While the GOP primary debate devolved into nothing more than a high school cafeteria food fight, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stood out for his composure and poise.
When moderator Dana Perino asked the candidates who should be voted “off the island,” DeSantis in the now viral clip, declined to participate.
However, his finest moments on Wednesday evening in California occurred when he went off script, entered combat mode, and let ‘er rip.
Ron DeSantis’s So-Called Image Problem
The DeSantis campaign seems to have been hard at work to manufacture a carefully constructed version of the statesman that will shatter his stuffy, uptight image and appeal to voters. The public assessed that DeSantis lacked charisma and charm.
The problem is you can’t force personality. It comes across as phony and trying too hard and trying too hard is never a good thing.
People valued and respected Donald Trump, because love him or hate him, you knew exactly who he was. You can’t accuse the man of not being authentic. He may be an authentic narcist, but he’s authentic, nonetheless.
Asking DeSantis to so much as smile when it’s not coming from a place of genuine joy or mirth is like Mike Pence’s jokes – it’s just awkward.
Certain facial expressions and gestures don’t make a candidate likeable. Voters can smell B.S. a mile away and when DeSantis tries to be something he’s not, it’s obvious.
This is not to say the Governor is a thoughtless jerk. Quite the contrary. Every time I see him engaging with constituents he comes across as a caring and concerned leader. But you can’t force him into a situation.
DeSantis Is Best When He Brawls
The principled conservative has proven time and time again, when challenged, he can rise to the occasion and shut down illogical and bad faith arguments meant to bait him.
He demonstrated that with Nikki Haley when she went after DeSantis for banning fracking in Florida.
“That’s not true,” DeSantis replied, twice.
Like many do in debate, Haley didn’t give the full picture.
As DeSantis ran for governor in 2018, he campaigned on banning hydraulic fracturing and oil drilling off Florida’s coast. That year, voters also approved a constitutional amendment to ban drilling. DeSantis continues to oppose fracking and oil drilling off Florida’s coast, but says he isn’t against it elsewhere.
“We have a constitutional amendment that does not allow offshore drilling. And so that’s something that we honor,” DeSantis said about Florida while revealing his economic plan in New Hampshire last month. “That is not saying that I think that should apply to Louisiana or Texas. So that will continue.”
In the debate DeSantis declared, “We are gonna get that job done because it’s important for our national security, it’s important for jobs, and that’s one of the best ways to drive down inflation,” he said.
Furthermore, DeSantis tried to keep the debate on track by interrupting a meaningless argument between Haley and Tim Scott about shades in the UN Ambassador apartment. In the process, he was able to highlight his ability to get things done.
“I appreciate a lot of the things they’re saying. I’m the only one up here who’s gotten in the big fights and has delivered big victories for the people of Florida, and that’s what it’s all about. You can always talk but when it gets hot in there, when they’re shooting arrows at you, are you going to stand up for parents’ rights, keep the state free, are you going to be able to do all those things?”
He also was able to defend pro-life positions and take down Donald Trump in the same argument.
“I reject this idea that pro-lifers are to blame for midterm defeats. I think there’s other reasons for that. The former president, you know he’s missing in action tonight, he’s had a lot to say about that. He should be here explaining his comments to try to say that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing.”
He can switch the narrative in a moment and expose the press – and others – as the partisan shills that they are.
A Washington Post/Ipsos post-debate poll shows a majority of Republican voters believe DeSantis performed the best in the debate on Wednesday evening.
Sadly, his performance on stage at the Ronald Reagan Library seems to have done little to move the needle in DeSantis’s overall rankings.
According to the latest GOP primary poll from the NY Post, DeSantis is actually down from 14 points earlier this week to 10 points, a whopping 52 points behind Trump.
Of course, polls are inevitably flawed and don’t always accurately represent what is happening on the ground, particularly in battleground states. However, that’s a huge margin to overcome.
That’s not to say it can’t be done. Ron DeSantis is a fighter. Let him brawl.
Jennifer Galardi is the politics and culture editor for 19FortyFive.com. She has a Master’s in Public Policy from Pepperdine University and produces and hosts the podcast Connection with conversations that address health, culture, politics and policy. In a previous life, she wrote for publications in the health, fitness, and nutrition space. In addition, her pieces have been published in the Epoch Times and Pepperdine Policy Review. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.