On the day after the midterm elections, knives were pointed at Donald Trump. Users on right-wing social media excitedly discussed the alleged toxicity of the former president and his handpicked candidates, while Fox News highlighted the victory of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, stressing that he is “being cursed by Trump” and announcing “a resounding victory for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A Fox News contributor has declared that DeSantis is the “new leader of the Republican Party.” In fact, there seems to be a consensus in the media around the idea that DeSantis is the big Republican winner of this election and Trump is the big loser.
Of course, though, there’s at least one person who thinks otherwise: Trump. Seeing the tables turning quickly, he took to Fox News to warn DeSantis to stay out of the 2024 presidential race. In his trademark mobster tone, Trump said: “I don’t know if (DeSantis) would consider running. I think if he shows up he will do himself a lot of damage. Indeed, I think it can do a lot of damage.”
There’s no doubt that DeSantis had a great election night. He won by a landslide, while helping the Republican Party pick up three new seats, courtesy of opposition, as he redrawn Florida’s congressional districts as governor. DeSantis, meanwhile, defeated Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida by just two percentage points, casting doubt on his appeal as a candidate. Additionally, as several outlets have pointed out, Florida Republicans have undoubtedly benefited from DeSantis’ years-long campaign of voter intimidation, which has included deploying a newly formed “vote fraud squad” against mostly innocent voters. Contrary to the trend for majorities in the country, Democratic turnout is significantly lower in Florida.
It’s important to note that Trump’s turn toward DeSantis does not mean a return to “business as usual” in the sense of old-school conservatism. DeSantis and Trump are clearly far-right and share an ideological space. The differences are more in strategy and style. If Republican voters had a problem with Trump during his presidency, it was always because of his actions rather than his policies. It’s not just about his style, but also about his strategy: Trump mostly operates on the fringes of the traditional party establishment and the political system.
Trump is not a politician and does not want to become one. In contrast, DeSantis is, and already has, solid political experience as the governor of one of the nation’s largest states, both in terms of economic power and population. While Trump mostly shouts from the sidelines, ignoring the institutions of democracy and the political practices of Washington, DeSantis is engaging in what Princeton professor Kim Lane Shepel calls “democratic erosion by law”: undermining the system of democracy. legal and political.
The turn from Desantis to Trump thus mirrors what is happening in Europe as well, where crude far-right politicians like Matteo Salvini are being “replaced” by more sophisticated companions like Georgia Mellon. It is, if you will, an “organization” of the extreme right. The Hungarian leader is a prime example of democratic erosion by law, having effectively destroyed democracy in Hungary through entirely legal means. It’s no coincidence that Orbán is a hero of the so-called “national conservative” wing of the Republican Party, mostly politicians with law degrees like DeSantis and Josh Hawley.
However, what Trump lacks in legal and political experience, he makes up for in charisma, what DeSantis lacks. Florida’s governor has won national Republican support for what he does, not who he is. DeSantis is an uninspiring speaker who doesn’t draw big crowds or wow the little ones. His followers are drawn to his opposition to the “liberal capitalism” embodied by Disney, or the “liberal academicism” embodied by the University of Florida. As he boasted in his victory speech Tuesday night, “the liberal movement is going to die in Florida.”
In addition, DeSantis lacks Trump’s unique quality, the authenticity that the former president has given him with his new nickname, “Ron DeSanctimonius.” And while Trump, unusually for him, seems to have chosen to at least ditch the nickname — after a barrage of criticism from the right-wing media — it’s more likely he’ll return to using it, or worse, names if he faces DeSantis in the Republican primary. .
The polls may show Trump’s divisive nature, as well as his declining popularity among both independents and Republicans, but the truth is that he was still twice as popular among Republicans before the midterms. While that could change quickly, especially if Fox News backs DeSantis over Trump, the former president will still control a modest but highly mobilized heavy core that can make or break Republican candidates in many races, including the presidential one.
Even as DeSantis’ star rises, the Republican Party remains at Trump’s mercy. The former president started a revolution in the Republican Party that opened the door for people like DeSantis. Now Florida’s governor and his supporters have less than two years to figure out how to continue this revolution without its founder.
Cass Moody is a columnist for The Guardian US and the Stanley Wade Shelton UGAF Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia.
Translated by Emma Reverter
Source: El Diario