Some DeSantis critics on social media are complaining that this is a veiled call for violence against Fauci. I disagree.

I mean, it’s hard to get worked up about a threat that has the word “elf” in it.

But I do think this points to another problem with DeSantis. If, like me, you’re dreaming of a post-Trump GOP, having the guy who’s most likely to deliver that post-Trump future ranting about chucking Fauci into a river or whatever feels decidedly not “post-Trump.” It feels “Trump.” In fact, that’s probably unfair to Trump as I’ve never heard him say something as lowbrow as this about Fauci.

What really distinguishes DeSantis from Trump isn’t that one guy is willing to grandstand insultingly about his opponents while the other isn’t. It’s that, when DeSantis grandstands insultingly, he pairs it with lucid criticism. His point here about Fauci shrugging off the damage to children from school closures is entirely right, as I noted myself last night.

The other thing about DeSantis’s grandstanding that grates is that he often comes off as a tryhard. When Trump snaps at reporters or goofs on his enemies, you sense that he’s just being himself. He doesn’t do it because the crowd loves it; he does it because he’s a big ball of grievances with a spray tan and loves the fact that his adoring fans enjoy having him air those grievances as much as he does. Whereas when DeSantis gripes about the press or Fauci, there’s always an element of “this should get me a few points closer to Trump in Iowa.” His tireless pandering to anti-vaxxers last year is another example; he took it so far by refusing to give a straight answer when asked if he’d received a booster that even Trump got annoyed with him. Trump is a man of personal grudges but DeSantis is more of a grievance jukebox for the base. Just tell him what you want him to play and he’ll play it.

I wonder if he had the line about chucking the elf across the river memorized beforehand or if he just winged it. Either way, he’s doing a good enough Trump impression nowadays to have distanced himself from the rest of the Republican field.

Am I the only one, though, who sees an ulterior motive in his Fauci-bashing? Yeah, sure, Fauci is an excellent foil for a governor who’s made his name nationally by opposing COVID restrictions. Remember “Don’t Fauci My Florida”? DeSantis will seize any opportunity to bash the guy and remind voters of the contrast between the two:

There’s further strategic logic behind the Fauci-bashing, though. Remember when DeSantis tipped his hand early this year as to how he might attack Trump in a primary? Asked in an interview what his biggest mistake was as governor, he said it was his failure to object more strenuously to the federal government’s calls for a national lockdown in the first weeks of the pandemic in 2020. You may recall who was in charge of the executive branch at that moment in time, and to whom lockdown fans Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx reported.

If you don’t recall, rest assured that candidate DeSantis will be reminding you frequently next year.

Attacking Fauci is his way of teeing up an eventual attack on Trump for having sold out freedom-loving Americans by endorsing the first round of lockdowns. Is that line of attack potent enough to swing MAGA voters from Trump to DeSantis? Eh, probably not. But it’s logically sound inasmuch as there’s no way to beat Trump in a primary by running to his left. DeSantis needs to get to his right, and making sure voters know that Trump declined to fire Fauci when he had the chance is one way to do that. Same goes with the anti-vax pandering: That’s another rare issue in which Trump and populists are at odds, as Trump is justly proud of Operation Warp Speed whereas some of his fans are still freebasing ivermectin.

The fact that the heir apparent is more ambivalent about COVID vaccines (publicly at least) than the man he hopes to replace is another way in which the “post-Trump” GOP might not be as glorious as anti-Trumpers hope.

I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though. If the latest YouGov poll is right, we won’t have to think about an heir apparent to Trump for another four years:

Mike Pence is a lot closer to Liz Cheney than he is to DeSantis there. And DeSantis is a lot closer to zero than he is to Trump. Grim.

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