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Ron DeSantis is betting on a populist future

January 22, 2024 - 7:00am

Saying that “this is America’s time for choosing”, Ron DeSantis made a choice of his own on Sunday afternoon: to suspend his run for the presidency and endorse Donald Trump. DeSantis’s withdrawal announcement revealed that he is betting on a populist future for the Republican Party — and trying to position himself within it.

In ticking through the issues that have ignited populist energies, the Florida Governor overtly contrasted his vision of politics with that of the Biden administration. For instance, he said that Americans would have to choose between “reckless borrowing and spending” and trying to “limit government and lower inflation”. He hit identity politics in education as well as the breakdown at the border.

However, even as DeSantis endorsed Trump, he also implicitly differentiated himself from the former president. After all, the federal debt swelled under Trump, even prior to 2020. DeSantis’s policy successes on cultural issues could be contrasted with the way that “woke” politics made strident advances under Trump, not to mention their differences over pandemic policies and the latter politician’s “elevation of Anthony Fauci”. There were rhetorical contrasts, too. While much of Trump’s 2024 campaign centres on himself and his personal controversies, DeSantis focused on issues along with anecdotes about his family.

In endorsing Trump, DeSantis slashed at Republican challenger Nikki Haley, saying that she represented a form of “warmed-over corporatism”. Throughout much of the primary, Haley trained her fire on the Florida Governor. Her allies dumped tens of millions of dollars into anti-DeSantis advertising with the hopes of pulling down his numbers in Iowa. Haley’s camp hoped that a DeSantis loss in the first caucus would squeeze him out. Now that DeSantis has withdrawn, she has her wish of a two-person race.

But wishes granted are sometimes wishes regretted. In many New Hampshire polls, Trump is already above 50%. While DeSantis’s support was in the mid-single digits in the Granite State before he dropped out, most of his voters are socially conservative and populist. On Tuesday, many of them could well vote for Trump over Haley. DeSantis’s withdrawal could actually hurt Haley in New Hampshire and other states. After all, if there’s one thing Trump is good at, it’s steamrolling other Republicans who are viewed as hostile to populism.

The “time for choosing” that DeSantis invoked in his announcement is a loaded term in conservative politics. Ronald Reagan delivered that line in a famous speech during the 1964 election, shortly before Barry Goldwater was wiped out by Lyndon Johnson. That speech was a springboard for Reagan’s political career. A “time for choosing” thus intertwines defeat and a hoped-for future victory.

In November 2022, Florida was an anomaly. While Republicans struggled in much of the country, they mustered a multiethnic working-class majority to win the former swing state overwhelmingly. DeSantis’s policy and electoral records were supposed to be the centrepiece of his bid for the presidency. Then, the series of criminal indictments against Trump over the course of 2023 changed the political gravity of the Republican primary. Some strategic missteps of the DeSantis campaign (such as being Too Online early on) only made it harder for his candidacy to gain traction.

DeSantis is a young man by political standards, nearly a decade younger than Reagan when he gave that 1964 speech. Despite withering attacks from Trump and Haley, he retains high favourability numbers among Republican voters. He has two more years as Governor of Florida to plan his next steps. Then, he can position himself within a political landscape transformed by populism and increasingly torn by conflict.


Fred Bauer is a writer from New England.

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago

Sucks. DeSantis would be a much better GOP candidate and a much better president.

El Uro
El Uro
4 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

For to be a successful president you should have enough popular support. He doesn’t have it.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
4 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

He doesn’t have enough popular support within the GOP..

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago

If DeSantis is going to have a place in the post-Trump landscape, he’s going to have to acquire a personality. The absence of one certainly hurt him this time around.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

It’s true. He’s got everything but charisma. But with this pro-Trump move, he may have secured himself a cabinet position.

N T
N T
4 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

if someone is thinking long-term, it would be better to leave him in florida and work on rehabbing his image. in florida he can demonstrate lots of success as an executive, including during crises.
he could also come to some semblance of an agreement with disney, instead of continuing this (nationally) unpopular battle.
i think he needs a significant POV shift. maybe he has to have his hopes caved in, again, in 2028, for that to happen.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  N T

The Disney thing. Aren’t you suggesting – and you might be right here – that “wokeness” is being overplayed as an issue by the Right?

