Ron DeSantis is running for president. He has as much as admitted it, although he hasn’t done the obligatory visits to Iowa and New Hampshire. 2024 should be his time and it would be a waste if he didn’t run.
Governor DeSantis doesn’t have to announce yet. The contenders for the nominations are former president Trump or DeSantis. Everybody else is an also-ran. Trump, should he decide to run, can count on residual loyalty. DeSantis can appeal to voters as a younger, more vital, less controversial, and arguably more politically savvy alternative.
Trump commands attention, but that attention tends to draw focus to himself. DeSantis commands attention, but he draws focus to an issue. He can force the news media to cover anything he chooses, even when they would rather do just about anything else. And DeSantis knows how to frame the issue in the most powerful and Republican-friendly way possible.
Simply put, DeSantis is the better politician in this cycle — and perhaps the best we have seen since Reagan. Obama was much cooler as a person. He cut a figure that recalls JFK, but he was pretty awful at driving a policy agenda. Ron DeSantis, at least so far, knows how to get his way and look good doing it.
The Florida governor is starting to make his positive pitch to voters. He’s no longer just raising his profile and driving the conversation. He is directly appealing to Republican voters with a vision of what a DeSantis presidency would look like.
In this post I will focus on how DeSantis frames his accomplishments. I will draw mainly from his speech given in Miami at the National Conservatism Conference.
In future posts–I have plans but no schedule–I will look at his positive pitch, which amounts to his vision of what a leader should look like and where he would lead the country. Obviously these are all related, if no other reason his record in Florida is the result of his leadership style and vision for the future.
FLORIDA UNDER DESANTIS
DeSantis can argue that Florida has flourished under his leadership because by any measure it has. Democrats are trying to argue the point, but nobody will believe them because there really is no data they can point to where you could dent DeSantis’ shine. You could drag out a bunch of examples of things DeSantis has said or done that won’t appeal to a lot of people (his fight with Disney, for instance), but you really can’t say Florida is worse off because of the governor. It is clearly better off, either because of or despite DeSantis’ leadership.
Obviously I agree with the governor that it is because of his leadership, while Democrats will argue the opposite. But honestly, they have nothing here to work with.
How much better off? Well one obvious data point is that people are voting with their feet. Both people and capital are fleeing other states to settle in Florida. No state has experienced more in-migration than Florida. Not even Texas can compete. And as tellingly Florida has seen the largest infusion of adjusted gross income–dollars–in the country. Four times more has come to Florida than the second highest state, Texas. That is just stunning.
Over the last few years, the statistics are startling. Since COVID, more adjusted gross income has moved into the state of Florida than has ever moved into any one state over a similar time period in American history. In fact, since COVID, the next closest state to Florida in terms of receiving adjusted gross income was the state of Texas, which is not too shabby. But Florida has seen almost four times as much adjusted gross income moving to Florida as has moved into Texas. What are the states that are hemorrhaging wealth? California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey—you know the list.
That is breathtaking. Texas has been the haven for migrants from Blue states, but Florida has become the new promised land.
DeSantis’ leadership on COVID policy is one of the main reasons people now refer to the “Free State of Florida.” DeSantis followed Trump’s policy choices at the beginning of the COVID outbreak, but pretty quickly intuited and then, through serious research, concluded that Americans were being taken for a ride by the Washington “experts.”
When COVID hit, I had never experienced a pandemic. Probably most people here had never done that. And so I started to do research and consume data, because we were being told what to do by the White House task force, or this health bureaucrat or that. But did any of that actually make any sense? Was any of it justifiable?
I look back at Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address. Most people remember it for his warnings about the dangers of the military industrial complex, and I think those were very smart observations. But if you read that inaugural address, he talked about this new phenomenon of the federal government funding so much scientific research. And he said, when those two things are intermingled like that, there’s a danger: public policy itself could be held captive by what he called the “scientific-technological elite.” And he rejected that as something that was acceptable. He said, A statesman’s job is not to subcontract out your leadership to a very narrow-minded elite. The job of the statesman is to harmonize all the different competing interests that are in society, weighing different values, and then coming up with the proper policy. And so my view was, we had to choose freedom over Fauci-ism in the state of Florida.
