Like many pundits I have come to the conclusion that Ron DeSantis cannot defeat Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination. But unlike the run of the mill political handicappers, I came to this conclusion not by polls and chit chat among power brokers and donors, but with a Jon Meachem-esque historical analysis of the last two divas with ties to Florida tangled: Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
By 2001 Britney Spears has established herself as both socially acceptable jail bait and the queen of pop. But nipping at her heels was the much more vocally talented, but not as popular Christina Aguilera. In the life cycle of any young, female pop star there are distinct phases: 1. cute, asexual Disney talent, 2. forbidden fruit starlet, 3. I’m a (legal) woman now and boy do I want to have sex with you, 4. trainwreck, 5. redemption story. Well, by 2001 Britney Spears was fully emersed in the third phase and released “I’m a Slave for You” (which would now have to be the less catchy “I’m an Enslaved Person for You”). It was a masterclass in tasteful sex appeal. She showed off her flat, sweaty abs while dancing with a snake – the most phallic of reptiles – and for good measure, banged the video choreographer Wade Robson (molested by Michael Jackson, sleeping with Britney Spears (which inspired Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River”) the only thing left for Robson to be the ultimate pop music Forrest Gump would be if either Elvis or Madonna were his parent). It was a hit song and established Spears as the limit of tasteful, youthful sex appear. But one artist did not seem to think it was the limit: Christina Aguilera.
The next year, Aguilera raised the bar and released the single and video, Dirty. In the video, Aguilera decided that the only way to defeat Spears in a nuclear ass race was to literally show her ass. In a video where she grinds in a boxing ring wearing assless chaps, Aguilera seemed to be saying “I see your abs Ms. Spears and I raise you butt cheeks!” If Spears was the teen movie sex dream, Aguilera seemed to be saying, “You know what men like more than hot chicks in movies? Hot chicks in porn! Take that Britney!” By today’s standards both videos feel tame (the same way the “Rump Shaker” video felt scandalous when I was a young teen, but now just looks like a fun party) but at the time it became clear that Aguilera had overstepped. The pop starlet war of 1998-2002 was over. Britney had won.
Now don’t get me wrong, 23 year old me LOVED “Dirty.” I liked the song and the video. But if you trust the judgement and libido of 23 year old J-L Cauvin you would have had President Demi Moore, VP Mariah Carey and Surgeon General my medical school-attending girlfriend. It was clear that Britney, by taking it right to the line forced Aguilera into an impossible position: concede or go too far. Either way, she would lose.
So with that insightful trip down memory lane, it should be clear how this applies to Trump and DeSantis. Trump, a fake blonde with some raw talent in his field, who should not be on social media and probably should have a conservator, is Britney Spears. DeSantis is the more talented (at governing), less well-liked competitor trying to establish himself as number 1. Unlike America, the Trump Republican party is not America of 2002. It is a group so morally compromised and hypocritical that you would think there would be no bottom, but alas I believe there might be. For the MAGA folks Trump’s charisma-infused hate is just the right amount. He makes jokes, he claims credit for a surging economy and he tells the people they hate to fu*k off. He has set the standard for how much lack of decency MAGA will accept.
DeSantis, like Aguilera, seems to have made the wrong calculation. Aguilera, as the more talented singer, could have pivoted to more serious music and engaged a broader range of music fans, even if she had to concede the pop star crown. DeSantis, instead decided to bypass “Dirty,” which would have been a mistake already, and go straight to Filthy. He is trying to out-Trump Trump in a culture and party defined by Trump. Trump is the exact package of immoral feces that the MAGA crowd is willing to ingest. If you go crueler, especially without the charisma or personal connection of a Trump, you are toast. To modify the characterizations of Al Gore and Bill Clinton from the 90s, “When DeSantis hates, you feel he’s the most hateful man in the room; when Trump hates, you feel like your hate is the most important hate in the room.”
DeSantis has instituted a 6 week abortion ban, non-unanimous capital punishment, concealed carry without a permit and a host of anti LGTBQ bills, all with the intention of out-Trumping Trump. But his political assless chaps are showing and while losing the moderates that could have made him competitive against Trump, he is also proving to be a less fun version of Trump. MAGA people want their hate to be fun and Trump does that for them. DeSantis just makes hate feel like hate and the key to the MAGAts is that they want to hate, but still delude themselves into thinking they’re the good guys. They are slaves for Trump, but just are not going to get dirty with DeSantis.