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How Ron DeSantis can win, Part 2
And why - even if he CAN'T win - this is the path he should take
The national mood is bleak. American defeats are piling up:
Military humiliation in west Asia. Soaring budget deficits and inflation. Rising crime and acceptance of antisocial behavior and drug use. In the White House, an ineffective Democratic president challenged by a Kennedy.
But the answer comes from somewhere else, from a Sunshine State governor named Ronald - despised by the elite media but popular at home.
The parallels between 1979 and 2023 are eerie.
And if Ron DeSantis wants to be the next President, he needs to get his inspiration somewhere other than Donald Trump.
He needs to channel the spirit of Ronald Reagan.
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DeSantis will never have Reagan’s charisma.
But Reagan had weaknesses too. He was skewered as an intellectual lightweight, and for all his charm and presence, he wasn’t exactly likable, much less relatable. He was too much of an old-school movie star to be the guy you’d imagine having over for a beer. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton passed that test much better.
No, Reagan won because he so clearly believed in America’s promise - and because he’d lived it, and he’d run a state that embodied it.
It’s easy to forget now, but California used to be a place that people wanted to live, where taxes were reasonable and a middle-class salary could buy you a house - not on the beach, sure, but a few miles inland.
California wasn’t paradise, the air was dirty and the traffic nasty and Los Angeles almost completely segregated, but the schools were decent and the economy good and it worked.
California isn’t California anymore.
And as much as anyone, DeSantis is the reason why.
Three years ago, DeSantis bet his and his state’s future on his response to Covid. He did something Reagan never had the chance to do, never needed to do, he bet against government interference and for individual freedom in a visceral, personal way.
You didn’t have to wear a mask in Florida if you didn’t want to. You didn’t have to stay in your house. You could choose to keep your kids home or send them to school, to keep your business open or closed. DeSantis bet against lockdowns and masks and vaccine mandates.
He bet on the Constitution and the rights it promises.
And he won. In the simplest, most profound way. Despite the left’s shrieking, the bodies didn’t pile up like cordwood. Three years later, the age-adjusted Covid death tolls in Florida are basically indistinguishable from other big states.
Americans noticed. And they voted with their feet. California has lost 700,000 people in the last three years. More stunningly, New York City has lost almost 500,000, more than 5 percent of its residents - and a lot of them moved to Florida. (By the way, this migration shows exactly how much anyone really cares about climate change. Florida is barely above sea level and ground zero for hurricanes, but people can’t go there fast enough.)
(Wish we’d bought that place in Ft. Lauderdale in 2020. Or Naples in 2010. Oh, Naples in 2010, post-financial crisis…)
This is the record Ron DeSantis should own.
During an unprecedented crisis, he stood against medical authoritarianism and government overreach (and the media) and for freedom. He believes in the Constitution and personal choice.
In a general election, the media may refuse to admit this reality, rereporting every single Covid death in Florida to argue that somehow DeSantis’s policies were wrong. But that case will be hard to make. Anyway DeSantis has a more immediate problem to solve - and it is hard to imagine a more receptive audience to DeSantis’s actions than Republican primary voters.
It is precisely because Covid has given DeSantis such a powerful pro-freedom record that his culture war detour is so damaging.
He allowed businesses to stay open but is at war with his state’s most important company. He said people could make fundamental choices about their health but won’t let eighth-graders hear anything about sexual orientation. (This issue is very different than the trans question. No one under 18 - or maybe 21 - should be offered irreversible surgery and hormone blockers, but pretending that 14- or 15-year-olds haven’t hit puberty or that some aren’t gay is silly.)
California was a golden dream.
(Still attached, but collapsing anyway)
But these days, Florida is the messy reality of America - incredibly diverse, not just culturally and racially but politically and financially too. It stretches from South Beach to the Redneck Riviera, and from the middle-class suburbs of Orlando, where the median house is still reasonably affordable ($370,000, up from $250,000 in early 2020) to the wealth bubbles of Palm Beach and Jupiter Island.
Florida is notably structurally different than other megastates, too.
It feels in many ways more like a mid-sized state that just happened to get huge. It does not rely overly on a single wealth generator like finance in New York or technology in northern California. Though it is the third-largest state, it doesn’t have any of the 10 biggest cities (and its biggest metro area, around Miami, is ninth). It is alone among major states in lacking any first-rate colleges or universities (these days it isn’t even good at college football).
Yet in 2023, all those supposed weaknesses might pass for strengths.
They’ve enabled Florida to spread its growth widely, mitigating if not entirely ending crushing home price increases, and protecting it from the well-organized rage of leftist academia or overly woke social media companies.
Like Las Vegas, Florida generates lots of service jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree. They don’t pay great, but with housing not completely unaffordable and taxes reasonable, they give people a chance to pay the bills and maybe even buy a first house.
America wanted to be California. Now maybe it’s better off being Florida.
Of course, Ron DeSantis is not Ronald Reagan. He’s angrier, and so are the times. The gap between the super-haves and everyone else is far bigger than it was 44 years ago, social media has dialed up the anger on both left and right, and legacy media has largely squandered whatever authority it had.
But DeSantis cannot possibly win by being whiner and more self-pitying than Donald Trump, Trump has the monopoly there, and why would he want to, anyway? Why even try to be President if all you see is the American sun setting in the west, escaping to China?
Florida’s not the end. It’s the beginning. It’s where the sun rises from the sea and the new day starts.
(Ignore the tankers. Or maybe don’t, they matter too.)
DeSantis believed in freedom enough to stand up for it in 2020 against the paper tiger that was Covid, just as Reagan stood up to the Soviet Union 40 years before. Why not stand for freedom again?
Win or lose, that’s a fight worth having.