Could the 46th governor of Florida go on to become the 46th president of the United States?
It goes without saying that the excruciatingly narrow Ron DeSantis victory in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race was one of the highlights of last year’s election cycle. But the victory did not end on election night; indeed, it had only just begun. DeSantis, more than any other Republican governor in the country, is showing the nation just how a Trumpian governor can operate in a massive swing state, with an astonishingly high level of success.
In a Perfect World . . .
Governor DeSantis’s tenure thus far has given us a good idea of what the presidency of Donald Trump would look like, if not for three factors: if the Democrats did not viciously hate Trump and everything he stands for; if the media were more fair in its coverage and held an objective viewpoint towards his actions; and if Republicans in the legislature were actually willing to work with him.
DeSantis thus far has done a good job of satisfying both traditional conservatives and populists. He immediately fired corrupt and incompetent Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel; appointed three conservative justices to the Florida Supreme Court (flipping it from a liberal majority to a conservative majority); pushed for greater cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials while banning sanctuary cities; and recently signed a law allowing teachers to carry concealed firearms on campus. And he’s only been in office for five months.
Despite championing so many firmly right-wing policies, DeSantis has also taken certain actions that, while not ordinarily considered “conservative,” have proven highly popular in his home state.
DeSantis has pushed for more than $3 billion in spending on environmental projects, including a restoration of the Everglades and water quality protection efforts, while also easing restrictions on the use of medical marijuana. Moves such as these have earned him bipartisan praise, and even glowing coverage from the media.
With his governorship, DeSantis has retained a strong following among conservatives, independents, populists, and even some Democrats. Combined with the genuinely fair media treatment he gets in Florida’s press, DeSantis enjoys astronomically high approval ratings—now sitting comfortably in the mid- to high-60s.
As a result, DeSantis is both one of the most popular governors in the country, and the most popular governor of Florida in over a decade. It’s no wonder, then, that his tenure as Governor has led some in the mainstream media to declare that Florida is now “Trump Country.”
From a Trumpian Candidate to a Trumpian Governor
Naturally, DeSantis’s rise has forced some in the media to scoff at the suggestion that he is governing as a pro-Trump Republican. One article at The Atlantic smugly suggests that upon being elected, DeSantis somehow abandoned the Trump mantle in favor of being a more “pragmatic problem-solver.”
But what this kind of coverage fails to note (perhaps deliberately) is that attempting to reach bipartisan solutions is, in fact, decidedly Trumpian. Both Trump and DeSantis are happy to present challenges to conservative orthodoxy if those challenges show respect for the governing decisions of the vast majority of the people who elected them. Both men respect the will of the people and their right to govern themselves within a constitutional framework.
DeSantis has even managed to tap into a significantly larger share of the minority vote than most Republicans—another thing he has in common with President Trump. The gubernatorial race tipped in favor of DeSantis when 18 percent of African-American women (roughly 117,000 out of 650,000 overall) voted for DeSantis over his African-American opponent, Andrew Gillum. Their primary motivation for this move was DeSantis’s support for school choice, thus leading them to be dubbed “school choice moms.” In a race that was won by fewer than 33,000 votes, this made all the difference.
The idea that DeSantis is suddenly shifting away from the Trumpian persona that he ran on in 2018 is rooted more in a fundamental misunderstanding of who and what Trump is than it is in the realities on the ground in Florida. DeSantis is embracing his identity as a new kind of non-ideological (which is not to say unprincipled) Republican and amplifying it as governor. With the media unburdened by irrational hatred and a burning desire to “get” him as they are with Trump, they tend to highlight both his bipartisan policies and his conservative policies in a more objective light. Things have been allowed to work and speak for themselves. As a result, DeSantis has been able seamlessly to thread the needle as a right-wing populist. He is now admired by a strong mixture of Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals, populists, and independents alike. In what may be his most impressive feat yet, he has even earned the approval of the “Mikey” of right wing politics, Ann Coulter.
Perhaps this explains why the media is trying so hard to dismiss DeSantis’ Trumpian bona fides. They’d like to convince hardcore Trump supporters that DeSantis is somehow turning into a “moderate.” And the ultimate motivation behind such a false portrayal could not be more obvious, even if it is still rather far away.
If Ron DeSantis chooses to run in 2024, you would be extremely hard-pressed to find a single Republican who could match his record and broad appeal. Outside of the possibility of Donald Trump Jr. himself running and without the baggage of accusations of dynastic entitlement, DeSantis could very well be the most perfect successor to the Trump mantle—and, most likely, he would be the immediate frontrunner in the general election.
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