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Even Trump suggests that on occasion.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Charisma is a pretty important thing in politics.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

He does need to work on that but I don’t believe there was ever anything he could do to out-shine Trump. I think against Newsome, Kamala Harris and co, DeSantis would do well in a GE.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
4 months ago

In terms of electoral calculus, his timing matters and appears to be closely coordinated with the Trump campaign.
A withdrawal from the race was inevitable for DeSanctimonious. But had it come after NH, it would have left a window for Haley to split the populist vote and sneak through that state’s open primary with her paid-for boatload of independents and wash-in democrats from Massachusetts.
With DeSnoozefest squarely behind Maga, those waters are less muddied, and the window now closes. If Haley loses NH she may as well withdraw from the race. Even with Trump behind bars and off the ballot in all 50 states, he would still remain the Republican nominee.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

MAGA will however lose the presidential race in my view. I see no more reason that most Americans will support Trump – let’s say very charitably a “marmite” character – than they did in 2020 or indeed either of the two mid-terms in which he helped to lose support for the Republicans. “De Sanctimonious” by the way is typical Trump – funny but the complete opposite of a strategic approach to moving towards a more conservative direction in US politics.

N T
N T
4 months ago

but he’s not trying to be a populist, or if he is, he does not understand what the word means.
he has a target audience, but it does not seem to be the masses.
the masses:
* don’t mess with social security or medicare, flawed as they are
* tax folks more over a certain threshold.
* abortion should be restricted, but much later in a pregnancy, not at six weeks, or eight or ten weeks.
* punishing the popular vacation fantasy destination because they say something you don’t agree with is not ok – the first amendment says so (even though the premise of the original bill is correct). continuing to denigrate them is not ok. be bigger than that.
* don’t be an ass.
* big deficits bad
* foreign wars bad
* quirky, stiff personality bad
what am i missing, here?
ron had a clear path to be the winner in 2024, and he flat screwed it up. it’s going to take a lot of image rehab to fix it.

William Hickey
William Hickey
4 months ago

DeSantis, like Scott Walker, is never going to recover from this disaster. He looked far stronger than Walker did in 2015 and so he falls farther. His presidential dreams are over.
In 2028 there will be a new political landscape no matter who wins in 2024. Articulate candidates who are unsullied by monumental failure, such as JD Vance, will be joined by others who improved their images this year, like Vivek. DeSantis will look like last week’s soiled laundry.
Of course, if Trump wins RDS has no hope of being named his successor, just like he has no chance of being selected VP. Trump does not like people he considers lacking in “loyalty skills.”
In fact, it is much more likely that a Trump Department of Justice will investigate illegal collusion between the DeSantis campaign and the Never Back Down PAC.
If you attack the king, you must kill the king. Bye, Ron.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  William Hickey

“….will be joined by others who improved their images this year, like Vivek“. I can only assume you are talking about a different Vivek.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

Political beauty is often in the eye of the beholder!

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

He couldn’t even get as many votes as DeSantis in the primaries.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  William Hickey

You might be right about de Santis, but that very petty vindictive side of Trump, who has a list of enemies as long as his arm, will probably not be president a second time and be another chaotic disappointment if he does.

JP Martin
JP Martin
4 months ago

I never understood why DeSantis entered this race. It would have made much more sense, at least in my opinion, to wait it out for the next 4 years.

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  JP Martin

It is difficult to imagine that his obvious flaws will have disappeared by then.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin M

Well, Trump has some pretty obvious flaws, and if it’s just. a personality contest – which I agree to some extent it’s always been – then no wonder the US is in such a mess. Mind you, Biden hardly has a scintillating personality – it was enough for him to be not Trump …

Martin M
Martin M
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Trump has flaws, sure, but he has charisma. DeSantis has none of that. Biden at least has the “Mr Nice Guy” thing going.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
4 months ago

Sending a plane-load of asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard was a truly funny bit. We gotta like him for that!

Emre S
Emre S
4 months ago

the series of criminal indictments against Trump over the course of 2023 changed the political gravity of the Republican primary

This has to be one of the funniest political results in a long while. And who would’ve thought? Throwing every but the kitchen sink at Trump in litigation, and aggressively supporting extreme Left isn’t a winning formula for the Democratic establishment?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Emre S

I still don’t think Trump will beat the Democrats. We will see.

Emre S
Emre S
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Fair enough. But it’s not only the presidential election. Democrats have wrecked their cities, their universities, centres of excellence the crown jewels of America as part of this hysteria. People are running out of New York, California and Chicago – it’s on official statistics, American education is dumbed down so much students can’t compete with other countries. How can they expect to win based on this?

Jay Chase
Jay Chase
4 months ago

DeSantis was advocating for a Flat Income Tax, the ultimate Blue-Blood Wall Street Republican scheme. I would classify him as the anti-woke Steve Forbes.
I’m sorry but if you made billions off-shoring American jobs, you should pay progressively higher taxes than a coal miner making $40k a year.