Democrats were expected to suffer a crushing red wave in Tuesday’s midterm elections, but it never materialised. Despite polls and pundits predicting massive Republican gains, the results have been tepid at best, with control of the Senate leaning Democratic and the House teetering toward a slim Republican majority.
Many are breathing a sigh of relief, casting Trump’s election night losses as a sign that his influence over the party is waning. Indeed, candidates endorsed by former President Donald Trump fared especially poorly, with many routed by Democratic opponents in what were seen as winnable races.
But the real lesson of the 2022 midterm elections is slightly different: Trump might be over, but Trumpism had a great night. Trump the man is simply no longer the conduit of his own legacy.
The clearest sign of the health of Trumpism without Trump was the biggest blowout of the night: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s victory over Democratic challenger Charlie Crist. The Democrats and their allies in the media have done their best to cast DeSantis as a hate-mongering authoritarian, yet he won in a landslide against Crist, a notorious flip-flopper who infamously told a reporter that he did not want the votes of DeSantis supporters. DeSantis netted what may turn out to be a 15-point victory over Crist, and a 20-point lead over his own numbers from just four years ago. It was something DeSantis made a point of noting in his acceptance speech:
How did he do it? Despite what the Democrats want us to believe, DeSantis is no Right-wing extremist; he cruised to victory thanks to a record of ruling over Florida for the past four years as a populist appealing to the middle and working class irrespective of their party affiliation. DeSantis has figured out something that’s lost on most politicians, that there are a lot of Americans who are culturally conservative and fiscally protectionist in both parties whom no one is speaking to. These voters are united on issues like Covid-19 lockdowns, sexualised messaging in early childhood education, and immigration, and on each of these issues, DeSantis took a big swing that signalled his willingness to represent this forgotten constituency and give them a voice.
In other words, he took Trump’s central insight, that the white working class has been abandoned by an elitist, Leftist cultural hegemony that looks down on working Americans, and he expanded it to include working-class Hispanics and working-class liberals. That’s why he explicitly thanked Miami Dade County, a heavily Hispanic area that was once considered a Democratic stronghold. He didn’t just win Cubans, either, who always lean conservative; DeSantis grew his share of the Puerto Rican vote by 20 points, from 34% in 2018 to 55% on Tuesday.
In flouting the Covid-19 restrictions, DeSantis told working class Floridians and small businesses irrespective of party that they mattered. His Parental Rights in Education bill, smeared by the media as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, got majority support from Democrats. And his recent stunt of flying Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard not only exposed the hypocrisy of liberal elites but cost him no Hispanic votes. The opposite: “He has cojones” is the new rallying cry of Miami Dade County.
This is the real MAGA message: You make America Great Again not by following a specific leader but by leading as a representative of a multi-racial working-class coalition that has been abandoned by both parties in favour of the educated and the rich. Out of any leading politician in the country, it is Ron DeSantis who understands this best. Donald Trump may be fading away, but his legacy lives on.