Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is riding high.
The Sunshine State’s Republicans love him so much that many dusted off their DeSantis 2018 signs and put them back out on their front lawns in 2020 in gratitude for how he bucked the national trend and kept Florida open during almost all of the pandemic lockdowns.
DeSantis’ policies on masking and vaccines became famous from coast to coast, and much like New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s leadership on Sept. 11, 2001, gained national attention and earned him the nickname “America’s Mayor,” DeSantis has in fact become “America’s Governor” — at least in right-leaning circles.
If Donald Trump doesn’t run for president in 2024, DeSantis is almost a shoo-in for the nomination.
But first things first: DeSantis has to win re-election as governor this November, and his tremendous popularity aside, he shouldn’t take anything for granted.
DeSantis squeaked by — 49.6 percent to 49.2 percent — over lightweight Andrew Gillum, the former mayor of Tallahassee who is now under indictment on 21 felony counts. Granted, DeSantis clearly bolstered his reputation once he took office with a string of decisive policies, impressing voters with his strong leadership, but in 2018 Trump actively campaigned for him.
Though Trump, now a Florida resident, said he’d vote for DeSantis in November, expect the former president to be restrained in his support insofar as he wouldn’t want DeSantis’ star to shine brighter than his own, unless he foregoes seeking any further office and exclusively settles into the role of kingmaker.
The strongest argument against DeSantis’ challenger, Charlie Crist, is that he’s a political chameleon. He started out as a Republican, converted to an independent, and is now a Democrat.
On the one hand, that screams of desperation to remain relevant by gravitating to where the votes are, ideological convictions be damned. On the other hand, Crist may be a Democrat, but he’s not woke. You won’t see critical race theory, immigration amnesty, nonbinary pronouns or the Green New Deal in his campaign literature.
Furthermore, Crist has the experience. He’s already been Florida’s governor and has remained relevant by representing Florida in Congress. For those with DeSantis Derangement Syndrome (DSDS), Crist is not some flash in the pan they’re nervous about electing.
Still, DeSantis remains the odds-on favorite to win re-election. And he’ll probably win by a considerably wider margin than in 2018. But he should borrow a page from Ronald Reagan’s playbook (actually, he’d benefit from using the entire playbook) by adopting Reagan’s campaign philosophy, which he articulated in his autobiography, “An American Life”: “In a campaign, I always like to act as if I’m one vote behind; overconfidence is a candidate’s worst mistake.”
Arguably, the biggest impediment to running a successful campaign is that politicians rely too much on their own media comfort food watering troughs. Because much (probably most) of the media chooses a target audience and feeds it absolutist stories about how the other side is woefully inept, it’s easy for the DeSantis camp to wallow in hubris and think they’re unbeatable.
I’m optimistic, though, that DeSantis himself is too clever for that, and rather than trying to coast to the finish line resting on his laurels, he’ll run in Reaganesque fashion, as if he’s trailing in the race.
Remember, Democrats and their messenger boys in the media, academia and Hollywood view DeSantis not merely as the governor of the second-most populous state in the union, but as a strong contender to win the White House in 2024, and probably the person with the best chance in either party to win in 2028.
Of course, as we learned from Richard Nixon’s political journey, losing a gubernatorial election (as he did in 1962) does not result in an inevitable political obituary. Nixon rebounded to win the 1968 presidential race, and won re-election in 1972 by capturing an astounding 49 out of 50 states.
Crist is cagey and very seasoned. Think of him as Joe Biden without the trappings of noticeably declining cognitive skills.
But if DeSantis stays focused and hungry, and continues to resist the bait the media constantly dangles in front of him to engage Trump in a feud, he won’t have to move out of the governor’s mansion in early 2023.
If DeSantis wins re-election convincingly, he’ll be sitting in the driver’s seat. In the increasingly unlikely event that Trump picks him as a running mate, he’ll be a cinch for the top spot in 2028. And if Trump runs and loses, DeSantis’ 2028 Republican nomination will practically be a formality.
Of course, should Trump run and win with a different running mate, like Tim Scott, Marco Rubio or Kristi Noem, DeSantis may have his hands full in 2028 attempting to win the party nomination over any of them, assuming Trump’s second term is a resounding success.
But first things first: DeSantis needs to stay focused and swat away his pesky opponent’s gubernatorial challenge.
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