Most on the American left see Ron DeSantis as just another Trump. The Florida governor is a loud opponent of mass immigration, woke policies and overreaching corporate power, and is unafraid of going against the current and standing strong in the face of criticism. For many on the right, DeSantis represents something radically different, which would make him the ideal presidential candidate for 2024. While he follows most of the policy principles that handed Trump the White House in 2016, he displays the kind of calm competence of career politicians that the former president lacks. He may be just as divisive because of his strong stance against wokeness and immigration, but he would certainly not embarrass the GOP with bizarre and controversial daily tweets.
But DeSantis’s greatest strength is that his approach is clearly working. Despite having become liberal America’s number one menace over the last two years, he won the Florida gubernatorial race with astounding margins. After all, there is a reason why DeSantis is being repeatedly likened to Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. In spite of their cultural policies being under constant attack from the left, both men showcase remarkable leadership skills, and their popularity remains unbroken.
DeSantis’ re-election in the midterms earlier this week did not come as too much of a surprise, as polls had repeatedly shown a comfortable lead over his Democratic challengers during the past months. In addition, DeSantis is also among the most popular Republican politicians nationwide. However, the election results are still significant and for multiple reasons.
Ron DeSantis ‘clobbered’ his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist
Florida once belonged among the battleground states: states that frequently change colour after each election because neither party is dominant and sometimes the results are akin to a coin toss. In fact, four years ago, when DeSantis became governor for the first time, he only won with a margin of around 32 thousand votes and the state conducted a recount. Now he won with a nearly 20 per cent margin, easily the largest for a Republican governor in Florida’s modern history. Jeb Bush’s victory back in 2002 was similarly celebrated, even though he won by ‘only’ 13 points. In contrast, Ron DeSantis truly ‘clobbered’ his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, as the New York Times so aptly put it.
The second reason why DeSantis’s victory is such an important turning point in the history of the Republican Party is that the Florida governor was able to extend his voter base beyond the traditionally Republican electorates. Hispanic Americans are the greatest ethnic minority group in the US and the Democrats usually take their support for granted. Not anymore in Florida. The majority of Hispanic counties within the state favoured DeSantis over Crist by a margin of 11 points which (compared to the Democrats’ eight per cent lead in 2020) is an astonishing 19 points shift in just two years. A political shift among the Latino population—whose religiosity and traditionalism make them opponents of wokeness—has been underway for some time now, but nowhere as strongly as in Florida, it appears. All thanks to Governor DeSantis.
If he was able to transform Florida to solid red, he could do the same on the national level
Thirdly, the fact that he successfully combined anti-woke but pragmatic strongman politics with a unifying message that rises above race and class suggest that DeSantis’s forthcoming bid for the White House could be the winning card for Republicans. If he was able to transform Florida from a former battleground state to solid red, he could do the same on the national level. Nobody could turn California or New York, of course, but DeSantis has the potential to bag other battlegrounds like Georgia, Arizona or Pennsylvania, crucial for winning the presidential race in 2024.
Therefore, we can expect the American Left to focus their attacks on DeSantis even more in the coming years. We can also expect the Right to gradually shift their support as we close in on the race. Up until now, Trump has been favoured as the strongest Republican candidate for 2024, but that will hardly be the case after the midterms. DeSantis appears to be the safer bet between the two, also because he comes without the stains of Trump’s first term.
A Republican presidency under Ron DeSantis would also mean the renewal of the good trans-Atlantic relations that Central Europe—including Hungary—enjoyed under Trump. A stronger political alliance of the region with the US is even more important now as the war in Ukraine is unlikely to end without America willing to negotiate. So far, Biden has shown no signs of being inclined to do that. That is why during his recent trip to Berlin, Prime Minister Orbán said: ‘This is going to sound brutal but hope for peace goes by the name of Donald Trump.’ Well, it looks more likely now that peace in Ukraine is going to be called Ron DeSantis instead. Either way, a Republican president is needed to end this horrible war in Europe, and DeSantis is the one who has the greatest chance of beating the Democrats in 2024. Well done so far, Governor, and good luck going forward!