Wednesday, November 09, 2022


After yesterday's midterms, pundits rapidly settled on some conventional wisdom about the two top candidates for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination: Donald Trump screwed the pooch and Ron DeSantis became the favorite. Jonathan Chait writes:
The midterm election could not have set up a more favorable dynamic for the Florida governor. His state, which reported its vote early, delivered a huge victory for Republicans. And then the party proceeded to underperform almost everywhere else, leaving Florida as an outlier.

The Republican-aligned media, which has spent the past year trumpeting DeSantis as the party’s future, has devoted itself to this message almost exclusively since last night. Here is a typical example of the conservative media’s coverage of the elections:

Chait goes on to quote praise for DeSantis's victory from National Review and even from the extremely Trumpy American Greatness.

But will Republican voters hold yesterday's results against Trump? Remember, they're unlikely to think Trump did a bad job of candidate selection. They're not wild about Dr. Oz, but they like Herschel Walker and Doug Mastriano and Don Bolduc, and they really like Kari Lake. They don't think Trump is responsible for poor Republican showings in those races. They think Democrats did well because they cheated in all of them (without, somehow, cheating in Florida or Ohio or North Carolina).

While Republican voters love Trump for many things, they've never really cared that he's not very good at getting other people elected. Remember the Alabama Senate special election in 2017, when Trump endorsed two losers, Luther Strange in the primary and Roy Moore in the general election? His fans didn't care. That's not his job, as far as they're concerned -- they think his job is to stand on a balcony and run everything himself.

But some GOP voters will undoubtedly be impressed with the argument that DeSantis's huge victory means that he stands a better chance of winning the presidency in 2024. However, there's no evidence that DeSantis's act appeals to voters outside his state, apart from big consumers of right-wing media, who'll vote for anyone the Republicans put up.

Remember DeSantis's big summer campaign swing?
As he aims to wrest control of the conservative movement, Mr. DeSantis is appearing with some of its highest-profile and most incendiary figures.... His rallies on Friday for [Doug] Mastriano and J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for Senate in Ohio, came five days after an event for Kari Lake, the G.O.P. pick for governor of Arizona, and Blake Masters, the nominee for Senate there.
Mastriano lost. Masters is losing. Lake is still trailing. Vance won, but he ran 10 points behind his state's Republican governor.

DeSantis endorsed Joe O'Dea in the Colorado Senate race. He lost. DeSantis endorsed Paul LePage in the Maine governor's race. He lost. DeSantis endorsed Don Bolduc in the New Hampshire Senate race. He lost. DeSantis endorsed Derek Schmidt in the Kansas governor's race. He lost. There's no evidence that a DeSantis endorsement is good for a candidate in another state -- in fact, it's possible that DeSantis's support motivated politically engaged Democrats to turn out for his candidates' opponents.

Trump's candidates struggled, but Vance did manage to win, and Lake and Walker still might. Ultimately, I don't either one should be bragging about having broad national appeal outside the base.

DeSantis won big in his own race, but I'm not sure how much that's to his credit. I'd say that Florida has gone Republican gradually and then suddenly the way California went from being a Bush state in 1988 to being a state that has cast 60% of its vote for the Democrat in every presidential election since 2008 -- it's a political evolution that's bigger than one politician. DeSantis is also blessed with a hapless Florida Democratic Party that ran an uninspiring retread against him this year. Electorally, DeSantis reminds me of Richard Nixon, who barely won the popular vote in 1968 (as did DeSantis in 2018) and then won a landslide four years later, in part because of weak opposition.

And in some ways DeSantis reminds me of former New York mayor Ed Koch. Like Koch, he's assertive to the point of obnoxiousness. Both men were also boosters -- Koch was a cheerleader for the city the way DeSantis is a cheerleader for Florida, or at least for his version of it. Some people talked about Koch as a possible president in the 1980s, but that was never going to happen. DeSantis has a better chance, obviously, but I don't think anyone should assume he's the front-runner for the nomination now.

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