Trump is the past, DeSantis is the future
Former President Trump may have dominated the regular political season with his endorsements of Republican U.S. congressional and gubernatorial candidates, but he mostly got smoked in the win-or-go-home playoff contests on Tuesday night.
Trump’s biggest losses came in Pennsylvania, a key state he captured to clinch the 2016 presidential election. Trump-backed governor candidate Doug Mastriano lost decisively to Democrat Josh Shapiro by 13 points.
In the state’s closely-watched Senate race, Republican Mehmet Oz could never shake the carpetbagger label, and lost to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. The former TV doctor, who was arguably Trump’s riskiest bet of all his senatorial endorsements, was badly outraised by Fetterman, who suffered a stroke earlier in the year and has not fully recovered.
In the end, Oz came across like a guy who was in the campaign less to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians and more to have another high-profile position that gets him on TV a lot. And that was the problem: Oz lacked authenticity. He was also seen as a rich Jersey guy.
Another example of Trump’s waning influence was seen in Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who has been a target of Trump, won going away against Stacey Abrams (D), capturing 53 percent of the vote. But that success did not result in Trump-backed Republican Herschel Walker breaking past the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
While Kemp cruised to reelection, Walker looked like a rookie. The former Heisman Trophy winner can still win, yes, but the headwinds will be firmly against him without Kemp on the ballot, as his race looks headed to a December runoff against incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock.
And while the surprising results of Republicans falling short in House and Senate races were trickling in, one lone true bright spot stood out for the otherwise-beleaguered party: The blowout victories by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida, the once-purple state that now looks as red as Arkansas.
DeSantis first won by 34,000 votes in 2018 over Andrew Gillum (D). That margin exploded to 1.5 million in his 20-point victory Tuesday against Republican-turned Democrat Charlie Crist. The incumbent captured 62 of 67 counties, including deep-blue Miami-Dade, which DeSantis lost by 20 points four years ago.
What this shows, of course, is that DeSantis had a record to run on, not just rhetoric.
A record that includes opening up Florida before any major state as the COVID-19 pandemic began to wane; a record that includes standing up for parents against teacher unions and their woke education policies that include teaching young children about sexual orientation and gender identification; a record that features exceptionally low unemployment in a state that already has no income tax. People are moving in droves away from states such as Illinois, California and New York and to states like Florida.
So, what does that mean for Donald Trump’s thinking on whether to make another run at the White House in 2024? If he can put ego and revenge aside, a sober self-analysis by the 45th president should lead him to conclude that his brand is damaged beyond repair. Not with the base, of course, but with the independents and populist-leaning Democrats who helped put him in the White House six years ago.
Trump jumped into the political arena in 2015. It’s almost eight years later, and an argument can be made that there’s simply too much Trump-fatigue. The nicknames and petty insults feel old and repetitive. And then there are Jan. 6 and the Mar-a-Lago/documents controversy, which only add to the fatigue.
There’s also the motivation factor: No candidate energizes an electorate quite like Trump. Voters could be angry about President Biden’s handling of inflation, crime, the border, education, and they could have concerns about Biden’s age, but still vote for Biden and against Trump largely because they want to avoid the drama that would inevitably come with four more years of a President Trump.
The irony is that voters generally agree with Trump’s worldview and policies. They prefer much lower inflation and gas prices. They embrace a safe, secure U.S. southern border. They want a president who backs law enforcement. They agree with his trade policies.
But as we saw on Tuesday night, those who ran and won without Trump’s endorsement or blessing in Florida and Georgia won “bigly,” as he might say. Glenn Youngkin (R) did the same in Virginia in 2021.
Youngkin, Kemp, DeSantis. It’s the Atlantic Coast Conference of younger, successful, principled leaders.
“The people have delivered their verdict: Freedom is here to stay,” DeSantis, 45, declared during an acceptance speech Tuesday night. “Now, thanks to the overwhelming support of the people of Florida, we not only won this election; we have rewritten the political map.” Those who once wouldn’t have thought about voting Republican did so for DeSantis; the GOP base became even more loyal, and independents broke hard for him.
The same scenario could repeat itself if he’s the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee. Ask yourself this: If Trump and DeSantis both run, which appears to have momentum at his back? Which is the more discipled candidate? Which has the least baggage? And which is undefeated as a candidate?
The answers are obvious.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist.
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