Florida Governor Ron DeSantis won in 2018 over Andrew Gillum by just 32,000 votes, or four-tenths of one percentage point. Very, very close in a big purple state. Since that victory, DeSantis has endured relentless attacks on every conceivable issue, nonissue, and fake issue.
National outlets such as “60 Minutes” and state publications in every market gaslighted the public and often flat-out lied about DeSantis, from the number of COVID deaths and transgenderism in schools to the fictional “don’t say gay” bill. Late-night former comedians, Hollywooders, corporate cowards, and the White House have all singled out DeSantis for vilification. “DeathSantis” has trended on Twitter repeatedly.
And yet, three years after that election, DeSantis has dramatically increased his popularity in Florida, as have Republicans in general, if voter registration means anything. A recent St. Pete Poll conducted for Florida Politics—both left-of-center outfits—found DeSantis with a plus-16 point approval rating—54 percent to 38 percent of registered voters.
Further, a recent University of North Florida poll of registered Florida voters found giant margins for DeSantis over either of his Democrat competitors. He leads former governor and party flip-flopper Charlie Crist by 19 points and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried by 21 points. Those numbers will close by November, of course. But the poll was of registered voters, who don’t typically poll well for Republicans. And DeSantis has nearly $100 million for re-election while his contenders each have a few million and a primary yet.
How is this stunning success in popularity among ordinary voters possible when every conceivable media, social media, and cultural mover has vilified DeSantis for three years?
In a word: Interposition.
This is the idea that a state in a federation such as the United States has a right and the authority to interpose itself between an overbearing federal government and that state. The Constitution is riddled with its implications in the separation of powers between the federal government and state governments. The Federalist Papers discuss it. It was an essential element of states rights federalism and invoked prior to the Civil War. That terrible conflagration became inevitable to rid the nation of the moral scourge of slavery, but the price was a rolling forth of power consolidating in Washington, D.C. at the cost of the states.
However, it’s not like interposition was ever outlawed. States could still practice it, but that requires spinal fortitude. And now more than ever.
Never using the term “interposition” publicly, DeSantis nevertheless practiced this essential concept repeatedly during COVID. He stood between a federal shutdown and shutting down Florida. Even the three-week Florida “shutdown” was minimal as the list of who could remain open, including churches, was very long. He blocked the federal government from mandating vaccines in Florida, even keeping corporations from acting as fronts to enforce the mandates. When the federal government curtailed Florida’s access to monoclonal antibodies for what appeared to be petty personal reasons, DeSantis bypassed the federal stock and bought monoclonals on the open market.
Even in the latest kerfuffle over the Parental Rights in Education bill there is a form of interposition by the Republican legislature and DeSantis because the U.S. Department of Education holds so much (extra-constitutional) leverage over school districts, and they have created a state legal bulwark against federal infringement.
Most recently, DeSantis challenged his own party leadership in the legislature over long-time gerrymandered congressional boundaries to provide a black district in North Florida. Legislative Republicans kept the district similar to what it had been, which also had the side-benefit of clumping a lot of Democrats into one district. DeSantis believes drawing districts based on race is openly unconstitutional. This is the sort of principled stand that wrong-foots so many in the political world, but is often appreciated by voters. More Republicans should understand this.
Naturally, the media lost its mind at every one of these actions, but the policies were relatively popular among Floridians. The fact that they have proven to be right in hindsight by the data is awesome for Floridians, but not the first point. The first point is that a state governor had the cajones to place himself and the authority of his state government between the federal government and the people of his state.
Every Republican governor should take note, because blue states have practiced this with less popular policies, such as sanctuary states and cities. It’s the way a federalist government is supposed to work. It is time for GOP state leaders to see it and step up. They now have a template.
There are two other key lessons for Republicans everywhere in the way DeSantis’ popularity has thrived while under constant elitist assaults.
First, know what you believe and why, and be ready and willing to defend it. Principles may not matter with a lot of politicians and government statists, but they still matter with voters. Take note.
Second, do not shrink from confrontation, particularly with the media, but don’t shy away from confrontation with any other entity, either. Obviously the Republican base loves to see its leaders punch back. Pugilistic President Trump made that clear, and DeSantis has done plenty of it himself, albeit in a different style. Based on polls, the appreciation of a governor standing up for the rank-and-file is also considerable.
DeSantis may be the most visible and forward in this respect, but he is not the only governor of this mold. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds comes to mind as acting similarly in a different personality. And while Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been a disappointment, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has interposed his office repeatedly in lawsuits, the most recent of which was against the Biden Administration’s mask mandates for airlines and airports in Texas.
This sort of Republican leadership is a no-squish zone. And that is where we live now. The old, rollover, play nice Republicans—you know who you are, Mitt Romney—who get bulldozed by Democrats and fear the media chattering classes, no longer work or are wanted by the voters.