Ron DeSantis, new king of the GOP: ‘Trump without the gold toilet’

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis waves to supporters during a rally for President Donald Trump on October 23, 2020 in Pensacola, Florida.

Donald Trump will not seek the 2024 nomination. Well, most likely will not. 

Okay, probably will not (because speaking in absolutes, when it comes to predicting anything Trumpian, is not wise). Unless, of course, he’s a masochist or he’s illiterate in terms of reading the room. 

This prediction comes after a straw poll at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver last weekend showed Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) pulling in 74 percent approval to Trump’s 71 percent.

Of course, this is just one poll (and not a very scientific one at that) from one conference. But the current groundswell around a DeSantis run for the White House is unmistakable on the ground and in much of the national media, even in circles not exactly considered conservative. 

“We’re going from the political heroin to the political methadone,” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, a former Republican who is as anti-Trump as any Democrat could hope to be, said this week following the results of the straw poll. 

“They’re moving away from Trump,” Scarborough continued. “I hear time and again … ‘Why do you love DeSantis so much? Why do you think DeSantis is going to win? Why do you think DeSantis is the guy in 2024?’ They all say he‘s Trump with the things we love about Trump and none of the liabilities.”

“This town – not just this town, but also the activists, whether they’re evangelicals or whether they’re money people – they’re quietly putting their money toward DeSantis,” he added.

“And there’s a reason for that,” explained Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chair who also has broken with the party. “As one person put it to me, ‘DeSantis is Trump without the gold toilet.’” 

Regardless of the “Morning Joe” praise, the governor has mostly been under attack by the Fourth Estate on just about every move he’s made in the Sunshine State, all while the multiple scandals and investigations around Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) has been swept away for now. A recent “60 Minutes” segment attempting to blame DeSantis for a pay-to-play scheme around vaccine distribution is the biggest example of said attacks, one which blew up in the longtime, respected news magazine’s face after it was caught deceptively editing the piece. 

 DeSantis very much appears to be gearing up for a White House run, if his actions in the culture wars are any indication. He recently urged the Florida State Board of Education to ban public schools from teaching critical race theory, an issue Republicans are placing front-and-center ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Last month, the governor signed a bill preventing social media giants from suspending or banning political candidates ahead of elections, with fines of up to $250,000 a day for banning candidates seeking statewide office.

“He fights all the same fights on issues and on cultural questions that President Trump fought and continues to fight. But he does it without the exhaustion,” MSNBC’s Willie Geist observed. “He doesn’t come with all the drama.”

DeSantis also opened up Florida early on in the pandemic, in the late spring of 2020, prompting howls of #DeathSantis on social media and portraying him as reckless compared to Gov. Cuomo. Cuomo was the white knight of COVID-handling before falling hard in recent months due to allegations of a coverup around nursing home deaths, an ill-timed (and lucrative) book deal signed in the middle of the pandemic and accusations of sexual harassment by multiple female staffers. 

But as deaths mounted in closed states such as New York, Florida was able to keep its own death toll relatively low overall (approximately 16,000 fewer deaths than New York). This, despite having an older (read: “more vulnerable”) and larger population that includes four major cities. Businesses continue to thrive there, with Florida’s unemployment rate at 4.8 percent while New York’s sits at 8.4 percent.  

When 2024 comes, Donald Trump will be 78 years old. He almost undoubtedly won’t have a Twitter account and the nearly 90 million followers who went along with that. Nor will he have Facebook or Instagram or any significant means of communicating outside of rallies (which all the cable news networks covered start to finish in 2015-2016 but almost all won’t touch in 2023-2024) or interviews (which will primarily focus on the Jan. 6 Capitol riots and the New York state investigation of the Trump Organization). 

If Republicans voters, along with independents and Democrats experiencing buyer’s remorse over President Biden, remain interested in or impressed by DeSantis, then DeSantis will be far and away the frontrunner. As the governor of a slightly-red state, he isn’t seen as part of the D.C. “swamp.”

Many things can and undoubtedly will change before the 2024 nomination is won. But given how well the Florida governor has performed to this point, it’s hard to imagine – even if Trump does run – that DeSantis won’t be giving an acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention 37 months from now.  

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill. 

Tags 2024 campaign 2024 frontrunner nomination Andrew Cuomo Donald Trump Florida Joe Biden Joe Scarborough Ron DeSantis

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