Trump's subliminal play against DeSantis
Plus: Bakhmut's ruins belong to Putin. Does it mean anything?
The problem with Gov. Ron DeSantis is that he’s a lawyer, and he has almost no weapons that are effective against Donald Trump. See, lawyers look for fact patterns. Trump runs psyops campaigns. Just look at this annoying Old MacDonald-had-a-farm ad run by a Trump-supporting political action committee.
First, the facts. Almost every Congress has had to deal with the Fair Tax bill. It’s a favorite son of many (small “l”) libertarians and has been floating around since at least Ross Perot’s day. Sen. Rand Paul is a big supporter of the Fair Tax, which would shutter the IRS and go to a national use or consumption tax—a sales tax. While in Congress, DeSantis co-sponsored the bill—one of dozens of Republicans, according to Politifact—in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Even Trump has flirted with the Fair Tax.
In fact—remember, lawyers love facts—DeSantis responded to the ad with a video of Trump yacking about the Fair Tax. Another fact: New Hampshire is peppered with socially liberal libertarians. The Free State Project targeted the Granite State to bring their liberty-minded throngs to its borders, since the state’s natural residents have a very populist, iconoclastic streak, along with their Yankee independence and disdain for big government. New Hampshire has no state income tax and no state sales tax.
So it makes sense that DeSantis’ support of the Fair Tax, a libertarian center plank of policy, would resonate with New Hampshirites, right?
Nope, because it doesn’t work that way. One of the latest polls, by JL Partners, a D.C. polling firm, has Trump ahead 53-33 percent, in a one-on-one primary run against DeSantis. If you factor in other candidates, declared and potential, Trump’s share shrinks by two percent to 51, while DeSantis’ shrinks to 18 percent. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who hasn’t decided whether he’ll decide, came in third with 10%.
Look at the ad again (if you can bear it). “You’ll pay more here. You’ll pay more there.” A clip with bobble-headed DeSantis next to President Joe Biden. The message is not factual. At best, it’s merely misleading. The message is subliminal. Florida has a big government, and DeSantis supports taxes. “Trump cut taxes,” concludes the ad.
This ad is running every 15 minutes in New Hampshire. It’s a saturation ad. Pure marketing. It’s not designed to sway anyone naturally opposed to Trump, but it will sway voters against DeSantis, which clears the way for Trump, making it much harder for the “not-people-person” DeSantis to counterpunch.
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Speaking of farm songs, McDonalds and Coca-Cola have been in a relationship for the better part of a century. Let’s look at how the giants do it. I watched a really interesting video by YouTuber Matt Patrick (MatPat) on whether McDonalds Sprite is really better than store-bought. Is there one thing that the golden arches does to make its Sprite, spritier? (I swear on “oink, oink here and an oink, oink there” that this has a connection to my topic.)
It turns out, no. Not one thing. Everything. McDonalds has complete control of how it serves Sprite—the water filtration, the temperature, the ice, the ratio of syrup to carbonated water, and the amount of carbonation. Counter to many theories, McDonalds Sprite is actually somewhat less carbonated than the bottles or cans you buy. But it is served at the perfect temperature, and the mix of syrup is calculated to include the volume of water in the ice (a very important fact). And McDonalds uses a straw about a third bigger than the standard straw.
And the biggie: McDonalds has food scientists on staff that have gobs of taste test data at their disposal, and they use that data to craft the perfect Sprite to go with their most prolific food product: fries. MatPat and his taster found that—for reasons they couldn’t pinpoint directly—McDonalds Sprite simply tastes better with McDonalds fries than other Sprite, despite the fact that the other Sprites are exactly the same formula.
With McD’s and Coca-Cola products, it’s about a controlled environment, and massive marketing. It’s about how the Sprite is served, not what’s in the Sprite.
It does connect to Trump’s ad. It’s not what’s in the ad, it’s how the message is delivered. “RON DeSalesTax.” Trump has been searching for a nickname that will stick. He tried “Ron DeSanctimonious,” which didn’t really resonate. Now, in the heart of libertarian New Hampshire, he’s hitting DeSantis in the sales tax. If you knew how sacred the no-sales-tax status is in N.H., you might begin to understand. Part of that is because N.H. is small, and surrounded by high-tax states. Of course, Delaware has no sales tax and is small, also—but you know who is from Delaware (one guess, and it rhymes with “hidin’”).
Timing is everything.
Democrats have tried to pry the N.H. primary out of first place, but the state’s Democrats broke with the national party recommendation, causing the DNC to back down. New Hampshire lawmakers passed a concurrent resolution to create a constitutional amendment to keep their primary first. Republicans are happy to keep N.H. a week after the Iowa caucuses. It’s likely that N.H. will be first on its own terms, though Democrats will be unhappy with that.
Looking at Iowa, a caucus which remains first, Trump leads most polls, though Iowa can be swingy depending on turnout, it being a caucus and not a primary. If South Carolina happens before New Hampshire, again, it’s Trump by double-digits in every poll. Going into N.H. Trump will have momentum, even if the momentum is psychological. What I mean is that we’re over six months from thinking about actual primaries, but the polls are meaningful to Trump’s psyops campaign. If you look at his Truth Social feed (not for too long, lest it damage your brain), it’s peppered with poll data between the attacks on the DOJ and Ukraine. Not many people, comparatively, read Truth Social, but the posts do “leak” into Twitter and mainstream news reports.
