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Juan Williams: DeSantis is 2022’s most important politician, unfortunately

Crystal Vander Weit/ via AP, Pool
Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is picture during a debate against Democratic opponent Charlie Crist, at Sunrise Theatre in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Oct. 24, 2022.

He is not my cup of tea. In fact, he scares me.

But it is time for me to hand out my year-end award for the top political player in the United States.

These days, there needs to be one prize for Republicans and a separate trophy for Democrats due to our nation’s polarized politics. Unlike the controversial Republican winner, I will celebrate the triumphant Democrats without reservation later in this column. 

But the one politician who stands out at year’s end is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

His commanding 19-point reelection victory, as well as his success in attracting mega-donors like Ken Griffin, Steve Ross, and Steve Schwarzman ahead of a possible 2024 presidential campaign, make him the past year’s big GOP winner.  

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are increasingly turning their gaze from former President Trump and taking their cues from DeSantis on the best ways to appeal to their base. That makes the former congressman among the most influential Republicans in the nation for 2023.

If Republicans in Congress begin constructing a legislative agenda with Democrats in the Senate and White House, DeSantis’s consent will be critical. He showed a pragmatic willingness to build bipartisan bridges in the past year as he worked with President Biden to rebuild areas of Florida devastated by Hurricane Ian.

But don’t be fooled. It is the governor’s belligerent style of governance that makes him the favorite of ultra-conservative activists. 

Then there is his love of waging hard-right culture wars, to the point of taking on Disney on gay rights. With his challenge to the corporate giant and iconic Florida employer, DeSantis has made himself into a figure often described by Republicans as “Trump without the baggage.” 

After Trump’s many proxy losses in the midterms, the right is looking for options. DeSantis has made himself the first option. 

Among political insiders, DeSantis gets points for ramming through a congressional redistricting map for the Sunshine State that netted four more Republican-leaning seats in the House. Those seats are critical to the Republicans’ slim House majority.

At time of writing, the GOP is assured of 220 seats in the House compared to the Democrats’ 213. Two races remain too close to call. 

DeSantis’ impact on Florida politics is also enormous.

With him as governor, Republicans control the state legislature and every major statewide office. Both of the state’s U.S. senators are Republicans and the GOP has a 20-8 majority in Florida’s congressional delegation. One member of that delegation, Rep. Vern Buchanan (R), is a leading candidate to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful in Congress. 

“What the election results in Florida show is that Florida really has a blueprint for success,” DeSantis told a Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Now let’s hand out the ‘Politician of the Year’ prize on the other side of the political divide. There is no need to fear what is to come from these winners.

The 2022 award goes to the Democrats on Capitol Hill. The party defied historical patterns in midterms to keep its Senate majority. Democrats also blew away most predictions in limiting their losses in the House.

Special credit goes to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Gary Peters of Michigan. 

Not a single Democratic incumbent senator lost his or her reelection bid. Polls show Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) leading his Republican challenger Herschel Walker heading into next week’s runoff in Georgia.

Schumer’s steady hand also delivered big legislative wins for Biden and the Democrats on prescription drug costs, infrastructure and climate change. He did it on the toughest possible playing field because he needed every one of the 50 Democrats in the Senate to buy his approach. 

On the House side, my gut wants me to celebrate Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But in previous years, I named her a “living legend.” She ranks above any political winner for any single year.

Think about her legacy. 

She deftly managed the House through the chaos of the Trump years, successfully impeaching him twice.

In an earlier stint as Speaker, she shepherded through the biggest expansion of health coverage in a generation by winning passage of the Affordable Care Act — and saved the economy from catastrophe with the American Recovery And Reinvestment Act. 

In 2022, she is a big winner for her incredible success in delivering votes to advance Biden’s agenda.

Now Pelosi, who is 82, and her deputy Steny Hoyer, who is 83, have made another winning decision by stepping aside for younger Democratic leaders.

“For me, the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect,” Pelosi said in a moving speech to the House on November 17.

“When I came to the Congress in 1987, there were 12 Democratic women. Now, there are over 90. And we want more!” Pelosi added. “The new members of our Democratic caucus will be about 75 percent women, people of color and LGBTQ.”

A consolation prize for politician of the year goes to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.). He lost his bid for reelection, but Maloney did an excellent job of allocating resources to protect an incredible number of vulnerable Democrats.

History will look back on congressional Democrats’ success in 2022 as a victory over the forces that threatened the future of American democracy. 

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags 2022 midterms 2024 GOP presidential primary Biden Chuck Schumer Juan Williams Nancy Pelosi Republican Party Ron DeSantis Vern Buchanan

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