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This is an exciting – and particularly dangerous – time for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political future, assuming he wants one.
That’s a fairly safe assumption since he’s shown active ambition throughout his nine-year-political career with the ability to win locally and statewide in the nation’s third most populous state.
Despite all the political and media buzz about his landslide reelection (almost 60 percent) turning the former House of Representatives member into President Ron DeSantis, he has wisely said nothing.
Trump may have thought he could get the 2024 nomination by acclamation in gratitude, instead of earning it.
Now, however, everyone assumes DeSantis will challenge the former president and fellow Florida resident for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in Milwaukee. That’s one of the numerous crucial decisions the Navy veteran will make in the next few months.
Already, a DeSantis PAC is running an ad in Iowa. “A Nation on the Brink.”
Here’s what will shape DeSantis’ thinking:
DeSantis doesn’t take the oath for his second and final statehouse term until January. Until then, and for months beyond, he must appear totally focused on state business as chief executive in Tallahassee.
He’ll have leadership over a cooperative GOP legislative majority to construct a string of positive successes until the legislature’s session ends in May.
That will give him space behind the scenes, if he wants it, to decide on risking a run in 2024 or waiting for 2028 when Trump certainly will be gone. But some new Republican face may be in place by then.
DeSantis has time. He’s only 44 now, the same age as fellow Navy veteran John Kennedy when he became the youngest elected president in 1960.
Americans of a certain age will remember the nationwide excitement over the fresh youthfulness of Kennedy’s ascension to the White House, coming after three elderly presidents who left office at 70 (Eisenhower), 69 (Truman), and 63 (the wheelchair-bound Roosevelt who died in 1945 early in his fourth term).
Are you detecting any contemporary parallels yet?
Quietly, DeSantis, who has a small inner circle now that helped steer his reelection campaign, would also need to assemble a much larger team of experienced advisers, writers, and mega-donors for the colossal undertaking of a presidential campaign involving 3,143 counties across 3.8 million square miles.
He would also need a world-affairs tutor or three. While the governor was a magna cum laude Yale graduate and then Harvard Law and could no doubt describe the interests and needs of all 67 Florida counties, his foreign experience was limited to a year in Iraq with Seal Team One.
Watch for him to take a substantial overseas trip in coming months, meeting with foreign leaders, perhaps in Israel, as George W. Bush did to burnish his foreign policy credentials.
There are many large and small potholes in a candidate’s cross-country efforts to demonstrate their worth as a president. While caucus-campaigning in Iowa two winters from now, someone might ask if DeSantis knows the retail price of milk.
While in New Hampshire, a young radio reporter could ask him to name the prime minister of ally Australia, which the reporter herself had to look up. (And Joe Biden forgot on a video call this year.)
In office, a president has people who can tell him anything, including the favorite ice cream of a foreign leader’s mistress. So, none of this really matters beyond a media gotcha game that can prove momentarily embarrassing.
Remember in 2008, a presidential candidate named Barack Obama, who spent his childhood in Indonesia, informed reporters he had been to all 57 U.S. states. His campaign turned out satisfactory anyway.
Two schools of thought on announcement timing: Trump’s Nov. 15 launch was the earliest ever. He sought to discourage others and distract from his legal troubles. This makes him a target for much longer, but, to be honest, he thrives on any attention.
DeSantis will want to first finish his gubernatorial work with the legislature, scheduled to end in May. He can defray and dismiss Trump’s attacks until then. To delay longer invites the entrance of others who need to build more name recognition and support – such as Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence.
Any potential GOP candidate for 2024, save Trump, who will be 78, would present a welcome youth contrast to Joe Biden, who every day sets a new record for oldest president ever. He turns 82 that year.
Americans have preferred executives as commanders in chief in modern times. Six of the last eight presidents – all but the Obama-Biden duo – have had extensive executive experience. And it shows.
Voters seek a president with poise, confidence, ideas for the future, and someone they can believe and trust. Also, a little humility and self-deprecation help. That’s a problem for both Biden and Donald Trump.
