Wednesday, March 15, 2023


I want to believe this about Ron DeSantis:

An idea echoed by David Frum:
DeSantis is a machine engineered to win the Republican presidential nomination. The hardware is a lightly updated version of donor-pleasing mechanics from the Paul Ryan era. The software is newer. DeSantis operates on the latest culture-war code: against vaccinations, against the diversity industry, against gay-themed books in school libraries. The packaging is even more up-to-the-minute. Older models—Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush—made some effort to appeal to moderates and independents. None of that from DeSantis. He refuses to even speak to media platforms not owned by Rupert Murdoch. His message to the rest of America is more of the finger-pointing disdain he showed last year for high-school students who wore masks when he visited a college.

The problem that Republicans confront with this newly engineered machine is this: Have they built themselves a one-stage rocket—one that achieves liftoff but never reaches escape velocity?
I want to believe that a candidate who has this much contempt for Americans who disagree with him couldn't possibly win the presidency. But then I remember 2016, when just such a candidate actually won the presidency. You'll remind me that Donald Trump lost the popular vote, and that he had the Russians, James Comey, and the email-obsessed mainstream media on his side. But then in 2020, after spending four years displaying the same contempt for voters outside his base, Trump got 11 million more votes than in 2016 and came within about 42,000 votes of a 269-269 Electoral College tie, which would have led to a vote in the House giving him a second term.

Frum notes that policies DeSantis supports have alienated voters even in his state, where he just won reelection in a 20-point landslide:
Florida Republicans will soon pass—and DeSantis pledged he would sign—a law banning abortion after six weeks. That bill is opposed by 57 percent of those surveyed even inside Florida. Another poll found that 75 percent of Floridians oppose the ban. It also showed that 77 percent oppose permitless concealed carry, which DeSantis supports, and that 61 percent disapprove of his call to ban the teaching of critical race theory as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion policies on college campuses. As the political strategist Simon Rosenberg noted: “Imagine how these play outside FL.”
But the evidence of the 2022 midterms is that even extremely offputting Republicans can be contenders. Herschel Walker got 48.5% of the vote in the Georgia Senate election, then got 48.6% in the runoff. Blake Masters got 46.5% of the vote in the Arizona Senate election. Kari Lake got 49.7% of the vote in the Arizona gubernatorial election.

Remember, the 2020 presidential election was a nail-biter despite the fact that Joe Biden won the popular vote by a 4-point, 7-million-vote margin. If Republicans are all but assured of winning Florida, Texas, and Ohio, even a 4-point popular-vote win might not be enough to guarantee Biden an Electoral College victory in 2024.

I can't predict how the 2024 election will play out. Biden might win because the GOP nominee seems too extreme to too many voters. But don't assume that DeSantis-level extremism guarantees defeat in the general election.

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