Will DeSantis Statism define a new successful Florida GOP electoral strategy?

This past week Governor Ron DeSantis signed a piece of legislation effectively dictating to technology companies that they cannot regulate their own platforms for business when politicians are impacted. In other words, free enterprise and media is choked by the need for those who are in power to communicate.

When I was growing up we called this Pravda.

Additionally, DeSantis is determined to stop local governments or private businesses from being able to regulate their own entities in order to make their clientele feel safe. Free enterprise is being crushed in Florida, unless you play by the governor’s rules on social issues.

While, I have written about DeSantis’ authoritarian and statist instincts before, I assumed naively that this governing philosophy which conservatives long associated with the left, might turn conservative Floridians against the governor. Instead it’s made DeSantis among the most popular governor’s in the country with an approval rating that would make his predecessor, Rick Scott blush with envy.

Unlike Scott, who acted as a conservative ideologue and was often blinded by ideology, DeSantis is in tune with the electorate and therefore far less vulnerable to electoral defeat. While the issues the Democrats tend to stand for, though message meekly about remain popular, DeSantis has turned this built-in advantage the Democrats may have on issues on its head, by appearing to be far more in-tune with the populace than most Democratic leaders. Instead of doing silly things on social media, DeSantis is visiting people throughout the state, many in small towns, and reacting accordingly.

So what is apparent is that DeSantis’ move toward the left, or middle or whatever it is in terms of have government dictate to private industries what is permissible in Florida, has been embraced by self-proclaimed conservatives. DeSantis’ ideology now is straight-on populism, without any real ideological consistency. Floridians seem to like this, despite most self-describing themselves in some sort of ideological manner.

The largest knock-on effect of Donald Trump’s Presidency was probably the delinking of hardened economic ideology with the two major political parties. We had Republicans embracing economic populism and protectionism while Democrats moved toward accommodation with the corporate classes and Wall Street. While on social issues, we still can delineate clear lines between the two political parties, on economics and governing style the question is muddled.

Despite this shift, most voters when asked associate the Republicans with conservationism and the Democrats with progressiveness, even if those reflect social issues and controversies around race and guns more than anything related to economics or governing philosophy.

The anti-elite populism DeSantis practices reminds me of Dempsey Barron, the “Master of the Florida Senate,” who was determined to go after the media and anything associated with southeastern Florida or the Tampa Bay area. DeSantis similarly is playing a regional populist game trying

We had a populist Governor before- his name was Sidney Catts. He was violent racist and anti-Catholic who after being (barely) defeated in the Democratic Primary for Governor, ran on a third party line and was elected. Like DeSantis, he was a statist in how he governed, using the power of government to try and enforce social and economic norms. It can be argued Claude Kirk was similarly populist in his instincts and equally damaging to Florida’s reputation as DeSantis has been.

But unlike Kirk and Catts, DeSantis is someone whose rage and anger appears at least to large chunks of the electorate more controlled. Statism appeals to large chunks of the electorate beyond self-identified Republicans. Unless Democrats can counter DeSantis’ messaging and populist term effectively, the Governor is likely to be reelected by a handsome margin.

2 comments

  1. While New Hampshire(the Live Free or Die state) and Florida are very different states(although sharing the lack of a personal income tax and a certain group of snowbirds that really wants to avoid paying state income tax to any jurisdiction) I do think it is interesting to look at what is currently a major split in the New Hampshire Republican Party. On the one hand you have the self proclaimed “Freedom Caucus” in the New Hampshire House of Reps wanting to enact a very DeSantis like agenda of going after social media companies, banning mask and vaccine mandates, repealing laws banning visible open carry of firearms etc etc. I think you get the picture. Then on the other hand you have the NH Senate Republicans led by former US Congressman Jeb Bradley which are still more representative of an older version of the New Hampshire Republican party that existed back in the 1980s and 1990s and rejects much of the “Freedom Caucus” agenda. Then the third and final figure is Governor Chris Sununu who is much more of a conservative ideologue who in the past has had conflicts with the State Senate over wishing for a much more ideologically conservative economic policy such as cutting state corporate income tax(like Rick Scott). However, Sununu who has received a boost in popularity since Covid-19(and in general was always more popular than Rick Scott was in FL) is now in pretty open conflict with NH House “Freedom Caucus” over there “culture war” agenda and has publically slighted the Freedom Caucus now several times just in the past few months.

    Worse for the NH Republican Party unlike Florida are their majorities in the NH House of Reps are quite narrow and if the whole party balancing process breaks down they could easily need Democratic votes to pass the state budget.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Governor DeSantis has opened the door to a new Republican ideology of anti-Capitalist Populism. That’s what we are calling it. Two weeks ago we asked if DeSantis had defined a new Republican Party ideology around statism. […]

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