DeSantis has the middle-class upbringing, the attractive family with two daughters, a son, and his wife Casey, a former TV host who’s media-savvy and a breast cancer survivor.
He also has a solidly conservative record as governor and House member (he was a founding member of the Freedom Caucus) and has not been shy about confronting the forces of Woke. This won’t help with progressives, another bonus in GOP primaries.
Absent competition and attacks, it makes DeSantis initially quite appealing this early to conservatives who admired Trump’s conservative policies – the energy independence, military support, tax cuts, deregulation — but not his behavior, rants, and personnel turmoil. A younger Trump, but with self-discipline.
Reports from this year’s reelection campaign suggest DeSantis needs to work on his speechifying, adding some warmth and spontaneity.
Voters like to sense that a new political personality emotes a reasonable amount of authentic passion and understanding of their problems and frustrations. Remember Trump’s apt mantra during the DACA controversy: “Americans Are Dreamers Too.”
I’ve written about that impressive ability of Trump, a New York billionaire who was the sole Republican in the large field of 2015-16 to detect and voice those feelings that permeated flyover country. And he delivered in policies and rhetoric, which helps explain the stubborn loyalty of his slightly diminished base despite scandals and losses.
That would make a fascinating political drama: Trump, who’s already delivered on the national level, still whining about the 2020 election and mocking opponents’ names, vs. an untested, but disciplined DeSantis, who’s called Trump his mentor, with a solid-state record and promising to take that to the next level.
Or hold on a minute! What if the two of them combined on a conservative unity ticket?
Trump’s base alone is not enough to win a general election. But it’s hard to imagine any Republican winning without at least a sizeable chunk of them.
Which way would Republicans break, gratitude or hope?
But wait! There’s more! And it’s all uncertain. Trump has threatened to reveal dark secrets about the ungrateful Ron DeSantis he helped push to a gubernatorial primary win in 2018. Remember Trump even dragged Ted Cruz’s father into their 2016 primary struggles.
Do you think the mainstream media that hates Trump but adores his effects on their business, would gobble up and widely distribute even mildly damning allegations about the GOP’s next superstar? How would DeSantis handle the incoming fire?
You may be rooting for one candidate or another. But the stakes are great for the country to find a stronger, younger commander in chief who doesn’t need staff notes reminding him to say hello in meetings.
Our expensive, often tawdry presidential campaigns do provide pressured learning lessons and opportunities for candidates to display leadership and an ability to withstand and respond.
For instance, what if there’s a Florida mass shooting, as Texas Gov. George W. Bush encountered in 1999 while campaigning? How a sitting governor responds would be closely watched far beyond his home state.
Trump has no governing responsibilities. And to his delight, there will almost certainly be other Republican wannabes. The more the merrier for him.
His show-biz sense and histrionics can easily, well, trump traditional politicians. Making him a media magnet and once again earning him billions of dollars’ worth of free media, as it did in 2015-16.
That was a perfect storm: Trump craved media attention and the more he got, the better the media did in viewers and online/print readers. And the less traction and attention his competitors could get, no matter how thoughtful their ideas.
Not likely the field will have 17 candidates again. That was the largest field in U.S. history, until 29 Democrats in 2020. But the more men and women who divide GOP primary votes, the lower the bar for victory by Trump, who has the largest base of ready-made supporters.
For example, with a field of 15 Republican names, Trump won the 2016 GOP primary in New Hampshire and 73 percent of its delegates with only 35.3 percent of the popular vote.
Eleven days later, in a diminished South Carolina GOP field of only six, Trump’s share of Republican votes actually declined to 32.5 percent. But with that, he captured 100 percent of the 50 delegates.
Even in the general election, Trump only got 46.1 percent of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton’s 48.2. Trump’s were in just the right places, however, so he won 30 states that gave him 56.9 percent of the Electoral College.
Which makes a lot for Ronald Dion DeSantis and all the other potential Republican candidates to consider. And starting right now, for all of us to watch and judge — and hope.