Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has been consistently the most likely alternative to former President Donald J. Trump in the race to become the next Republican Party presidential candidate. Yet, at every turn, Trump and the other candidates have done their level-best to ignore or downplay DeSantis—proving yet again that DeSantis is the underdog candidate.
The reason that all the Republican candidates, including Trump, are ignoring DeSantis is because they understand that if he can get a shot at them, they’d be toast.
The Debate Was Generally a Dumpster Fire
The debate last night was a pathetic display.
A handful of people screaming and sniping at each other. Debate moderators who were totally unequipped for managing the scene. In fact, one debate moderator added to the chaos with her ridiculous final question to the candidates.
Through it all, though, Governor DeSantis looked the best. He was clearly being marginalized by the other participants and the moderators. So, when he did get the microphone, DeSantis made every strike count.
While he did not do as I had wished: to start directly attacking his opponents on stage to minimize them, DeSantis did come across as the adult-in-the-room. When pressed to attack a fellow candidate who is probably the smarmiest person running this year, Vivek Ramaswamy, DeSantis refused to take the bait.
If the shoe had been on the other foot, as it was in the previous debate, Ramaswamy would not have hesitated to pile on DeSantis. We’ll see if turning the other cheek works in the long-run, though. It certainly hasn’t worked well for DeSantis against Trump, who continues outpacing the Florida governor by double digits in every major poll.
Everyone knows, however, if Trump was not on the ballot, the numbers would be far different. DeSantis would be leagues ahead of his opponents and would be a shoo-in for the GOP nomination. But there’s Trump sucking up all the oxygen—and not even participating in what should have been required debates for all possible GOP candidates to participate in.
The RNC is Not Serious About Winning
Alas, the GOP is not led by serious people.
The head of the party, Ronna McDaniel, prefers to fundraise at all costs (and give herself nice pay increases with each fundraising cycle). Forcing Trump to follow basic protocols in the GOP primary process would crimp her ability to fundraise off Donald Trump’s orange back.
Nevertheless, DeSantis stayed above the fray. At key points he explicitly outlined why he was the better candidate on the stage (beyond simply ignoring the high school drama that came to define last night’s debate).
DeSantis Record is Strong
DeSantis repeated the facts about his record as Florida’s governor: that under his leadership the Sunshine State, the fourth largest economy (in GDP) in the United States (and it’d be the fourteenth largest economy in the world if Florida were an independent country), DeSantis created a massive budget surplus. DeSantis rightly informed the audience that he’d do the same thing for the United States, if elected president.
None of the other Keebler Elves on stage last night could make a similar claim to fame.
When DeSantis did go on the attack, he stuck to the facts.
He reminded the audience that Trump didn’t even have the respect to show up and speak with them last night. DeSantis then defended his Pro-Life policies in Florida and compared them against the unhinged and disrespectful comments by former President Trump from a week ago, in which the forty-fifth president endorsed abortions at the national level (so long as they took place after five weeks and before the third trimester).
When Nikki Haley attempted to lie about DeSantis’ stellar record as governor, DeSantis rebuffed her obvious lies. As the governor of a state whose primary industry is tourism, having oil rigs right off the coast of Florida’s bucolic beaches is a very bad idea.
They’re eyesores, which is why he doesn’t allow for them to be built. Haley was so desperate to harm DeSantis’ support that she outright lied about the reasons for the governor doing that (claiming that he was a slave to the environmentalist crowd).
DeSantis reminded her that, as governor, he supported energy independence in Florida. When he was elected in 2018, Floridians had approved a major ballot initiative to ban offshore drilling to protect the much larger tourism industry in Florida.
Haley knew that.
She didn’t care because she knew that DeSantis was crushing it last night at the debate while Haley got into screeching matches with Vivek Ramaswamy and a borderline racist fight with fellow South Carolinian, Sen. Tim Scott.
DeSantis Must Press On to Victory
Bottom line: as with the first debate, DeSantis’ performance was not great, but not terrible. His opponents again ignored him, giving him another chance to fight on. And the other candidates spent so much time tearing each other down, that when attention was given to DeSantis, he appeared presidential.
Ron DeSantis won. He must continue his campaign for presidency.
A 19FortyFive Senior Editor, Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (Encounter Books), and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (July 23). Weichert occasionally serves as a Subject Matter Expert for various organizations, including the Department of Defense. He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.