I Have Thoughts About This Ron DeSantis Pudding Ad
Who is this ad for? Not Republican primary voters. At least, not directly. But it does get at some serious electoral problems for the Florida governor.
Viewers on networks including Fox News, Newsmax and CNN are being treated to this ad about Ron DeSantis’s “pudding fingers” from Make America Great Again Inc., a pro-Trump Super PAC:
The first thing I thought when I saw this ad was: “This has a serious Lincoln Project vibe.”
What I mean by that is the Lincoln Project isn’t in the business of electing anybody to office. It’s in the business of producing entertainment for liberals and connecting donations in response to that entertainment. I don’t think this ad is a donation grift. But it is definitely entertaining for liberals.
Let’s start with why we’re even talking about pudding. The allegation that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ate pudding by sticking three of his fingers into a pudding cup, engendering disgust among his companions on 2019 private plane flight, first appeared in a March 16 Daily Beast feature story about DeSantis’s reputation for social awkwardness, and how that awkwardness might impair his campaign for the presidential nomination.
The pudding anecdote, sourced to “two sources familiar with the incident,” delighted liberal readers and hopscotched across the liberal internet. Slate declared DeSantis had entered “the pantheon of politicians eating weirdly.” Vanity Fair warned the mental image of the governor slurping pudding would “haunt your dreams.” Defector demanded to know which three fingers he used to eat the pudding. If you’re the sort of corny liberal who says “Drumpf” and “The Former Guy” and who thinks Sarah Palin actually said “I can see Russia from my house,” it’s probable you are aware of Puddinggate and got a good chuckle out of it.
But do Republican presidential primary voters — the putative audience for this ad — have prior awareness of how DeSantis is alleged to have eaten his pudding?
Certainly, conservative media had not previously been very interested in the pudding anecdote. When the Daily Beast pudding story ran last month, the Fox News headline about it was “Big Scoop: Latest media hit job on DeSantis reveals how he eats pudding.” Of course, Fox is basically DeSantis’s external PR shop, so I guess you’d expect that. But Newsmax, a Trumpier outlet, didn’t cover the story at all. Breitbart did cover it, but only by way of aggregating giddy comments on Joy Reid’s MSNBC show from Rick Wilson — a literal Lincoln Project co-founder — about how DeSantis was “awkward and weird” and would lose to Trump.
So if you are a Republican voter seeing this ad on Fox News or Newsmax, aren’t you likely to find it confusing, in addition to being gross? Why are they talking about pudding? The ad helps out with your potential confusion by flashing up a March 17 headline from a conservative media outlet alleging that DeSantis ate pudding with his fingers — and that conservative media outlet is the London Telegraph, presumably chosen because of a lack of suitable articles from US-based conservative media.
So the ad doesn’t make a lot of sense as a way to engage Newsmax viewers. But if the point is to grab the attention of media and political elites, well, mission accomplished. Most reporters are liberals, and if you want them to pay attention to you, that’s the rare circumstance where you may want to copy the tactics of the Lincoln Project.
The rest of the content of the ad, of course, is squarely within the likely subject of the upcoming presidential campaign. When the narrator says DeSantis keeps “sticking his fingers where they don’t belong,” he’s talking about Social Security and Medicare, in addition to pudding. DeSantis has a record in Congress of voting to cut both programs, and Trump says he won’t do that. But I think this ad is best understood as a (savvy) way to focus reporters, operatives and other political elites on a meta-message: DeSantis is likely to be a general election trainwreck. This feeds a narrative that’s already getting a lot of steam in the media in recent weeks, and may serve to generate even more free media that will sow further doubt among conservative elites about whether DeSantis would really be a safer electoral choice than Trump.
When Trump and his allies need to make arguments directly to voters, closer to actual primary voting, I expect they’ll keep talking about Social Security and Medicare, but they’ll use a more straightforward approach.
Back in 2018, I wrote a piece for New York about Lululemon founder Chip Wilson. Wilson turned his company into a global sensation, got pushed out of his role as chairman of the company’s board after some business missteps and media gaffes, watched the brand continue to struggle in his absence, and then tried to muscle his way back into leadership, billing himself as the essential man who could fix Lululemon. The question I tried to grapple with was: Is Wilson an excellent businessman, or is he just a person who had one excellent business idea?
When COVID hit, Ron DeSantis had one excellent political idea. His position against lockdowns and restrictions, for the normal delivery of government services, and for societal normalcy energized Republicans and won over a lot of independents. He won a big re-election. But he’s increasingly failing to convince me that was a demonstration of durable political talent, rather than of having had one good political idea.
On Thursday he signed a bill to ban abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy. When I’ve written about DeSantis’s record of electoral success in Florida — a record I think Democrats should take very seriously — one thing I’ve repeatedly noted is that DeSantis was defending a mainstream position on abortion when he sought re-election in 2022. On his watch, Florida had banned abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a policy idea that both polls pretty well and would have permitted the vast majority of abortions that American women had sought under the Roe regime.
That’s out the window now — in 2024, he’ll be running on an extreme and unpopular position. Abortion, like Social Security and Medicare, is another issue where Trump may succeed at vaguely fudging his way to DeSantis’s left in a way that strengthens his position in a general election. Is DeSantis really going to let Trump position himself, in the primary, as the electability candidate? In addition to being a bad approach to the general, we’re seeing with this ad how it’s even likely to cause him trouble in the primary.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Chip Wilson’s departure from a leadership role at Lululemon following a series of business and media missteps. He left a position as the company’s chairman, not its CEO.
Desantis has now paired Paul Ryan's least popular positions with Santorum's.
This is supposed to be entertaining for liberals? Maybe it’s because I’m farther left than liberal, but I just think it’s gross.
I dislike Disantis because I find his policy positions bad. I don’t care that he’s awkward. That doesn’t matter.