Joe Biden became America’s president in 2021 because the alternative was four more years of Donald Trump. If Ronald Dion DeSantis, who has announced his candidacy on Twitter today, wins the Republican party nomination next year, it will also be because the alternative is you-know-who. Trump fatigue is a real phenomenon: even many Trump supporters think it’s time to move on, which is the key to the 44-year-old DeSantis’s appeal. He is Trump but he gets stuff done. He is Trump but you get two terms.
At the same time, DeSantis’s biggest problem is that he’s up against Donald Trump, one of the most effective political campaigners of the 21st century. DeSantis’s record as Governor of Florida is impressive: he’s fought culture wars and come out on top; during Covid, he rebelled against the biosecurity consensus and won. In the November mid-terms, as various high-profile, Trump-endorsed candidates failed, DeSantis was re-elected in Florida by over 20 percentage points.
The Sunshine State, with its large Hispanic population, culture war clashes, and sharp mix of rich and poor, is often talked about as a ‘bellwether’ for the future of national politics. But America and its politics are far too vast and sprawling to be boiled down to one state, even one as populous as Florida. Moreover, solid administrative experience as a governor is not necessarily a good launchpad for a successful presidential bid. It worked for George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. It didn’t work for Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, or Michael Dukakis, to name but five.
Reagan, Clinton and (to a lesser extent) Bush possessed a certain charismatic magic. DeSantis is an ‘introvert in an extrovert’s world’, as the Trump ally and Florida insider Roger Stone put it to me earlier this year.