as Hot Air’s David Strom describes it, “'listless vessel’ is hardly fighting words. ‘Deplorables’ was clearly a fighting word — an insult about certain people and a direct character attack. ‘Listless vessels’ is an abstraction and describes a phenomenon, not a particular group of people that anybody would identify with, so I doubt it has the punch that Hillary’s gaffe did.”

Turns out he’s right, at least if we’re to use Wednesday night’s candidate debate as a barometer. During that two-hour back-and-forth, with candidate DeSantis in the center of the stage, not a single one of his Republican colleagues brought up the comment.

Suffice it to say, for a gaffe to have Clintonian staying power, it must certainly be mentioned more than zero times during a candidate debate just days later.

Let’s move on. And let’s remember our common cause — and our common enemy.

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