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How DeSantis Can Win
Be supple, build on the strengths already there, and tell the electorate you'll change what needs changing.
How does a politician become President?
Lots has been written about that. I’ve read very little of it. But I’ve been around the track a time or two, so I have what I think is a decently good sense for it: The candidate who gets to be President is the one who has the best sense of what the country really wants and presents a plausible plan for getting there.
What does the country really want now?
Polling tells us something, and intuition and common experience — the things you see and hear every day — tell us something at least equally valuable.
Gallup’s polling tells us that economic vitality is by far the single most important issue, mentioned by 29%, with inflation, jobs and the national debt being the most frequently mentioned sub-issues. Outside of the economy, 71% choose from among a long list of other issues. Those most frequently mentioned are, in order, the quality of government and government leadership (mentioned by 18%); immigration; guns and gun control; crime and violence; unifying the country; and race and race relations. Nothing else registers above 3%.
(Dragging up near the rear are abortion, with 2%; climate change/environment, LGBT rights, and school shootings with 1% each; and police brutality and Coronavirus clocking in at less than 1%).
Much but not all of this is reminiscent of 1979 and 1980, when a feckless Jimmy Carter was presiding over a stagflation economy. The similarity is noted by Alex Berenson’s Substack piece, which, like my inquiry here, examines the possible winning strategy for DeSantis. Berenson begins:
The national mood is bleak. American defeats are piling up:
…Soaring budget deficits and inflation. Rising crime and acceptance of antisocial behavior and drug use. In the White House, an ineffective Democratic president challenged by a Kennedy. But the answer comes from somewhere else, from a Sunshine State governor named Ronald - despised by the elite media but popular at home.
The parallels between 1979 and 2023 are eerie.
[I]f Ron DeSantis wants to be the next President, he needs to get his inspiration somewhere other than Donald Trump.
He needs to channel the spirit of Ronald Reagan.
But there’s a problem, which Berenson commendably acknowledges: DeSantis has nothing like Reagan’s charisma, and Reagan’s charisma was indispensable to overcoming the MSM portrait of him as a bovine right winger who’d start World War III to boot.
Still, DeSantis has a similarity with Reagan that, if advertised intelligently, might be enough to overcome the charisma gap:
Reagan won because he so clearly believed in America’s promise - and because he’d lived it, and he’d run a state that embodied it.
It’s easy to forget now, but California used to be a place that people wanted to live, where taxes were reasonable and a middle-class salary could buy you a house - not on the beach, sure, but a few miles inland.
California wasn’t paradise, the air was dirty and the traffic nasty and Los Angeles almost completely segregated, but the schools were decent and the economy good and it worked.
California isn’t California anymore.
And as much as anyone, DeSantis is the reason why.
So there’s Step One for a successful DeSantis campaign: Run on your record. I’m hardly the first person to notice this, but it’s an especially delicious insight because, may God be praised, we get to contrast it with Joe Biden’s record, and not just on the economy.
Biden’s and the Democrats’ record on dealing with COVID in particular — the scaremongering, the dishonesty, and the easy embrace of authoritarianism — are recent enough and impactful enough that the electorate will remember.
Three years ago, DeSantis bet his and his state’s future on his response to Covid. He did something Reagan…never needed to do, he bet against government interference and for individual freedom in a visceral, personal way.
You didn’t have to wear a mask in Florida if you didn’t want to. You didn’t have to stay in your house. You could choose to keep your kids home or send them to school, to keep your business open or closed. DeSantis bet against lockdowns and masks and vaccine mandates….
And he won. In the simplest, most profound way. Despite the left’s shrieking, the bodies didn’t pile up like cordwood. Three years later, the age-adjusted Covid death tolls in Florida are basically indistinguishable from other big states.
DeSantis’ COVID policies look especially appealing, not merely because the health outcomes were essentially the same as in the hard lockdown states, but because DeSantis never lied, and never had to lie, about what lockdowns would do to children and their education. As Paul has shown, and as by now even the Left is starting to admit, Biden and his lockdown minions were at best wrong and at worst dishonest about the very substantial educational and mental health costs to children. This is going to count big time, particularly with the much-fabled suburban moms, for whom the basic well-being of their kids is every bit as important as the cost of eggs.
Berenson up to this point makes a persuasive case about how DeSantis should run, but then takes what I view as a wrong turn in his view about how DeSantis is dealing with Wokeism.
It is precisely because Covid has given DeSantis such a powerful pro-freedom record that his culture war detour is so damaging.
He allowed businesses to stay open but is at war with his state’s most important company. He said people could make fundamental choices about their health but won’t let eighth-graders hear anything about sexual orientation.
I agree that DeSantis’s fight with Disney long ago reached the point of diminishing returns, but that hardly means that DeSantis’s taking on the culture war more generally is a bad move. To the contrary, while running on his record is the first step in a successful DeSantis campaign, leading the charge against Wokeism is, in my view, right behind it.
It goes back to my opening premise — that the person who becomes President is the one who most clearly sees what the country wants and seems to have the strength and vision to supply it. Many commentators have said (and the polling results, supra, lend credence to this) that, apart from a return to a sound economy, the country wants a return to having a normal person in the Oval Office — a person with at least the standard amount of decency, virtue and common sense we expect in a leader. This would not include a decrepit lifetime pol unable or unwilling to resist his party’s wild capture by race hucksters and anti-Americans. It also would not include a narcissistic showman largely oblivious to what law and the rule of law, not to mention normal traditions of probity, require.
DeSantis’ willingness openly to take on Wokeism bespeaks what I think the country wants, not so much because of who DeSantis is — not that there’s anything wrong with that — but because of what Wokeism is. Ronald Reagan never had to confront it, but the next Republican President will. It’s a form of subversion of the most important elements of American life way, way beyond anything Jimmy Carter or Walter Mondale pushed or even imagined. Liberal policies are merely wrong. Woke policies are poison.
It’s not just that Wokeism is not normal. Wokeism is the opposite of normal. Indeed its belligerent effrontery to normal life is its whole raison d’etre. It’s not normal to be told that sixth grade children suffer from “gender confusion” and that the way to “treat” this is with “gender affirming care,” the Left’s shrewdly opaque phrase meaning castration for boys and genital mutilation for girls. It’s not normal to be told that, if you disagree with this, you’re an oaf, and should be dragged by the police out of the school board meeting. It’s not normal to insist the 15 year-old girls be required to shower with 15 year-old boys, as long as the boys insist they’re girls. It’s not normal to tell white children that they’re shameful oppressors and black children that they’re woeful victims. It’s not normal to tell a white or Asian 17 year-old that, because of slavery he had absolutely nothing to do with, he should be denied college admission while a less qualified kid of the preferred race gets in. It’s not normal to tell white adults that they owe millions or billions of reparations to blacks, again because of slavery they had nothing to do with and that the great majority of them would fight to end if they had a time machine.
No, it’s not normal. To the contrary, it’s crazy, morally repugnant, and intentionally and dangerously destructive to America’s foundations. The nation’s leader should say so and, within constitutional bounds, act to defeat it. Joe Biden won’t and there’s precious little indication Donald Trump has much interest. But DeSantis will.
One final thought about how this plays into how DeSantis can win the election. It seems likely that the electoral battleground will be, as it has been over the last few cycles, in the suburbs, and particularly among white suburban women. Most of the time, these women have children, children to whose present and future well-being they are devoted. If Wokeism means what I think it means, a candidate who takes it on will get a bigger share of the suburban mom vote than we’ve seen in decades.