Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis is the most promising Republican politician of his generation. In many respects, he is the truest heir to the Reagan Revolution which helped to defeat the Soviet Union and ensured an economic and high-tech revolution at home that lasted for many decades after he had left office.
Sadly, Ron DeSantis is acting like he doesn’t know what time it is.
The Ron DeSantis Magic
As a governor, DeSantis proved that his policies work better than most—even those of the president which, during COVID-19, was Donald J. Trump. It was DeSantis who opposed the lockdowns and reopened earlier than when Trump wanted him to. It was Trump, meanwhile, who supposedly phoned down to Tallahassee as Ron DeSantis was reopening the state to save the state from economic oblivion as well as to protect Floridians’ civil liberties and demanded that Ron DeSantis stop.
Was it because the forty-fifth president believed that his policies (which were really just National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease head, Dr. Anthony Fauci) were better for the country than DeSantis’?
No, it was because, according to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who was brought onto the call by his sometime friend, Trump, the Donald believed DeSantis was making Trump look bad. Trump accused DeSantis, whom he helped bigly get elected to Florida’s governor over the more well-known Adam Putnam in the 2018 Republican Gubernatorial Primary, of disloyalty.
Trump’s problem with DeSantis had nothing to do with the public good and everything to do with his own ego and political standing going into the contentious 2020 Presidential Election.
Ron DeSantis waged a controversial culture war against one of his state’s biggest employers (and tourist destinations), Walt Disney. He did so at great political costs to himself as governor. Yet, DeSantis won on the grounds that he was defending his citizens from pernicious and unwanted Left-wing cultural programs being imposed by Disney at the behest of the Democratic Party.
Similarly, DeSantis has gained notoriety for preventing what many on the Right view as Cultural Marxist teachings in our schools—everything from “drag queen” story hour to radical ahistorical teachings in the Advanced Placement (AP) African-American high school education curriculum.
Whether these are accurate beliefs on the governor’s part, these stances have not only made him famous but have endeared him to many Republican voters around the nation.
Then there’s the Florida economy. Under DeSantis’ leadership—and in no smart part thanks to DeSantis’ COVID-19 policies—Florida’s economy has thrived and our population has exploded (yes, I live in Florida), as we take in economic and cultural refugees from the Blue States as far afield as California and Oregon.
Ron DeSantis has dominated the policy discourse on the Right and he has proven how any Right-leaning leader should behave while in office. Any politician would be envious of the record that DeSantis has and would certainly conclude that their leadership is scalable to the rest of the country.
So, although DeSantis has yet to officially announce his bid for the presidency in 2024, his is the most hotly anticipated campaign of the pending 2024 Republican Party Primary. Rather than jump in with both feet, DeSantis has dithered and equivocated.
The key to winning a national election in the Republican Party is twofold: the base and the big donors. You need both to be effective. But, to win the Republican Party Primary, more than big ticket donors, you need the base. Whatever one’s opinion about the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the fact remains that CPAC is the single greatest gathering of grassroots activists in the Republican Party. If you can win their hearts and minds, you will be on the path to victory in the GOP Primary.
That is why Ron DeSantis’ decision to avoid showing up at CPAC and instead travel to the Reagan Ranch in Simi Valley, Calif., where he gave a moving speech to a packed house of big-ticket Republican Party donors was so perplexing.
Sure, money is key in political campaigns. But, at the start, when you’re such a recognizable and well-regarded political figure, you need to connect with the grassroots of the party early on.
What’s more, by ignoring the GOP base and letting Trump have free reign over them at CPAC, DeSantis is letting Trump and his acolytes set the narrative heading into the primary.
Trump’s claim is that Ron DeSantis is a covert agent of the dreaded globalist establishment. There is little proof of that. Nevertheless, this is the accusation. Even though Trump was likely to steal the show at CPAC no matter what, DeSantis should have gone there—as the other GOP presidential contenders, Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo did—and fought for the base. By jet-setting to California to be with donors and promote his book, DeSantis does not look good; he gives Trump more talking points about DeSantis is disconnected and elitist.
As for the DeSantis speech itself: it was hopeful, it was moving, and it was brilliant.
Trump’s speech was passionate, inventive, and vengeful. DeSantis’ speech may have appealed nicely to the Reagan Ranch set. And their money will come in handy if he runs. But their money can’t buy votes in the Republican Primary (well, not all the votes). When seeking to win over the base, you need passion more than money. Frankly, Trump’s speech was likely closer to where the base presently is than DeSantis’ speech was.
Ron DeSantis has made a sport out of avoiding responding to Trump’s provocations. He can’t ignore them much longer. If he does, his campaign is dead on arrival. DeSantis is pandering to the elites who run the party presently, but he should be fighting to win over the base of the GOP who remain skeptical and divided about DeSantis.
The last thing the governor should want is to go from being the next Ronald Reagan to possibly a Mitt Romney. That is where he’s headed if DeSantis keeps avoiding dinging Trump as hard as Trump has been tweaking him; if DeSantis keeps ignoring the base and letting Trump and his acolytes define DeSantis.
Ron DeSantis needs to stop worrying about the optics and start engaging. He needs to start shaping the narrative and countering whatever spin is coming from the Trump team before that spin sets in and becomes DeSantis’ identity. He can only run to California and appease donors for so long. He will need to enter the arena and start throwing punches at the orange Svengali soon. Otherwise, his entire political career is on ice. DeSantis needs to start hustling a lot more than he is.
Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who recently became a writer for 19FortyFive.com. Weichert is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower(Republic Book Publishers), The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (March 28), and Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.