He quickly became the face of the opposition, and it paid off both in policy accomplishments and politically. While a substantial (and disturbing) number of people joined the COVID religious movement, a lot of Americans became disenchanted with the the experts. Their pronouncements were self-contradictory, their policy prescriptions ignored the collateral costs to the economy, society, and particularly to the population not at great risk from the virus. Children were the worst victims, but family life in general suffered greatly from the policy choices made by the elite. Elderly people were dying without the comfort of family to send them to their eternal reward.
Ron DeSantis fought back, at great political risk. It may be difficult to remember, now that DeSantis has been proven right, that pretty much the entire establishment came down on the governor like a ton of bricks. He was called a murderer, a grandma killer, and every other horrible thing imaginable, but he stood strong and put Florida in a much better position. The entire mainstream media establishment made him public enemy #1, but he stood firm in fighting for his citizens. It was a remarkable performance.
Children benefited the most. While states across the country have seen dramatic learning loss caused by COVID shutdowns, minority students in Florida actually saw learning gains. Florida schools are, in general, excellent, ranked 3rd overall in the country, and highest by some measures. And that was before COVID lockdowns created a man-made disaster.
Speaking of education, Florida stands out on a number of measures besides raw performance.
We also have a very strong approach to education, which I know a lot of people appreciate once they get to learn more about it. We have more choice in our K-12 system than any state in the country thus far. I know Arizona recently did something and it seems like that’s exciting. So we’ll see how that shakes out. But our choice is not limited to just private scholarships. It also includes charter schools. But then, because we’ve embraced choice, the school districts have also had to embrace choice within their individual districts. So we have a total number of students in Florida in choice programs totaling 1.3 million students, right here in Miami-Dade County. This is the highest-performing urban school district in the country. And 70% of the students in Miami-Dade go to a school other than the public school. When I was growing up in Florida, you grew up in the town, you went to that school. Now we have choice. Options abound: nearly 250,000 students are on private scholarships in the state of Florida. A lot of it is geared toward low-income students, but actually up to 85% of our families qualify for private scholarships. We also have 363,000 students in charter schools, which are public schools, but they’re not run by the school district and, more importantly, not influenced by the teachers unions.
This is music to any conservatives’ hearts. DeSantis is not only bragging about Florida’s successful approach to educational choice, he also points out that he is a fan of federalism and the role of states as laboratories of democracy. By pointing to Arizona he not only gives credit to the accomplishments of other Republicans, he signals that he is willing to learn from others’ experience.
As important to parents, DeSantis has been the single best advocate for the backlash against woke religion. As public schools have become petri dishes for the worst ideological fads ever to invade schools, DeSantis has stood up to the woke bullies and hit back twice as hard. He is public enemy #1 for teachers’ unions, Leftist ideologues, and sexual predators who have been recruiting in the schools. He is so successful that the Left is beginning to compare Trump favorably to Governor DeSantis. Clearly they see him as the greater threat to their agenda. It is becoming clear that Democrats would rather run against a wounded Trump than an ascending DeSantis, and who could blame them?
His education accomplishments aren’t limited to the K-12 system. He also gives a nod to Florida’s excellent higher education system, and elaborates why it serves Floridians so well:
We also have been proud of our higher education system, partially because we have had a freeze on tuition since I’ve been governor. So if you’re an in-state student and you want to go to a state university, the average tuition is about $6,300. You cannot match that anywhere else in the country. We also have scholarships for high-performing students, which will take care of all of that, or most of it, depending on the level of scholarship you get. And yes, we want to make sure that these are universities dedicated to excellence. And so we recently signed legislation that in the state of Florida, all of our State University’s tenured professors must undergo review every five years, and can be let go if they are not doing the job.
Reviewing tenured professors every 5 years? That must put the fear of God into every Left-wing professor’s heart.
Moving on to other issues, DeSantis unapologetically points to Florida’s record on law enforcement.
One of the main drivers of people wanting to come to the state of Florida is public safety. You saw safety erode in many communities throughout this country. And people knew that with me as governor, this is a law and order state. We are not going to let the inmates run the asylum here; we are not going to release criminals back onto the street. We’re not going to defy law enforcement. And we’re going to make sure that if we have some of these elected district attorneys, if they put themselves above the law and don’t enforce the law, we will take action. In fact, recently, we had somebody over in Tampa who had said he wasn’t going to enforce certain laws. So I removed him from his post, and we have somebody new in there.
