DANIEL VAUGHAN: DeSantis Offered Something Rare - A Different Path

 January 22, 2024

There are a lot of "obituaries" for Ron DeSantis's primary campaign against Donald Trump. Nearly all of them are bad because they try to take some issue special to that writer and make it the end-all-be-all reason for why DeSantis won or lost. Watch in the days after the November elections, and you'll see most of the same logic thrown around then - no matter the outcome.

The DeSantis campaign was always a long shot, but it was built on a sound foundation. From 2020 to 2022, Donald Trump's star in the GOP had waned. Between non-stop losses from the state to the federal level and the upheaval from the COVID-19 pandemic, conservatives needed a new champion. Ron DeSantis entered that picture.

After winning a phot0-finish in 2018, DeSantis took a purple state and turned it deeply red, scoring legislative victory after legislative victory. And he led the way for conservatives in responding to the pandemic after Trump left office. That provided a counter-example to the lockdowns and mandates of the Biden administration.

And then the 2022 midterms happened. Ron DeSantis scored one of the most astonishing victories in Florida state history. At the same time, the rest of the country struggled to elect conservatives anywhere. Trump's fingerprints were all over the midterm debacle, and DeSantis bucked that trend, providing a small light.

DeSantis entered 2023 with high favorables and the only shot at challenging Trump (this has never been true of Nikki Haley). If left in a vacuum, that plan stood a chance of challenging Trump in Iowa. But things didn't remain the same.

DeSantis explained it succinctly in his speech dropping out: "It's clear to me that a majority of Republican primary voters want to give Donald Trump another chance. They watched his presidency get stymied by relentless resistance and they see Democrats using lawfare to this day to attack him."

The indictments and lawsuits against Donald Trump served as a coronation. Every single poll showed it: Democrats made Trump a martyr, and that caused a rally to the flag moment around Trump. Also boosting Trump is his location on Truth Social, which limited the reach of his statements. People see the attacks on Trump but rarely the response.

Once the Republican Party rallied around Trump, they never left him. Until the various lawsuits started dominating the news, Ron DeSantis had pulled from Donald Trump's base. Combined with other conservatives, this gave DeSantis a viable path to victory.

Compare this to Nikki Haley, who is still in the race. She's in New Hampshire pretending to drum up support. But there, the only reason she's hanging in the polls is because of Democratic support. Politico has a full spread on the effort to get Democrats to jump into the New Hampshire primary and vote on the Republican ticket.

Those same Democrats have answered polls, too. It makes perfect sense why Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have struggled to gain much traction in that state. When you remove the Democratic support, suddenly, the race is similar to Iowa or South Carolina.

Leaving the race when he does allows DeSantis to keep his political reputation intact. He can run for President in 2028 after his second term in Florida is up and study the lessons from this run. Republican primaries have a long history of the runner-up winning the second time around.

The pressure on Nikki Haley has ratcheted up several notches as all the focus turns on her. She'll have to take all the arrows from the field while navigating the possibility that she's the top Vice Presidential option. Nikki Haley has no realistic path forward after New Hampshire, as the next major obstacle is her home state, a place Trump is soundly leading.

Given the circumstances, DeSantis ran a good campaign. He hit notes that have made his governorship one of the best in the country and had continual great debate performances. He won a debate against California Governor Gavin Newsom on Fox News in the middle of all that.

DeSantis presented Americans with an alternative vision of what America can be by pointing to his victories in Florida. Republicans chose to circle the wagons with Donald Trump. That's just where the party is right now. Until Donald Trump is incapable of running for office, it's where things will remain for the foreseeable future.

But DeSantis showed everyone that there's a conservatism beyond Trump that offers a bright future. And given his victories, he can prove that it's possible.

I hope whoever wins in November takes the country in the right direction because we face multiple complex challenges impacting people's everyday lives. But I'm also concerned we will look back at this time in January and wish that DeSantis won out with his vision.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
© 2015 - 2024 Conservative Institute. All Rights Reserved.