DeSantis play is for angry Covid-related warriors, conservative intellectuals and college-educated “anti-woke” types. Can it overcome Trump’s populist working class dominance?

Even as Governor Ron DeSantis continues his sinister non-candidacy candidacy (because here in Florida we have pesky progressive laws like “resign-to-run” and full disclosure of use of state funds etc) the race for the GOP Presidential nomination becomes crystal clear – it’s a contest between two very different visions of the GOP.

DeSantis’ despite trying to be in Trump’s progressive-populist lane, comes across as too impersonal, elitist and quite frankly too dorky to ever really capture a political movement that began with the fiery oratory of William Jennings Bryan, passed to the likes of Huey Long and now is typified by Donald Trump. And DeSantis voting record in Congress, as Trump’s SuperPAC has already pointed out, was far from progressive-populist. DeSantis’ record in fact, was a classic extreme GOP one of small government, anti-entitlement, pro-banker, and more or less anti-working class. DeSantis’ conversion to a culture warrior and big government harasser of private business is inconsistent with his record in the US House. 

So where does DeSantis go? As much as we’ve bashed his political team here, calling them unseasoned amateurs compared to whom Trump employs, DeSantis himself remains a pretty strong instinctual politician, though his actual record conflicts pretty heavily with his rhetoric.

It’s pretty clear the Governor is trying to cobble together a bunch of niche groups – angry Covid warriors angry Trump let the nation get shut down (even though DeSantis shut down Florida, but let’s not let pesky facts get in the way of a good narrative!), anti-vaccine zealots (how dare Trump say he got vaccinated! DeSantis would never take something like that, would he?!?), pro-business conservatives (because DeSantis really respects private enterprise, and would never use government to crack down on them, correct?!?), anti-woke folks who are concerned about the leftward drift of academia (okay, this I concede is a real constituency, but how big are they really outside of Twitter?), and people who read National Review and Wall Street Journal (that’s less people than watch CNN or MSNBC!).

In fact, DeSantis pro-environment record for his first year and a half in office may also appeal to conservative intellectuals, while doing nothing to burnish his attempts to play progressive-populist. 

Trump will likely keep the non-college educated white and Latino working class and he remains more formidable than any GOPer in my lifetime among African-American males (albeit they don’t vote in GOP primaries). So can DeSantis’ strategy of using incendiary rhetoric and the power of the Florida government to cobble together niche groups overcome Trump’s huge advantages? It’s possible, but unlikely.  

This race will be fascinating, irrespective of your personal views- because it is a clear battle for the soul of the GOP.

It should also be noted, that while I respect the polling professional immensely, I think polls under-represent Donald Trump’s support, for various reasons. If I were looking at this race from a purely partisan standpoint, wanting the weaker opposition for the Democrats, I’d be praying for DeSantis. Trump, indictment or not, remains a force of personality and nature unlike few in the recent history of this nation. Democrats wishing for his nomination, might in fact have a death wise in my opinion…

NOTE: This article was accidentally initially published without the final paragraph. It has been added to the text after the initial piece was published.

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