Ron DeSantis is already preparing for 2024

The reelected Florida governor can perform Donald Trump’s rage without the baggage

November 09, 2022
Ron DeSantis speaks during the Keep Florida Free Tour, Tampa, 24th August. REUTERS/Octavio Jones
Ron DeSantis speaks during the Keep Florida Free Tour, Tampa, 24th August. REUTERS/Octavio Jones

Florida, home of alligators, hurricanes and—thanks to Disney World—the world’s most famous talking mouse, is now the most important state in America. It’s home to the once-and-possibly-future president Donald Trump and his former protégé, the newly re-elected governor, Ron DeSantis, who won 59 per cent of the vote. DeSantis obviously plans to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024. The predicted “red tsunami” in these midterms was more of a red trickle nationwide, but Floridians woke up on Wednesday morning to a statewide flood of Republican triumphs.

The Trump versus DeSantis campaign began well before the midterm elections. DeSantis declined to appear at Trump’s rallies; Trump called his rival “DeSanctimonious”. In his victory speech on Tuesday night, DeSantis did not utter Trump’s name; Trump, by contrast, warned DeSantis in characteristic mafioso style: “I think if he runs, he could hurt himself very badly. I really believe he could hurt himself badly,” then added that he knew “things about him that won’t be very flattering—I know more about him than anybody—other than, perhaps, his wife.” The midterms make clear the battle in Florida won’t be between competing political philosophies on the right and the left, but between two candidates striving to more perfectly embody the rage and fear of Americans terrified that their country—white, Christian, exceptionalist—is slipping away into socialism and “wokeness”, becoming a country where gender can be fluid, people don’t respect the police and invading migrants are coming to take our jobs and change our culture.  

The midterm results are not as good as Republicans hoped or as appalling as Democrats feared. Some Trump-endorsed vassals lost contests Republicans would normally expect to win: in Pennsylvania, celebrity doctor Mehmet Öz lost to John Fetterman, the hoodie-wearing stroke survivor; Blake Masters, who blamed inflation on “diversity” at the Federal Reserve, apparently lost to former astronaut and incumbent senator Mark Kelly in Arizona. The senate race in Georgia will be decided in a December run-off between the incumbent, Rev Raphael Warnock, and Herschel Walker, the former footballer whose own family call him a liar. Trump got a big win when JD Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, took an open senate seat in Ohio. Vance used to call Trump “noxious” and “an idiot”, but pulled a volte-face, repenting of his sin against Maga. Trump gloated: “JD is kissing my ass.” Still, key races in Colorado and Nevada, which will determine who controls the House of Representatives and the Senate, may remain too close to call for days to come. The final results may take longer still if Trumpist Republicans in Pennsylvania and Arizona challenge ballots.

Democrats banked on abortion rights and Maga Republicans’ continuing assault on electoral integrity inspiring voters. That didn’t work in Florida. A majority of voters in the state accept the results of the 2020 election and favour reproductive freedom, but the price of petrol and the grocery bill matter more. And whom do they have to blame for their squeezed budgets but Joe Biden? Ron DeSantis accuses the president of causing inflation with federal bills funding large infrastructure projects, fostering sustainable energy, capping prescription drug prices and cancelling student loan debt. DeSantis seems to believe that America-hating Democrats rejoice in affronting decency with pronoun changes, Drag Queen Story Hour at the local library and books such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

He casts Florida as what America should be: ultra-capitalist, free from “experts” using “science” to bully us, unabashedly religious, hostile to racial, sexual or intellectual heterodoxy. It used to be said that California was the tip of the American spear: where California led, the rest of the nation would follow. But for DeSantis, California is the Great Satan, San Francisco a “dumpster fire”. He says he doesn’t want California businesses moving to Florida because they’d bring people with them who would vote for progressive policies: a “liberal invasion”. 

A mere 25 years ago, Florida was considered a model of good governance, proudly New South, championing civil rights, open government, free speech, diversity—everything a liberal democracy is supposed to be about. DeSantis’s Florida is rapidly sliding to becoming a laboratory for illiberal democracy. His new Election Police have the power to arrest any citizen who may have been told—incorrectly—by the state they could vote legally, hauling them off to jail for trying to be citizens. He has gone out of his way to torment Venezuelan asylum seekers who weren’t even heading for Florida by rounding some of them up in Texas, flying them to Massachusetts and dumping them. None of these actions do anything to help Floridians get better jobs, nor do they solve the insurance crisis or the rising level of poverty or the ravages of climate change so dramatically demonstrated in late September with Hurricane Ian. Under DeSantis, the workings of government are becoming increasingly opaque, judges are appointed according to their ideology, and teachers are warned to be careful how they discuss race, history and sexuality with their pupils. There’s a new law which forbids pointing out systemic racism or white privilege. Slavery in Florida and the rest of the South was not a matter of policy, it was simply individual racists engaging in a bad economic system. 

In Washington, the Democrats may hang onto the US Senate, but Congress will struggle to pass any meaningful legislation. In Florida, DeSantis’s power will be pretty much unchecked. He will continue to gin up what he sees as useful tribalism, pandering to white people who think they are the victims of ethnic minorities, refusing to allow doctors to treat gender dysphoria in young people and accusing universities of “indoctrinating” students into Marxism or transgenderism or some other state of being guaranteed to rile up his voters and get them excited for 2024. 

DeSantis is no fool; he has studied Trump, who endorsed him for governor in 2018 and pretty much guaranteed his win over a better-known candidate from an old Florida family. DeSantis learned to perform the anger and the insults but without the baggage. Clearly, he feels no loyalty to the man who facilitated his rise. Meanwhile, Trump seethes like a deposed king in his Mar-a-Lago Castle, plotting his comeback. As Trump and DeSantis wage war for power in 2024, the waters are rising around Florida. Republicans see the waves as triumphantly red and hope they’re predictive of America’s political future. But we Florida natives know that a red tide is actually poisonous, filled with toxic bacteria that stings the skin and leaves the pretty white sand covered with stinking dead fish.