Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis?

Gilead

Donald Trump

Coup attempt


Fig. 1. Department of Justice photograph of seized materials, reportedly partially redacted, via the Washington Post, August 31, 2022,[1] public domain.

“Candidate quality matters,” Erick Erickson, a longtime GOP commentator, said of what he described as a disappointing showing for [Donald] Trump. “They weren’t good candidates. They had more allegiance to him than anything else. The GOP might still win both [chambers] but this is not the night they expected.”[2]

A disappointing night for most Republicans turned into a very good night for one Floridian. Gov. Ron DeSantis not only won a second term in Tuesday’s midterm elections but also did so by a sizable margin — even winning Miami-Dade County, marking the first time a Republican has taken that largely urban electorate in two decades.

The results cemented many expectations that DeSantis would run for president in 2024 — a situation that’s already sparking tension with another Floridian Republican, former president Donald Trump. And to some Democrats, the double-digit wins seen by not only DeSantis but Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday have firmly ended the chapter where the state could be seen as a swing state.[3]

The former president [Donald Trump] inserted himself into multiple contests, endorsing candidates at the primaries stage when parties choose their standard-bearers. The Trump seal of approval proved decisive in several, but just look at how those Trump favourites fared. True, the memoirist and venture capitalist JD Vance won in now solidly red Ohio, but in swing states Trumpers performed badly. An election denier who had been present at the 6 January Capitol Hill riot was trounced in the race to be Pennsylvania governor, while TV doctor Mehmet Oz, another Trump pick, was defeated in the Senate race by Democrat John Fetterman – even though the latter faced persistent questions about his ability to serve following a severe stroke in the summer.

Perhaps most revealing of the Trump effect was Georgia. Two Republican officials who became nationally known when they resisted Trump pressure to overturn the 2020 presidential count in their state were comfortably re-elected. But Herschel Walker, handpicked by Trump to run for the senate in Georgia, was in a photo finish for that all-important seat, one set to be decided by a run-off next month. Meanwhile, a Trumper in New Hampshire was soundly beaten, while another, Kari Lake, seemed to be trailing in what should have been a winnable contest in Arizona.

As Wednesday morning came, a pattern seemed to be emerging. Even Fox News reporters were quoting Republican sources telling them: “If it wasn’t clear before, it should be now. We have a Trump problem.” . . .

Cold, hard logic suggests Republicans should step away from Trump, a man who has now presided over three consecutive defeats in 2018, 2020 and 2022 (four if you include the two Georgia senate runoffs in January 2021). But it won’t be simple. For one thing, Trump’s defenders can argue that they do better when his name is on the ballot than when it is not – and it is true that Republicans did gain congressional seats in 2016 and 2020. But in some ways that underlines the problem. Because in a year when Trump himself is not a candidate, like 2022, his absence weakens hardcore Trump devotees’ desire to turn out, while his looming presence on the scene repels the floating voters who decide elections. Put another way, the Republicans’ problem is not simply Trump the man. It is that they have become Trump’s party.[4]

It appears that the new “conventional wisdom” is that the threat in 2024 comes in the form less of Donald Trump, and more of Ron DeSantis. Both are white Christian nationalists; DeSantis’ résumé[5] suggests be may be more competent and therefore an even more dangerous—in a number of ways—president than Trump.

[Ron DeSantis] claims to not be a fan of rules and big government. The Florida governor first came to real national attention when he pushed a controversial laissez-faire approach to covid-19. That approach put DeSantis at odds with World Health Organization guidance, even if it wasn’t quite as combative as [Donald] Trump’s move to pull the United States out of that body. (Most accounts of Florida’s time during the pandemic suggest DeSantis’s policies were neither the success he portrayed them as nor the disaster his critics feared).

Unlike Trump — who still has his reputation as a dealmaker at heart — DeSantis may be more rigid and less open to persuasion. Profiles have repeatedly suggested that he has little of the personal charm or interest in social functions that many politicians have. Any world leaders who would seek a bromance with this man may end up with a cold shoulder.

DeSantis is happy to use brash rhetoric and even cruel stunts to make his point. He has flown Venezeulean migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in a bid to own liberals and battled with Disney over gay rights — breaking with Republican orthodoxy to complain about corporate power. He has said France would fold if Russia invaded and sided with Elon Musk over Ukrainian leaders after the U.S. billionaire suggested Kyiv needed to negotiate a peace deal with Russia.

And while DeSantis appears to have accepted the reality of climate change’s likely impact on Florida, he has favored throwing money at climate adaptation rather than working to actually mitigate the problem.

As one critic recently put it, his plan has been “Hand out big contracts for patching up the impacts on pricey waterfront property while ignoring essentially everything, and everyone, else.” If the United States goes all in with that approach, it could impact everywhere in the world.[6]

Color me skeptical. First, DeSantis will need to win over Trump’s loyalists when, it seems, those loyalists won’t reliably turn out even for Trump’s endorsees.[7] Second, DeSantis, with “little of the personal charm or interest in social functions,” that Trump has[8] may lack the charisma to actually win nationally.


Fig. 2. Photograph by author, November 8, 2022.

Make no mistake. There is a hardcore segment of the U.S. electorate that was and remains infuriated by COVID-19 restrictions (figure 2) even as these have long since been lifted, that continues to interpret “freedom” as, among other things, the freedom to spread disease.[9] In Pennsylvania, they voted to curtail the governor’s emergency powers so they wouldn’t have to wear masks.[10] And there is certainly an overlapping segment of the population that relishes cruelty of the sort DeSantis displayed with unauthorized migrants;[11] they put bumper stickers on their cars and signs on their lawns that say “Fuck Your Feelings” and “Make a Liberal Cry.” Nearly all of these people support Trump. They would likely support DeSantis. But even in Pennsylvania, they didn’t get Doug Mastriano elected,[12] and I am not clear that this is a sufficient plurality nationally to put DeSantis in the White House.

Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey, “One likely 2024 GOP contender triumphed on election night. It wasn’t Donald Trump,” Washington Post, November 9, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/11/09/desantis-trump-2024-presidential-election/

Dan Balz, “The vaunted red wave never hit the shore in midterm elections,” Washington Post, November 9, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/11/08/midterms-dissatisfied-voters-render-judgments-biden-republicans/

Jonathan Freedland, “The winner of the midterms is not yet clear – but the loser is Donald Trump,” Guardian, November 9, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/nov/09/the-winner-of-the-midterms-is-not-yet-clear-but-the-loser-is-donald-trump

David Lauter, “The midterm’s big loser: Trump suffers multiple defeats,” Los Angeles Times, November 9, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/politics/newsletter/2022-11-09/the-midterms-big-loser-trump-suffers-multiple-defeats-essential-politics

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Group explains polling place security teams that led to response by Allegheny County sheriff’s deputies,” November 9, 2022, https://www.post-gazette.com/news/election2022/2022/11/09/election-day-allegheny-county-polling-place-commission-security/stories/202211090101

Brian Slodysko, “Election takeaways: No sweep for the Republicans after all,” Associated Press, November 9, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/2022-midterm-elections-takeaways-9381d3aaff26d19da95506e045fcd6e1

Adam Taylor, “Is the world ready for President DeSantis and a Floridian foreign policy?” Washington Post, November 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/11/10/desanntis-foreign-policy-florida/

Gilead

White Christian nationalism (Trumpism)


Fig. 3. A Ku Klux Klan meeting in Gainesville, Florida, Dec. 31, 1922, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Adam Taylor, “Is the world ready for President DeSantis and a Floridian foreign policy?” Washington Post, November 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/11/10/desanntis-foreign-policy-florida/


  1. [1]Devlin Barrett, “Justice Dept. says Trump team may have hidden, moved classified papers,” Washington Post, August 31, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/31/trump-documents-removed-storage-room/
  2. [2]Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey, “One likely 2024 GOP contender triumphed on election night. It wasn’t Donald Trump,” Washington Post, November 9, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/11/09/desantis-trump-2024-presidential-election/
  3. [3]Adam Taylor, “Is the world ready for President DeSantis and a Floridian foreign policy?” Washington Post, November 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/11/10/desanntis-foreign-policy-florida/
  4. [4]Jonathan Freedland, “The winner of the midterms is not yet clear – but the loser is Donald Trump,” Guardian, November 9, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/nov/09/the-winner-of-the-midterms-is-not-yet-clear-but-the-loser-is-donald-trump
  5. [5]Adam Taylor, “Is the world ready for President DeSantis and a Floridian foreign policy?” Washington Post, November 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/11/10/desanntis-foreign-policy-florida/
  6. [6]Adam Taylor, “Is the world ready for President DeSantis and a Floridian foreign policy?” Washington Post, November 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/11/10/desanntis-foreign-policy-florida/
  7. [7]Jonathan Freedland, “The winner of the midterms is not yet clear – but the loser is Donald Trump,” Guardian, November 9, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/nov/09/the-winner-of-the-midterms-is-not-yet-clear-but-the-loser-is-donald-trump
  8. [8]Adam Taylor, “Is the world ready for President DeSantis and a Floridian foreign policy?” Washington Post, November 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/11/10/desanntis-foreign-policy-florida/
  9. [9]David Benfell, “The modern Scrooge,” Not Housebroken, March 14, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/12/12/the-modern-scrooge/; David Benfell, “On ‘freedom,’” Not Housebroken, August 7, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/13/on-freedom/; David Benfell, “Swimming against a stronger tide,” Not Housebroken, June 27, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/06/27/swimming-against-a-stronger-tide/
  10. [10]Ballotpedia News, “The State and Local Tap: Pennsylvania voters pass constitutional amendments to limit governor’s emergency orders,” May 22, 2021, https://news.ballotpedia.org/2021/05/22/the-state-and-local-tap-pennsylvania-voters-pass-constitutional-amendments-to-limit-governors-emergency-orders/; Sarah Anne Hughes, “Voters back curtailing Wolf’s emergency powers in win for GOP lawmakers,” Spotlight PA, May 19, 2021, https://www.spotlightpa.org/news/2021/05/pa-primary-2021-ballot-question-disaster-declaration-results/
  11. [11]Lisa Kashinski, Sue Allan, and Gary Fineout, “GOP governors put focus on migrants with Martha’s Vineyard transport,” Politico, September 15, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/09/15/desantis-migrants-marthas-vineyard-immigration-florida-00056870; Alexander Thompson et al., “‘At first they were surprised, just like us.’ Martha’s Vineyard responds to surprise arrival of planeloads of migrants,” Boston Globe, September 15, 2022, https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/09/15/metro/marthas-vineyard-responds-surprise-arrival-planeloads-migrants/
  12. [12]Kris Maher, “Democrat Josh Shapiro Wins Pennsylvania Governor Race Over Doug Mastriano,” Wall Street Journal, November 9, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/election-midterms-2022/card/democrat-josh-shapiro-wins-pennsylvania-governor-race-over-doug-mastriano-rdDSLqwHlckU7Q5yZYF2

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