But they slashed funding for law enforcement across the country. And that makes you short-handed: you can’t have enough people on the street. But it also just sends a message to the people that wear the uniform: you don’t have any support. I wouldn’t want to get involved in some thicket if I know I’m not going to get any support from the people that I’m out there working for. So that’s had a huge impact on crime going up.
They also do things like eliminate cash bail, and put criminals back on the street. I mean, when COVID hit, they were telling me, governor, you gonna release criminals from prison? I’m like, hell no. Why would I do that? Many governors were doing it, though. And so you have a lot of soft-on-crime policies. And yes, these prosecutors funded by people like George Soros go into office with their mission being that they are going to “reform” the criminal justice system. You cannot do that as a prosecutor: it is an executive position. “Reform” would require legislative action. So what they’re doing is, through non-enforcement, they are trying to reimagine what the justice system is. Nobody voted for those changes in the legislature. They’re just taking it upon themselves to do it.
As a Minneapolis resident I can tell you law enforcement is a key issue for voters. The creeping lawlessness we saw before the George Floyd riots exploded since. We have murders, carjackings, assaults, and other crimes against persons skyrocketing. Radical “squad” member Congressman Ilhan Omar, my representative, almost lost her primary to a moderate Democrat this primary season. Even our local rag the Star Tribune endorsed her opponent. So did a slew of Democrat powerhouses largely because she has become a liability on crime and other bread and butter issues. Liberals are beginning to talk up their support for law enforcement, but that ship has sailed. DeSantis clearly has the upper hand in this argument, and while Trump can point to his support for the police, he may be vulnerable here as well due to his support for criminal justice reform.
In contrast to most of the country DeSantis didn’t crumble before the woke mob during the Floyd riots. While most politicians were apologizing for existing, DeSantis moved fast to suppress violence:
And when they had rioting going on in Minneapolis and all these other places two summers ago, I immediately called out the National Guard in Florida. I had state law enforcement agencies deployed to all potential hotspots. We were not going to let the state of Florida burn to the ground like they were letting these other places burn to the ground. And I can tell you, they have not recovered as a result of this. We also understood that this is something, unfortunately, that we’re likely to see more of in the future. So after all that happened, we work with the legislature to pass legislation that does two things: one, it prevents local governments from defunding law enforcement, and two, it tells people who are engaged in rioting, looting mob violence, that if you do that in the state of Florida, don’t expect the Portland treatment where you get your mug shot taken, slapped on the wrist, and put right back on the street. Not in Florida. If you’re engaging in mob violence, you’re not getting a slap on the wrist. You’re getting the inside of a jail cell, and we’re gonna hold you accountable. And I have to brag a little bit: our anti-riot legislation was recently criticized by the United Nations. So I wear that as a badge of honor.
DeSantis has a great record to run on, obviously, but he won’t just be running on that record. While most politicians run as “I am better than that other guy” or “I agree with you more than they do,” that is not the sum total of DeSantis’ pitch. He has a deeper, more comprehensive vision that if he is elected will likely set the tone for the next generation of Republicans.
A DeSantis victory would relegate, if that is the word, Trump to the role of a pivotal figure and a much-needed inflection point for the party. Trump clearly broke the mold that had defined Republicans for several decades. Since Reagan the key issues that defined Republicans were taxes and spending, with national security a close second. George W. Bush’s response to 9/11 changed the balance, but his foreign policy legacy tarnished Republicans significantly in that realm. Only Obama’s failures in that realm revitalized Republican credentials, and Biden’s abject failures have completely restored Republicans’ reputation in foreign policy. Trump’s “America First” approach broke with the Reagan mold and built a new coalition that is more working class and more culturally focused. Yet Trump’s new coalition is still not coherent as an ideological brand; it is more Trump focused than issue focused so far.
But DeSantis could create a new ideological mold. DeSantis is a full throated defender of Americanism in a more coherent ideological way that Donald Trump. Trump talked up America and defended our interests as no president has in many decades, but his vision of what exactly our country is was not always clear. America as an economic entity he understood well. As a cultural entity? That was less clear.
DeSantis is very clear, and that vision will be the subject of another essay.