Did DeSantis Peak Too Early?

This weekend I came across an article from Doug Schoen hypothesizing DeSantis peaked too early in the run-up to 24 and comparing him to another, once frontrunner, former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. As with any article it has its strong and definitely weak points but it raises some good points and comparisons.

First – off, it is important to note who DeSantis is and his political resume. He is a current Navy reservist, having served in active and reserve duty since 2004. In 2012, his foray into politics began when he ran in the GOP primary for the former 6th CD in Florida and won. He won reelection in 2014 and 2016 before deciding to run for Governor (he initially ran for Senate in 16 but dropped out when Rubio announced his reelection). It is somewhat ironic Schoen says DeSantis ran as a moderate when he was the conservative Republican alternative to the establishment candidate, Ag Secretary Adam Putnam. Beating expectations and the polls, DeSantis won the state in a D + 8 national environment, a sign of a trend of the state becoming redder at every level.

Of course, we now come to November. Beating poll numbers, DeSantis defeated former GOP Governor, Independent Senate candidate and former Democratic House candidate (say that ten times) Charlie Crist by a massive 16 points. That has endeared him to mega donors while his support for conservative causes and other candidates has helped him with the grassroots.

It is certainly true there are many similarities with Scott Walker. That said, Walker had a mile of liabilities. He was not a culture warrior, he did not weigh in on national issues and the support he had in Wisconsin was very, very, localized that did not translate well to other voters out of the state. He also had the unfortunate circumstance of running against both Trump and Cruz in 16 who easily fit the party’s major constituencies better.

Schoen’s article is light on why Walker flamed out, not surprisingly, because Schoen has no idea what drives the average GOP voter. Because Walker was so beholden to the establishment for his donor and political support he did not focus on their past mistakes, unlike outsiders like Trump and Cruz who had either had an outsider reputation or antagonistic one with the establishment. GOP voters lapped it up.

I’ll make a bold prediction and say the same thing won’t happen to DeSantis. He ran as an outsider in 18 against the establishment’s candidate and has not been shy to challenge the prevailing political narrative (ie. redistricting, Don’t Say Gay Bill, etc.). He already has a leg up on where Walker even started from. To be

I want to be clear and say I supported Walker at the start and switched to Rubio when my primary came up. Their fiscal message appealed to me but it is less and less salient in today’s GOP. That’s why DeSantis’s pivot to more antagonistic issues such as abortion, education and the like make sense. It seems to be working too.

A number of surveys have shown DeSantis leading in hypothetical GOP Presidential primaries. Of note, these surveys were largely taken before Trump tweeted the Constitution should be superseded (allowing flipping Democrats to defend a document they repeatedly erode) and his indictment by the Jan. 6th Committee.

Like Walker, DeSantis’s campaign boasts an impressive war chest. Schoen notes GOP mega donors like Ken Griffin and Steven Schwarzman back his candidacy or have stated they won’t support Trump.

Now, we move into the vulnerabilities listed. Florida, like EVERY state in the US, has an affordability crisis. Housing and energy costs have skyrocketed. He also is vulnerable to attacks due to his support of a bill helping Big Pharma and reformed Flood Insurance in the state which will increase premiums (but really was the only way to save the system).

My best response; sure, maybe. Any Republican with a brain will turn issues of affordability and high energy prices on its head and blame the Democratic administration over their spending habits and stewardship of the economy. It worked last month and these issues aren’t likely to be alleviated in 24, even if inflation eases. Secondly, every Republican since Herbert Hoover and probably earlier has been accused of supporting big business. It’s not hard for Republicans to pivot and point to how the ACA was a massive giveaway to insurance companies/

To be sure, DeSantis, like many Republicans, will need to walk a fine line between populist rhetoric and fiscal conservatism. There is little evidence DeSantis will play better or worse among blue collar workers but there is evidence (highly localized to a reddening state) he will do better among suburban voters in the same manner Youngkin did last year (in a blue state).

Then, there is the matter of Trump. He is running and has support. But his support appears to be weakening and he is not helping his cause. DeSantis can pretty much sit back and watch him implode for early 2023 before deciding on a candidacy. Further, the more attacks Trump launches that DeSantis ignores the more desperate the former President looks.

It’s true, like any national Republican, DeSantis is vulnerable on abortion. Immigration will likely be mitigated by the President’s own party criticizing him over his lack of action. It is far more likely the economy will decide the 24 election though if he gets past the primary.

DeSantis may be undone by his own temper and likelihood to clash with this who disagree with him. That said, while this may not play well in a general it looks great in a GOP primary where conservatives and primary voters want fighters vs. the go along to get along 1.7 trillion dollar omnibus bill. It is yet another sign of his lack of what drives GOP voters Schoen does not acknowledge this distinction.

Ultimately, I would personally rather be DeSantis vs. Trump. You can disagree with a candidate on policy but you are more likely to support them somewhere if you don’t dislike them personally. Trump has dug his own grave in this regard with his comments making him unlikeable to half the country. Sure, Democrats will try to turn DeSantis into Trump 2.0 but if he does not play into it that strategy will fail. It doesn’t mean DeSantis will surely in in 24. But it does mean he can win on a conservative platform (sorry Schoen, I literally have no idea where you think he ever was a moderate).

 

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