The Best Move for Trump on DeSantis: the Pappy O’Daniel Gambit

Posted: February 23, 2023 by datechguy in election 2024, elections, elections, politics, primaries
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I’ve written both about Donald Trump’s attacks on Ron DeSantis as being a bad idea and I further wrote that if DeSantis wants to strike back all he needs to do is invoke Fauci.

So that still leaves the question: How does Donald Trump counter a popular governor like DeSantis with a strong record and a reputation for fighting the fights conservatives need fighting.

The answer can be found in Lyndon Johnson’s first senate campaign where his primary opponent was a fellow named Pappy O’Daniel.

Pappy O’Daniel was an entertainer who parleyed his radio show act into a a fortune selling flour into the governor’s chair in Texas. One of the things he constantly pushed was the idea of a pension

He’d sing, tout Hillbilly Flour, quote scripture, and declare he was fed up with “crooked politics” and “scheming professional politicians.” He promised to pay every Texan over 65 a $30-a-month pension. He didn’t say how he’d fund those pensions, preferring to sell the idea singing lyrics he’d written to the tune of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”—“Thirty Bucks for Mama.”

Smart types scoffed. Politicians and reporters said Pappy’s crowds came for the circus. But battered Texans yearned for something new. In the Democratic primary, against 11 rivals, Pappy got 51 percent, taking the nomination in a state where Republicans didn’t count. 

When the sitting US Senator Morris Shepard died in office Pappy O’Daniel appointed the 87 year old son of Sam Houston to his seat pending a special election. Lyndon Johnson seeing this as an opening promptly announced his candidacy and Pappy wasn’t far behind.

Johnson as a sitting congressman had a problem. O’Daniel was an immensely popular governor with the voters and while he was happy to be in bed with the various lobbyists (expect for the liquor lobby O’Daniel’s one unshakable principled belief was that booze was a tool of the Devil) an attack on his as corrupt was useless not only because Johnson’s own associations were not all that clean but because of the people still listening to his radio show now done from the Capital wouldn’t buy that the person fighting so hard to get them a pension didn’t care.

So Johnson took a different path. He painted O’Daniel as the indispensable man of Texas the man who was needed in the statehouse to fight for you and your pension here while he (LBJ) could fight for you in the Senate.

It was a stroke of brilliance. O’Daniel has talked about his fight for Pensions in his re-election campaign just six months before and Johnson’s praise of him and his work in Texas made direct attacks on him almost impossible.

In the end it paid off, at least until on election night Johnson let down his guard and allowed his key districts to report which gave an opening for the folks in the Liquor lobby, who wanted Pappy, out of Texas who did this:

Suddenly “late” returns from counties in East Texas where Congressman Martin Dies, another candidate for the open Senate seat, had previously run strong with 46% of the vote with O’Daniel getting 34% and Johnson 11% and a 4th candidate Mann 9%. As Robert Caro put it on paged 738-739 of his 1st volume on Lyndon Johnson:

But Dies did not do as well as he had done earlier. He received only 82 of these “new” votes — not 46 percent but 32 percent, Johnson and Mann didn’t do as well either: Mann received 6 votes or 2 percent; Johnson did particularly badly; he received 3 of the new votes : 1 percent. O’Daniel, who had received 34 percent on the first returns, received 64 percent on these later returns.

This pattern was repeated in county after county in east Texas where O’Daniel’s “Magic Ballots” kept turning up. Johnson manged to get a few “corrected” returns from a few spots but as official returns had been sent in such things were few and far between. He contacted George Paar known as the Duke of Duval who was the power there and bluntly asked for more votes. Duval’s reported reply: “Lyndon I’ve Been to Federal Penitentiary and I’m not Going Back For You” was logical. Because the official numbers had not come from East Texas no matter how many votes he agreed to provide O’Daniel’s folks would simply create more in counties that had not yet reported. In the end his 5000 vote lead became a 1311 vote loss 175,590 to 174,279.

Sound familiar?

Bottom line until O’Daniel’s foes in big Booze stole the election for him Johnson’s plan worked.

If I was advising Donald Trump, I would use the same tactic as LBJ did.

I would point to what was done in Florida and point out that there are plenty of people on the left who want DeSantis out of there. Who want to stop his innovations from spreading to other states. I’d point to his reforms on voting, his strong attacks on the sexualization of children and his taking on woke education and say that America NEEDS DeSantis in Florida to keep it a shining example for the entire nation.

I would compare this to his own reforms on the federal level, and suggest that DeSantis moves are much like his own but on the state level, it’s a great opening for Trump to tout his own record which is without question the best overall record of any 21st century president, from Tax Cuts to prison reform and beyond.. This way he can point to his own initial endorsement of DeSantis in his first campaign and even to some degree take credit for those accomplishments made possible by his own support in his initial election win that was by a small margin. Suddenly DeSantis’ success becomes derivative of his own.

I’d even go one better. I’d point out that Disney would LOVE to get DeSantis out of there and have the chance to try to influence a different perhaps weaker governor who would appoint people of their choosing to boards and commissions to slowly undo all that has already been done. I’d suggest that DeSantis needs at least one more term to solidify these changes and to make sure that the woke legions, led by Disney can’t reverse what has already been done. He owes it to the people who sent him back to make sure the job is done.

It’s the type of argument that has the best chance of not only preventing a DeSantis 2024 campaign but would make attacks on him by DeSantis very difficult.

Anyways that would be my play and I submit and suggest to the Trump campaign that it’s the one most likely to put the nomination in his hands.

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