Yesterday, even before Marjorie Traitor Greene's "scorched earth" tweet, a Paul Kane column had the headline Today’s Congress might be incapable of compromise to save banking system. He reminded his readers that Congress “has grown increasingly weak even on major issues with broad public support, such as gun control and immigration.” Republicans don’t talk policy; they talk political messaging and Kane wrote that “This heavy emphasis on political messaging, with the next elections still almost 20 months away, casts doubt on congressional sincerity on the matter. And this House majority struggled over 4½ days, and 15 ballots, just to elect McCarthy as speaker— if something that perfunctory takes that much effort, writing complex financial laws might seem impossible. So far, just two real legislative recommendations have emerged, with mixed chances of winning approval. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wants to revoke a 2018 law that allowed midsize institutions, such as SVB, to undergo less scrutiny, a bipartisan move that she furiously opposed five years ago. Now that such a bank has failed, she feels vindicated. But supporters of that 2018 provision [corrupt, bribed conservatives from both parties] have disputed that it played any role in the demise of these midsize banks, leaving Warren and her allies without anything close to sufficient support.”
Kane’s Washington Post colleague, Dan Balz pointed to one of the personifications of the divisiveness plaguing the country— no, not Trump this time… Meatball Ron, who, he wrote is playing up America’s divisions as he prepares to run. DeSantis’ ugly Confederate-like message is about red state primacy and blue state inferiority. His double speak Orwellianism insists his authoritarian regime in Florida is a culture of anti-woke freedom, as opposed to what he spins as a leftist “biomedical security state.” DeSantis’ confrontational, polarizing idea of “freedom” empowers no one… but fascists, “framed as a conflict that demands to be won outright. Talk of national unity, the currency of many successful presidential candidates, is fleeting to nonexistent. He revels in the country’s left-right divisions rather than offering a path out of them.”
He is perhaps best known for wading into culture-war issues, including on what is taught or not taught in schools and colleges about race in U.S. history and on LGBTQ issues. He has wielded the power of state government to affect the conduct of private businesses in ways few free-market conservatives have done. In the most celebrated case, he took on the Walt Disney Company, which had challenged him on legislation prohibiting the teaching of gender and identity issues to young schoolchildren.
On immigration, he sent two planeloads of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard to highlight his contempt for the Biden administration’s border policies. In Florida, he is seeking to end a policy that allows resident students who are undocumented, many of whom were brought by their parents to the United States as children, to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. That policy was signed by his predecessor, Republican Rick Scott, now a member of the Senate. DeSantis says the proposed change is an inflation-fighting move.
DeSantis is enormously popular in his home state, having won reelection by 19 percentage points.
I’ll interrupt Balz here. In 2018, DeSantis scraped by with 4,076,186 votes (49.6%) to 4,043,723 (49.2%). Neither Balz nor anyone else would have called that minuscule 32,463 margin enormously popular. After 4 years in office, DeSantis ran against a sack of Republican crap disguised as a Democrat, Charlie Crist. Democrats didn’t want to vote for him. And nearly a million who voted for Andrew Gillum in 2018 didn’t. But they didn’t vote for DeSantis either. They just didn’t vote. DeSantis got 4,614,210 votes— 538,024 more than he got in 2018. He was definitely more popular in Florida than he was 4 years earlier, but “enormously popular?” I wouldn’t call it that. And had he run against an actual Democrat with Democratic values and without a record as wretched as Crist’s, he wouldn’t have done early as well as he did.
Balz wrote that “Disdain for the blue states courses through his rhetoric. Other states ‘grinded their citizens down’ while Florida lifted them up, he said in his inaugural. Other states ‘consigned their people’s freedom to the dustbin’ while Florida ‘stood strongly as freedom’s linchpin.’” Freedom’s linchpin bans books and censors speech?
He points to Florida’s population growth and credits his leadership during the pandemic as a catalyst for the shift. “I think the pandemic caused people to reevaluate who was in charge of their state governments more than any other event in my lifetime,” he said.
Population movement to the Sun Belt is a decades-old story, but Florida’s recent growth is nonetheless noteworthy. Over the past three years, Florida has gained more residents through domestic migration than any other state, according to figures compiled by the demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution. California, New York and Illinois— favorite targets of the governor’s— led the nation in population losses.
“This is a result of better governance in states like Florida, and it was a result of poor governance in these left-wing states,” DeSantis said at the Reagan library.
Although the states he cited have lost population, it should be noted that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) won his reelection by 18 points and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker by 13 points. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) [a conservative pile of garbage as bad as Crist] won her election by a narrower six points.
In the next two months, DeSantis looks to add to his résumé with legislative achievements that he can take into a presidential campaign. The agenda includes a focus on infrastructure and housing to support the growing population, more money for teachers and efforts to weaken the power of the teachers union, efforts to lower drug prices and a focus on environmental conservation. He also wants a big tax cut. The Florida legislature will consider banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. DeSantis says he welcomes such legislation.
In Florida, DeSantis has been able to chart his course without serious opposition. The Democratic Party there is weak, and Republicans firmly control the legislature. If he becomes president, DeSantis would be confronted by a divided Congress and a more challenging political culture— one that has frustrated presidents of both parties who believed their experience as governors gave them the knowledge and tools to deal with the legislative branch.
Successful presidential candidates often calibrate a general election message at the very start of a candidacy. They may adjust that message as they navigate the ideological contours of the nominating contest, but they keep an eye on the broader electorate. DeSantis in these early days seems to have calibrated his message primarily to the base of his party, and perhaps most significant, the Trumpian base. Whether he has a more unifying or uplifting message remains in question. Perhaps he does not see a need for one.
None of this is to say that DeSantis cannot become president. Trump proved that divisive rhetoric is not a barrier to winning a general election (although he lost the popular vote in both his winning and losing campaigns). DeSantis is anathema to many Democrats, but a DeSantis-Biden campaign would set up both as an ideological difference (characterized by the opposing camps as the woke left vs. the MAGA right), and as a generational contrast between a president in his early 80s and a governor in his mid-40s.
To get to that contest, however, DeSantis must first defeat Trump for the Republican nomination. What he is doing and saying now appears to be constructed fully with that competition in mind. There is great interest in his potential candidacy, and his message plays well with these Republican audiences, which is why Trump has been attacking him. But he is still making the transition from state to national politics, and his us-vs.-them rhetoric seems a recipe for conflict and division, should he end up as the next president.
Meanwhile, if polling is to be believed DeSantis has been losing ground to Trump among Republicans. The more they see of him, the less they like him— and he hasn’t even started his campaign yet. I don’t think anyone would describe this as “enormously popular.”
And the gap between DeSantis and Trump, among Republican voters, has been widening-- and very very significantly so.