Does DeSantis Have National Appeal?

In the wake of some unpleasant election results for Republicans on Tuesday, various explanations have surfaced as to why the Republican Party lost races it should have won. After all, the Biden Administration has broken both the economy and our borders, has done nothing to deal with a surging epidemic of violent crime in our cities (except to overload us with drug cartels and illegal aliens), has weaponized the Justice Department and the FBI against political opponents, and has cut off domestic energy production to satisfy its Green New Deal voters. 

On the eve of Tuesday’s elections, indications were that inflation and crime were the public’s two main concerns, while the president was held in generally low regard. Why did no red wave occur?

Demonstratively NeverTrump editors at the New York Post have blamed the disappointing election results on The Donald. The former president’s talking up of political novices, who courted his favor, doomed those elections in which Trump’s picks ran. But some of the Trump-backed candidates—notably J.D. Vance in Ohio and Ted Budd in North Carolina—easily outperformed lackluster Democratic opponents, including well-heeled incumbents. Don Bolduc, another Trump pick, waged a spirited, intelligent campaign against Maggie Hassan for a Senate seat in New Hampshire but was vastly outspent by his Democratic opponent. Bolduc even lost funds from his own party after he had the audacity to criticize Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and McConnell’s conception of an acceptable Republican candidate.

I’m also not impressed by an argument that Mark Theissen made on Fox News about why the GOP floundered on Tuesday. Theissen depicts Trump’s choices as “election deniers” who have turned off American voters because they are now tired of Trump’s claims about winning the 2020 presidential race. A similar indictment denounces Trump’s candidate choices as pro-life fanatics. As someone who closely observed the Fetterman-Oz campaign in Pennsylvania, I didn’t notice Oz behaving like an ideological fanatic. Nor did Oz dispute the results of the 2020 presidential election or say anything that would suggest that, if elected, he would work in the Senate to overturn the very lax abortion laws in our state. Even the ill-fated Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate, Doug Mastriano, whom the media portrayed as a second Savonarola, avoided such issues.

Moreover, I cannot imagine more lifeless Democratic opponents than Kathy Hochul, Mark Kelly, Katie Hobbs, or the truly brain-impaired John Fetterman. The Democrats won despite the stiffs they ran. They were heavily outspent in key contests; blacks and unmarried women went against the GOP decisively; and except in Florida, Republican candidates didn’t pick up as much of the Latino vote as they were counting on.

The Democrats also successfully kept the fear of losing abortion rights uppermost in the minds of their base and even among independents. That tactic worked well for Democratic candidates, even for the ones running against Republicans who tried to dodge the abortion issue. Seventy percent of unmarried women, most of whom were energized by the desire for unrestricted abortion rights, voted for Democratic candidates.  

Democratic voters were also expressing support for leftist causes that went well beyond unrestricted abortion rights. Radical Democrats like Fetterman, Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin, and Raphael Warnock in Georgia have advocated a slew of woke positions, from Black Lives Matter and critical race theory to abolishing bail laws, banning fossil fuels, and releasing violent criminals. Those who voted for these and similarly minded candidates, which would include multitudes of voters under 30, obviously resonate with their politics. These voters were, in many cases, taking the side of cultural radicals against such non-extremists as Oz, Herschel Walker, and Ron Johnson. Tuesday’s election produced, among other things, a woke wave in many states.

Moreover, attempts to generalize from the stunning electoral performance of Ron DeSantis in Florida are misguided. Other states do not have the electoral composition of Florida, and even a brilliant politician like DeSantis would have difficulty matching his Florida performance in a purplish or blue state. In Florida, the heavily Democratic black vote is about 15 percent of the electorate; in Georgia, it’s more than 32 percent. This clearly limits the possibilities for Republican candidates for statewide offices in Georgia relative to the ones running in Florida. In Florida, 20.8 percent of the electorate is Hispanic, but among this bloc are lots of Republican Cubans and other Latinos who carry memories of living under Marxist regimes.

Please note, I’m not saying that Republicans can’t squeeze through for statewide offices in Georgia, but their path to victory there would be much narrower than in Florida. It also pays for Georgia politicians to have silly, stale opponents like Stacey Abrams. In any case, the notion that Republicans can win statewide elections in any other state by fielding candidates like DeSantis is questionable. One wonders how well this gifted communicator and effective administrator would do running for state office in Gavin Newsom’s California.


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About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.

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