Is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis the Republican leader of the future? That’s the question on a lot of minds after Republicans suffered a disappointing night on Tuesday (which Donald Trump helped create by virtue of recruiting and endorsing awful MAGA candidates).
Going into the midterms, I assumed Republicans would perform well enough to prevent them from having to do any soul-searching or make any changes. This has been the pattern: Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 taught Republicans that they didn’t have to make any changes, the 2018 midterm losses could be dismissed as the historical norm for the party in power, and Trump’s 2020 loss couldn’t possibly be instructive, since he actually won the election. (He did not win the election, but he did try to steal it after he lost.)
Tuesday night’s midterm results make it much harder for Republicans to pretend that they are on the right track.
Republicans will now be forced to grapple with how to interpret the results. What they come up with will matter greatly, because the stories we tell ourselves inform our worldview.
Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post, wasted little time weighing in. There clearly seems to be a coordinated effort among his media outlets to blame Trump for Republicans’ stunning underperformance—while simultaneously dubbing DeSantis as DeFUTURE.
And why not? DeSantis had a great night, winning nearly 60 percent of the vote in Florida—a state that was still a “swing” only a few years ago.
Unlike Trump (who talked a good game), DeSantis has accomplished some things. His most important move came in September 2020, when he decided to lift Florida’s COVID-19 restrictions and reopened the state. This was a gutsy gamble, and while there were no doubt some costs, the move paid huge dividends to DeSantis. More recently, he successfully managed a natural disaster (Hurricane Ian). He’s decades younger than Trump, has much far less baggage than Trump, and is far more popular than Trump. He also has a beautiful and photogenic young family.
For those of us who are longing to find a way to once again vote Republican, DeSantis holds promise. After all, he was a fairly mainstream conservative congressman. While it seems unrealistic that retreads like former Vice President Mike Pence or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (just to name two) could defeat Trump and win a presidential primary (given the state of today’s Republican base), maybe DeSantis could bridge the gap—and unite the populists that Trump brought into the fold with us normies.
“He’s decades younger than Trump, has much far less baggage than Trump, and is far more popular than Trump.”
Unfortunately, it’s not an easy solution. It might even be a case of “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Like Trump, DeSantis clearly has authoritarian tendencies. Examples include bullying local governments that wanted to impose their own COVID-19 protocols, his team’s weaponizing of the “groomer” slur to push his Parental Rights in Education bill, and the stunt where he used Florida taxpayers’ money to lure migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
In a worst-case scenario, he would simply be a more competent version of Trump.
However, right-wing nationalists see this more as a feature than a bug.
“What the Republican electorate wants,” said Newsmax host Benny Johnson, “is a strong executive who utilizes and wields power over his enemies. And then destroys his enemies and makes them grovel, makes molten salty tears flow from their faces—as Ron DeSantis did with Disney.”
Donald Trump’s political resiliency comes in large part to his deficiencies in character. Like an abusive spouse, he has demonstrated an ability to keep Republicans under his thumb, no matter his actions. Simply put, they always take him back. Having said that, the bad midterm results, coupled with DeSantis’ great Tuesday night, provides another brief opportunity for Republicans to try and make a break for it—to try and seize the moment and escape Trump. Will they take it?
If Ron DeSantis wants to be president, he should try. Sure, there is a huge downside to going after the king and missing—it would be pretty much the end of him, politically. On the other hand, this kind of opportunity rarely knocks twice. You can’t get a souffle to rise again. The odds of DeSantis being better positioned to run for president in 2028 than he is now seem astronomical.
But if he does run, DeSantis would do well to study the results of the midterm elections outside his state, and avoid focusing on owning the libs or making his enemies cry molten salty tears.
Instead, DeSantis should humbly look at the message the nation sent us on Tuesday, when normal Republicans like Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu coasted to victory, while MAGA Republicans like Herschel Walker and Don Bolduc dramatically underperformed. The challenge for DeSantis will be winning a Republican primary while simultaneously not doing or saying things that would make him unelectable in a general election.
The American public is ready for a Republican governor who can lead and accomplish conservative public policy goals—while not constantly putting the country on the edge of nervous breakdown with illogical, unstable, uncompassionate, immoral, and possibly even illegal behavior.
If DeSantis can do that, he has a decent chance of being the next president of the United States and winning my vote.