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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Why DeSantis Should Swallow His Pride and Work for the Next Trump Administration

Donald Trump should get Agrippa.

President Trump Meets With Governors-Elect In The Cabinet Room Of White House
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The first Roman emperor, Octavian Caesar Augustus, was a talented military recruiter and a canny politician. He was not a terribly good general. At the Battle of Philippi, the final stand of Julius Caesar’s killers, Mark Antony oversaw most of the operations; at the Battle of Actium, Mark Antony’s own occasion of demise, the action was mostly guided by Octavian’s friend, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.

Agrippa is one of history’s ciphers. His origins are obscure; the family name “Vipsanius” is highly unusual, probably from one of the forgotten languages of the Boot’s mountainous and only recently Romanized interior. He was an unprepossessing man—thick-necked and heavy-browed, irascible, so averse to public appearance that he refused military triumphs three times. He also was the indispensable pillar of Augustus’ new state, and came to share only a hairbreadth’s less formal power than Caesar himself. He is little remembered today—a name on the Pantheon for bored tourists to wonder about vaguely.

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Not everyone is a showman or a prophet; nor is everyone a general or an administrator. Every politician should look in the mirror and make an honest evaluation: Am I an Augustus or an Agrippa? To the patriot, to be either is its own reward. 

That brings us to the erstwhile presidential candidate, Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, and his future. 

It is universally agreed that DeSantis’s governorate has been a model for conservative action. Florida is prosperous and growing; its crime rate is low; DeSantis has taken on sinister corporate interests, progressive prosecutors, and obstructionist administrators with aplomb and efficiency.

It is also universally agreed that DeSantis is not a national-level retail politician. His neutral face is a scowl, he has the off-putting habits of licking his lips and grinding his teeth when he isn’t speaking, his canned lines sound canned, his improvised lines sound weird, and he talks through his nose. It was clear that he would never be able to hold a candle to the ever-telegenic Donald Trump, even setting aside the former president’s functional incumbent status and cadres of hard-core political followers. A poor media approach—reminiscent of the failed Mastriano senate campaign’s fortress strategy—and constant organizational chaos sealed the deal. A candidate can overcome all this on friendly territory (as Florida is), but America as a whole doesn’t owe you anything and isn’t going to act like it—and didn’t.

Effective but unlovely. DeSantis is an Agrippa. It would be folly and a great shame to leave him unused in a Trump cabinet. 

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The position of attorney general is a natural fit for a man of DeSantis’s talents and training. The Department of Justice has been transformed into a political police. DeSantis, himself a former prosecutor and legal counsel for the Navy, will be well-positioned to set department policy and purge political agitators from the personnel rolls.

Similarly, the State Department, the historical enemy of right-populist presidents, would stand to benefit from DeSantis’s unsmiling attentions. Our diplomatic establishment is set on exporting the most radical, unpopular portions of our national culture to unwilling recipients; department funds are used to encourage lawlessness abroad. That’s just the surface; there is more than enough material at the Harry S Truman Building to keep our man busy for four years. The point of caution with an appointment to State is the Floridian’s foreign policy alignment, which remains a question mark even after a year of campaigning. 

Which brings us to two other plausible prospects for a DeSantis appointment that seem of more dubious benefit to the country—the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. While it seems unlikely that DeSantis would tolerate the ongoing cultural revolution in our armed forces, it seems far from certain that he is very interested in curbing the onward bloody career of the American war machine. Similarly, it does not seem like a sure thing that a former legal advisor at Guantanamo will have many qualms about the various infamies of our national security apparatus. Best not to take chances.

The simple fact of the matter is that the conservatives’ bench is shallower than the liberal’s; the broadly America First–aligned bench is shallower still. It is unlikely that DeSantis will have much success in any future national election, and Florida’s two senators are relatively young and vigorous conservative Republicans. A cabinet post is the natural use for him, and also his best chance at continuing to climb the greasy pole.

For his part, Trump has been relatively graceful since DeSantis dropped out of the race. Why shouldn’t he be? He’s an Augustus. (And he has bigger fish to fry after Nikki Haley’s surprisingly close Tuesday performance in New Hampshire.) DeSantis has endorsed 45, but appears to be gauging his involvement in a campaign that he raised legitimate reservations about in a Tuesday radio appearance. For the sake of the country, let’s hope he skips the sour grapes and decides to embrace the Vipsanian mindset.

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