Trump isn’t going after folks who think critically about facts, like lawyers do. He’s going after the little fuzzy fringe just outside his core supporters, who will vote for him because he has convinced them that only himself as a quasi-dictator can solve their problems for them (or not “quasi”). Trump’s psyops is designed to pair his audience with his policies: softness on actual pro-life legislation (which pro-choice N.H. considers extreme), use of the military to go after street crime (a violation of posse comitatus, but who’s looking?), Schedule F—which would allow Trump to fire thousands of mid-level public servants in a political purge, and using Medicare and Medicaid as a bludgeon against “gender-affirming” care.
Trump’s serving up the Sprite at just the right temperature, mix, and time to go with the fries he’s offering to those suspicious-of-big-government types in New Hampshire. The DeSantis ad won’t run in South Carolina, and certainly not in places like Georgia (Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger have been declared enemies of the state—Russia that is). But in New Hampshire, where Trump began his primary march to nomination in 2016, this is how he’s going after DeSantis.
DeSantis, who runs a tight, tight-lipped campaign, faces a daunting task for a fact-pattern-brained lawyer. Winning over Trump-leaning or Trump-adjacent voters, who in their hearts know voting for Trump means a national loss—or worse, a win against all odds—means going against the facts in every way, with the added risk of being pilloried by the hostile national press.
We know from history that the budding assumed front-runner at the start is typically the faded has-been a the end of the primary season. Look at Rudy Giuliani, or Jeb Bush. Trump is an exception, because he’s not really running a campaign in the sense of a political operation. He’s running a marketing operation, targeting his opponents one by one.
I don’t know how DeSantis can overcome the trap he’s in with the Granite State. But I do know once he announces, he better throw away his strategy documents and go all in, because Trump, win or lose, is all-in to take him out.
Bakhmut is destroyed, but its ruins are Putin’s.
It’s not Russian propaganda that Bakhmut is no longer in the hands of Ukrainian forces. Once every building is hollowed out, leveled, or structurally compromised to the point where it cannot offer shelter, there’s really nowhere for Ukrainian defenders to hide or regroup, so they left.
But talk of “Pyrrhic victory” and “Russian losses” is counterproductive. All that matters in this war is land. Territory taken and lost, and it’s measured by the kilometer; sometimes in mere meters.
A man I follow on Quora, a former Kosovo Liberation Army fighter who now helps Ukraine wrote the following.
Yes, they have.
I spent this week with soldiers who have just returned from Bakhmut and we got the message yesterday morning. The battle is over. The Russians are in the city and the Ukrainians are out.
There is nothing to play down here. Some people may like to pretend that the city wasn't important (it absolutely was) or that the Russians have achieved a pyrrhic victory (because they lost so many people) but this is not completely accurate either.
It is true that Russia lost more soldiers than Ukraine but while the Russians sacrificed mostly convicts and untrained conscripts, a lot of good and experienced Ukrainian soldiers were killed. It will be difficult to replace these losses.
What is important now is to concentrate on the next battles. There is no need for despair, this is war: sometimes you win but often you don’t.
Russia lost maybe 20,000 soldiers (according to some U.S. estimates) dead, and up to 100,000 casualties taking this city, which has as its primary meaning denying President Volodymyr Zelenskyy his rallying cry “Bakhmut Holds!” The point is that Russia—personified by its dictator Vladimir Putin—doesn’t care. Russia, as Roland Bartetzko noted, has more meat to throw in the meat grinder than Ukraine does.
Remember, at the beginning of World War II, Japan fielded an army with more experienced troops (they’d been fighting in China for some time), a Navy with more experienced pilots, and doctrine and weapons well more advanced than America’s. But it didn’t take long at all for the United States, with its unmatched productive power and better training doctrine, to overpower the Japanese Imperial forces.
Russia today is not WWII-era America—a far, far cry from it. But Russia is not without productive capacity. Regardless of how many bans and sanctions piled on by the G7, Russia still has huge markets such as India, for its resources. It has China as a (for now) partner with similar interests. And the biggest challenge for the west, and for Ukraine, is that Russia doesn’t have to destroy Ukraine to “win.” It merely has to deny Ukraine the ability to win back its land. Ukraine cannot destroy Russia, even with western help.
It’s actually counterproductive for Ukraine to even think about attacking an inch of Russian soil, because that would cause western governments, like the U.S., to hold on giving them advanced weapons like F-16 fighter jets and M1A1 tanks. Nobody wants to expand the war with nuclear (with a giant stockpile of tactical weapons) Russia. So the best Ukraine can do is use its weapons to keep killing Russians until there’s no more Russians to kill, or until there’s no more of Ukraine under Russian rule worth defending.
Bakhmut is a sad reminder that to Putin, destroying Bakhmut is no different than taking the city, as long as it’s denied to Ukraine. To see what Bakhmut is, you only needed to look at the history of Grozny in Chechnya. To draw on one conclusion made by Andrew Harding, the BBC’s one-time correspondent in Chechnya, offered at the start of this war: “if [Russian] troops aren't willing to fight or aren't able to fight on the ground successfully, what do you do? You turn to the weapons that will work, that will deliver you the city. Even if what you hand to Putin is a victory that is pure rubble.”
It’s still a victory to Putin. The question now is what can Ukraine do next to avoid another city razed to rubble in a meat grinder?