The formidable Ron DeSantis, and the lingering question of Trump

Even the mainstream media doesn’t bother to pretend that the feeble, old-school Charlie Crist has much chance of beating Ron DeSantis in next week’s election for the Florida governorship. But Charlie Crist isn’t entirely to blame.

Ron DeSantis is simply a formidable candidate. First there’s his résumé. DeSantis is an Ivy League graduate and a Lt. Commander in the United States Navy. (DeSantis is still technically a member of the US Navy Reserve.) DeSantis garnered high approval ratings during his first term as Governor of Florida.

But DeSantis’s greatest asset is his ability to remain articulate in heated political discussions without losing his focus or his temper. That’s an indispensable asset in the context of the culture wars.

This is where Donald Trump failed. When then President Trump tried to take on “the Squad”, his approach was scattershot and clumsy, such that he consistently gave his opponents low-hanging fruit to work with.

For example, Minnesota’s Representative Ilhan Omar has a long record of soft-pedaling radical Islam and Islamist terrorism. She once dismissed 9/11 with the quip, “some people did something”.

This remark horrified many Americans, until President Trump blustered before a crowd: “Send her back!” (Ilhan Omar is an immigrant and refugee from Somalia.) 

The mainstream media had never wanted to talk about what Ilhan Omar had said about 9/11. Now they didn’t have to—because they could state (accurately, on the surface, at least), that the President of the United States had suggested we banish a congresswoman of color “back” to Somalia. To a certain kind of media person, the carnage of 9/11—3,000 people dead—pales in comparison to an arguably xenophobic wisecrack about a congresswoman of color. That’s just the way it is.

Ron DeSantis has a different style. As the clips from this political ad show, his technique is to use questions rather than hyperbole and bluster when engaged in debate.

Most politicians are simply not that bright, and not that charismatic. When a truly intelligent person with crowd appeal does run for office, he or she can quickly separate himself from the herd. 

When Barack Obama first ran for president in 2008, he was not my candidate. But I also acknowledged that his appeal would be vast, and that he was going to be difficult for the Republicans to beat. I was right—as both the late John McCain and the embittered Mitt Romney amply proved.

Ron DeSantis could easily become the most unbeatable GOP presidential nominee since Reagan. I’m not the only one who sees that, of course. DeSantis polls high among GOP voters, leaving all other potential candidates in the dust.

Except for for one: Donald Trump is expected to announce his 2024 presidential campaign later this month. Trump still has a passionate—if now somewhat narrower—following within the GOP.

That begs the question: what percentage of the Republican base is still obsessed with “owning the libs” by nominating Trump in 2024? (As Elon Musk is now finding out, a singular focus on “owning the libs” is a sure way to back yourself into a Pyrrhic victory.)  

Ron DeSantis, for his part, may not want to risk an internecine war with the suicidally devoted Trump faction. Assuming that he handily beats Crist on November 8, he can plausibly claim in 2024 that his first obligation is to the people of Florida. 

DeSantis, moreover, is only 44 years old. He has plenty of time to run for president. But the GOP needs him in 2024.