Five reasons DeSantis may not be another Jeb Bush

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has become an early favorite to secure the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination. 

But as his name is bandied about as a leading contender, strategists, donors and political observers have thrown out the cautionary tale of another Florida governor who tried to take on former President Trump: Jeb Bush, who despite a famous surname and donor support won little traction in the 2016 GOP primary.

Here are some reasons why DeSantis might be different.

He’s starting from a stronger position

Ron DeSantis

Many Republicans have said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is in a stronger position to challenge former President Donald Trump than Jeb Bush was in 2016, pointing to, among other things, his 19-point reelection win in November. (AP)

It may be months before DeSantis makes any formal announcement on his 2024 plans, but Republicans say that he’s arguably in a more promising spot than Bush was when he kicked off his presidential bid.

Not only is DeSantis coming off a staggering 19-point reelection win, but early polling of the potential Republican presidential primary field shows him notching nearly a third of the vote. Then there’s the fact that he raised more than $200 million for his 2022 reelection bid, making him one of the country’s most prolific fundraisers.

“DeSantis has a resounding victory in a battleground state on his resume, to go along with a well-funded war chest,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist who served as a senior aide to Mitt Romney during his 2012 presidential run. “All of that helps. He’s got high levels of curiosity from activist Republican voters in early states.” 

Still, Madden said, “getting these voters to go from curious to converted is a big challenge. Until a candidate puts a campaign together and demonstrates their plan to harness the momentum and manage the day-to-day grind of a campaign, the risk of not meeting expectations is real.” 

He’s owning the news cycle — in some ways more than Trump

Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has found himself in the headlines almost daily, including dominating the news cycles during the pandemic. (AP)

DeSantis has a well-known aversion to engaging with the mainstream media. 

His press conferences often end without him taking questions from the press, he lacks the kind of extended network of surrogates that candidates like Bush relied on and what interviews he does grant almost exclusively go to politically friendly outlets, like Fox News.

But the Florida governor has found himself in the headlines almost daily. 

He dominated news cycles throughout the pandemic as a foil to public health officials like Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; picked a highly publicized fight with Disney, one of his state’s largest employers; and raised eyebrows last year by paying to fly migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, the elite Massachusetts resort town.

Some Republicans compared DeSantis’s ability stay in the news to Trump’s made-for-TV persona that drew round-the-clock coverage for years.

“Because Ron DeSantis is currently in office, he’s able to make news. I mean, he’s better at making news than all other 49 governors combined,” Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and former congressional candidate, said.

He’s more in tune with the GOP base

Republicans said that Jeb Bush struggled to connect with the GOP’s base voters in 2016, but DeSantis’ political brand has been focused on appealing to the party’s loyal voters. (Greg Nash)

Despite once holding the reputation as a popular two-term governor of the country’s largest swing state, Bush found himself struggling to resonate with the GOP’s base voters not long after launching his 2016 presidential bid.

By that time, O’Connell said, “the Republican Party had changed exponentially from when Jeb was in his prime.”

“Jeb had trouble connecting with the base,” O’Connell said. “He was high in the polls but nowhere close to where DeSantis is. It’s just a very, very different field this time.” 

Indeed, DeSantis has largely tailored his political brand around the idea of appealing to his party’ most loyal voters. Doug Heye, a Republican strategist, said that DeSantis has a penchant for “picking and choosing battles that get conservatives excited nationally.”

But Susan Del Percio, another Republican strategist, said there may be some risks associated with that strategy, arguing that DeSantis’s intense focus on red-meat issues “isn’t the answer to the party’s problems.”

“DeSantis has no policy. He’s all about the culture wars,” she said, adding that “DeSantis is making the wrong bet that it should all be on culture wars. People should want more.” 

He has a track record of winning in a tough environment

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) speaks on at the Doral Academy Preparatory School

Despite a disappointing year for the party as a whole, last year’s midterms were a resounding success for DeSantis. (AP)

By most measures, 2022 was a rough year for Republicans. They failed to recapture control of the Senate and only narrowly won the House majority, despite having the political winds at their backs.

For DeSantis, last year’s midterms were nothing short of a resounding victory. Not only did he win reelection by the largest margin in a Florida gubernatorial race in four decades, but Republicans also scored supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

Republicans say that’s particularly notable, given the outcome for GOP candidates elsewhere in the country.

“He can do two things,” Heye said. “Not only can he say that he won in a year that was somewhat disappointing for Republicans but that he won big. He can also demonstrate to his base that he’s a culture war warrior and that he’s an adult who can govern.”

By comparison, Republicans largely outperformed expectations in 2002 when Bush won reelection to the Florida governor’s mansion by nearly 13 points. The country was little more than a year removed from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and voters rallied around Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, and his party.

He’s still actively governing

Ron DeSantis is the current governor of Florida where was Jeb Bush had been out of public office for almost a decade when he ran for President in 2016. (AP/Getty)

Unlike Bush, who had been out of public office for nearly a decade by the time he announced his 2016 presidential run, DeSantis still has the bully pulpit of the Florida governor’s mansion behind him — and he’s taking full advantage of it.

A special legislative session came together last week to address some of the Florida governor’s highest-profile priorities, including expanding a controversial program to fly migrants between different states.

DeSantis is also expected to use the legislature’s regular session, which begins next month, to advance some of his other top agenda items.

“He’s got resources, he’s got the ability to create buzz, he’s also got the ability as a sitting governor to shape policy,” O’Connell said.

Tags 2024 presidential election Donald Trump Donald Trump Florida Jeb Bush Jeb Bush Kevin Madden Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis

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