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May 17, 2023

DeSantis Makes His Case

The Florida governor’s record of success, focus, discipline, and legislative and executive experience make him a formidable presidential prospect.

The 2018 midterms were a tough election for Republicans nationwide, as they lost their House majority and seven governorships.

One bright spot, though, was the GOP’s razor-thin gubernatorial win in Florida. There, Republican former Congressman Ron DeSantis held off Democrat Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by just 0.4%, overcoming a mainstream media that went all in to elect the state’s first black governor and thereby sparing the Sunshine State from a disaster in the making.

The gamble for DeSantis paid off, as he gave up a safe congressional seat to succeed the term-limited Rick Scott and continue the GOP’s gubernatorial dominance in Florida, which included Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist (who’s now a Democrat), and Scott. But while his predecessors met with varying degrees of success during their tenures, DeSantis has managed to steer his state into an era of prosperity, with a slew of legislative victories just this year that would make any swing-state conservative green with envy. DeSantis wrote a book published back in March detailing his first-term success.

More recently, National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke has the details on a slew of achievements:

In the space of just three months, Governor DeSantis and the Republican supermajority have created the largest school-choice program in American history, banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, made Florida the 26th constitutional-carry state in the nation, forced unions to abide by the Supreme Court’s Janus decision, cut taxes by $2 billion, banned sex-change operations from being performed on minors, barred DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives in universities, expanded the use of mandatory E-Verify in the state, achieved a previously unthinkable collection of tort reforms, declared driver’s licenses issued to out-of-state illegal immigrants invalid in Florida, prohibited state and local governments from considering ESG (environmental, social, and governance) factors in their contracting and investing decisions, extended last year’s Parental Rights in Education law through twelfth grade, made it illegal for financial institutions to discriminate on the basis of “religious, political, or social beliefs,” and prevented credit-card companies from tracking their customers’ gun purchases.

By any assessment, that’s a lot of wins. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board modestly put it, “This is a notable record of conservative governance in action, especially for a state that five years ago was politically up for grabs.” And indeed, those wins accounted for the fact that in his 2022 reelection, DeSantis won 62 of the state’s 67 counties and beat Democrat challenger Charlie Crist by nearly 20 points – and he did so attracting voters across racial and ethnic lines.

One huge factor that can’t be overlooked is that GOP control of the governor’s office for 24 straight years and the state legislature for 28 years helped create the conditions for these successes. Yet some of DeSantis’s achievements stem from much more recent concerns, such as the DEI defeat, the prohibition on sex-change operations on minors, and the abortion ban that became possible just last year with the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.

Moreover, DeSantis has been nimble in addressing issues that have cropped up in his tenure, with the DEI prohibition being a great case study. After the recent signing ceremony for three higher education reform bills at the New College of Florida, NBC News wistfully noted, “New College, where DeSantis signed the measures, had been considered a progressive institution before he installed conservative allies on the board of trustees.”

Isn’t that a shame? But it also makes us wonder what his predecessors were thinking, since the college was added to the state university system in 2001 and was then denoted as the state’s honor college. DeSantis now envisions it as “the Hillsdale of the South.”

In addition, DeSantis has become a prolific fundraiser for local Republican parties. Since March, events that have featured the Florida governor as a keynote speaker have raised $4.3 million for local and state parties, which benefits both those organizations and grows DeSantis’s list of allies for an increasingly likely 2024 presidential run.

Donald Trump proved that a president with no prior political experience could deliver for the American people, but DeSantis’s focus, his discipline, his shrewd political instincts, and his combination of legislative and executive experience would allow him to hit the ground running. All of these factors make Ron DeSantis a candidate well worth watching — in 2024 and beyond.

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