I will preface this column by conceding that many readers of this site will find this unpleasant reading. But it is also very true that if Florida were to find a Beto O’ Rourke quality rock star statewide candidate, things may be not quite as bad as they are today.
Governor DeSantis enters 2022 as an overwhelming favorite for reelection. No sitting Governor has entered an election year with this sort of inevitability since Bob Graham entered 1982 amidst a horrible political environment for Republicans as a shoe-in for reelection (It is often today forgotten how unpopular Ronald Reagan was in 1981 and 1982, which perhaps gives some hope to Joe Biden).
COVID numbers continue to soar in Florida, but what we’ve found in 2021, much to my shock and chagrin is that the higher COVID numbers go, the less impact it seems to have on DeSantis, whose mantra of keeping Florida free, and switching from vaccine support to vaccine skepticism seems to have kept him in line with much of his political base.
DeSantis silliness in selling anti Dr. Anthony Fauci merchandise and signing a bill in Brandon, Florida has only made him more a hero to the populist base of the Republican electorate. Today’s GOP views meanness and nastiness as the only way to govern. This has given DeSantis an incredible disciplined messenger a distinct advantage with a base who could care less about ideology or policy but is solely motivated by a belief that liberals represent an extensional threat to Americanism.
Meanwhile, Democrats continue to stumble.
The lost decade for Florida Democrats between 2007 and 2017 when the state could have been realigned as demographic factors favored the party now really rears its ugly head. Demographics of the state began to shift back toward Republicans in 2017 with more retirees and families from small towns and exurbs in the Northeast and Midwest filling up the state, while young professionals began to flee.
This was always by design – Florida Republicans failure to attract the type of good professional jobs that GOPers in other states have, in addition to decline of Florida cultural and educational scene fundamentally changed the state for the worse (it’s not a coincidence that Georgia, which is also completely run by GOPers and has been since 2004 is trending Democratic. The GOP there has actually succeeded in attracting the type of high-end employers to the state that Florida has not. Texas is somewhat similar, but the shift of the enough of the Hispanic vote in Texas toward Republicans likely keeps the state in the GOP column for the foreseeable future). But it remains a major talking point that the Democrats very much had the opportunity to capture control of State Government in the electoral period from 2006 to 2016 and failed, leaving Florida at the mercy of tax-cutting Republicans who had zero desire to improve the environment for innovation and professionalism in the state.
Why did the Democrats fail? We’ve spent far too much time on this site since we launched talking about this and the fact remains they did fail. The opportunity was lost, and winning now in Florida will require a combination of a rock star candidate, a strong ground game and a willingness to learn from past mistakes.
What Florida needs is a Beto O’Rourke or Stacey Abrams. Yes, I am aware both lost in 2018, but both candidacies fired up the Democratic base and engaged newer voters in a way no Florida Democrat has this century. In fact, O’Rourke’s over-performance by several percentage points, while running as a progressive, calls into question the continued strategy of running mushy moderates in conservative states.
After running a rock star candidate the infrastructure of that campaign needs to be inherited by the party apparatus. Then you build further from there.
Unfortunately, it appears this ship has already sailed for 2022, DeSantis likely gets reelected (though it must be said some Democrats running would be better than others in terms of long-term party building, more on that in the future) and is setup, barring any major gaffes to win the GOP Presidential nomination in 2024 and move into the White House in January 2025.
That’s where we are today, but politics turns on a dime and let’s hope that happens. Otherwise we have a long few years ahead of us.