AUSTIN PETERSEN: Online DeSantis supporters need to stop making me hate their candidate

On the heels of Vivek’s stellar debate performance, and his promise to fire anyone in the federal government with a Social Security number that ends in an odd number… it can be easy to forget that anyone else is running in the GOP primary. Donald Trump excluded of course. The departure of South Carolina Senator Tim Scott barely measures as a blip on the radar, even to intensely committed partisan politicos like myself (AKA nerds).

Nevertheless, there are still other candidates in the race, including Ron DeSantis, who only seems to appear in my (largely right of center) feeds whenever it’s to make me wish Ron DeSantis had remained just the Governor of Florida. Apparently most Republicans from his own state feel the same way.

Trump’s appearance alongside Tucker Carlson, Kid Rock, and Dana White at a UFC event last weekend brought nearly all of Madison Square Garden to their feet. The exception being comedian Bill Burr’s wife, whose obnoxious double birdie reminded the Internet that even the greatest men can still be brought low by a toxic woman. Choose wisely, fellas.

As someone who has met enough celebrities to have grown tired of them, I could still recognize the moment for what it was: A muscular display of raw star power, the political equivalent of Taylor Swift’s running into Travis Kelce’s arms and laying a big smooch on him. Some people didn’t see it that way, however.


Now look, I understand when you’ve picked a losing candidate how it can feel to see people enjoying the fame and celebrity and rush of exhilaration others feel when they see their winning candidates receiving the joy and adulation of the crowds. It’s ridiculous to assume that DeSantis, whom I personally like by the way, could ever draw the kind of attention or excitement that Trump does. And while some of the more “serious minded” conservatives out there may balk at the celebrity factor out there, you’d be a fool to discount its effects on politics. Ever since Richard Nixon was destroyed in the debates by a handsome young John F. Kennedy and a young Roger Ailes wrote a memo that eventually culminated into the creation of Fox News, at least some conservatives have gotten that memo that star power, looks, and charisma matter. Or as the kids are calling it these days “the rizz.” Does DeSantis have rizz? No. He’s awkward, unfocused, and doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself at all on the campaign trail. It reminds me as a former Rand Paul 2016 supporter of how it felt right before Rand dropped out. He was surly, unhappy, and looked ready to go back to being the greatest senator we have. Maybe it’s time DeSantis went back to being the greatest governor we have.

Does Trump have rizz? He’s got it coming out of his ears. Now as I said, I like DeSantis, but it seems his supporters are trying to talk me out of it at every turn. Just by posting that I thought Vivek Ramaswamy did a great job at the debate got me swarmed with personal attacks from DeSantis supporters. That’s a bad sign, and I know a thing or two about what it means, as I’ve run a losing presidential campaign myself and know how supporters can react when they feel desperate.

Obviously it’s impossible for a candidate to control their supporters online, that doesn’t change the fact that some people are going to like or dislike a candidate based on the behavior of their supporters online. I ran for office twice in the past decade, once for President, and then once for Senate. I learned a harsh lesson in my first campaign about what supporters can do if they’re not reined in or given any guidance. They can become toxic, and can actually do more damage to the campaign than one might realize. I didn’t make that same mistake the second time, and we policed our supporters to the extent that if they wanted to volunteer or participate with us they had to take a positive approach, and we focused on building healthy communities. Not only did it pay off with better results, but we raised 6x more money and I have lifelong friends, and even a wife, from all the healthy grassroots we planted.

The day after my 2018 primary loss I had a conversation with Courtland Sykes, one of my bitter rivals, who has since become something of a friend. We talked about how he had learned the same lessons I had, and wished he had done more to encourage his supporters to be friendly, build healthier conservative communities online and in person, and done more to be a positive example for them. We could all stand to learn that lesson, but none so much as DeSantis’ team in this 2023 primary. I can only hope that they don’t decide to jump off the same bridge like the NeverTrump lemmings of 2016, who have alienated themselves so much they’ve become literal Democrats. We all need to come together afterwards like Courtland and I did, get behind our candidate, and build a healthier, more conservative America. If DeSantis wins, I’ll doff my hat and do the same. But for now, DeSantis’ supporters have my fingers twitching and reaching for a MAGA hat.

Image: Title: DeSantis supporters