The populist who gets things done

The populist who gets things done. By Sean Collins. Trump or DeSantis?

The two men are fundamentally cut from different cloth. Trump is the son of a wealthy real-estate developer and received some $60million from his father to start his career. DeSantis is the son of working-class parents. He was admitted to Yale University and Harvard Law on his merits and had to take on jobs and loans to pay for it. Trump avoided the military draft five times. DeSantis served in the US Navy’s SEAL Team One and was deployed to Iraq.

Trump’s many character flaws — narcissism, petulance, inability to focus, lack of attention to detail, laziness — are not evident in DeSantis. While Trump talks a big game, he rarely delivers. Even his much-promised border wall was never built. DeSantis takes action and follows through. It’s going to be tough for the media to convince people that DeSantis is a ticket back to the chaos of the Trump years, because it’s just not true.

DeSantis is even more diametrically opposed to the narrative people:

Most progressive critics of DeSantis fail to understand his popularity, and in particular how he has been able to win over Americans who previously voted Democrat. He is diametrically opposed to their own beliefs, so they cannot fathom why anyone would vote for him. …

In addition to his Covid stance, DeSantis’s national profile has been boosted by his battles over woke issues, like critical race theory and gender ideology. In his election-night speech, DeSantis took on the mantle of the culture warrior, echoing Winston Churchill’s ‘on the beaches’ speech:

We fight the woke in the legislature. We fight the woke in the schools. We fight the woke in the corporations. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob.

Florida is where woke goes to die.

Unlike many Republicans who simply mouth off about woke to score points, DeSantis understands the gravity of the culture war. He understands how authoritarian the woke left’s agenda is, and the need to go on the offensive. …

DeSantis’s calculated engagements in the culture war show he appreciates a key vulnerability of the cultural left — woke is unpopular, and ordinary people are sick of it. Activists and pundits thought DeSantis would be viewed a bigot and would be isolated for his gender- and sexuality-instruction law, which they falsely labelled as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law. But it turns out that most people don’t want teachers discussing sex or transitioning with school kids. Sixty-seven per cent of parents and even 55 per cent of Democrats were supportive of the bill. DeSantis picked a fight he could win. …

Much of his crossover appeal comes from his embrace of measures that are not typically associated with modern American conservatism. He increased Florida’s spending on environmental projects by $1.5 billion, and his Midterms campaign ads emphasised his green credentials (though he is more of a conservationist, seeking to make Florida resilient to climate change rather than endorsing extreme climate goals). He has also combined his school reforms with a $800million increase in teachers’ pay and created a programme to facilitate home purchases by educators, healthcare professionals and public-sector employees like police and firefighters. On abortion rights, he has signed a law that allows abortion up to the 15th week of pregnancy (with exceptions after that time) — a stance that is aligned with many European countries. …

On paper, the path for DeSantis to the top of the Republican Party is clear. For the party’s leaders and donors, Trump is an electoral albatross and, worst of all, a loser. He lost in the 2018 Midterms, the 2020 presidential election and, most recently, the 2022 Midterms. Even his rank-and-file supporters can see Trump has lost his touch, and growing numbers believe it’s time for him to hang it up. This provides an opening and DeSantis is primed to take it. In a presidential election, he would have a clear message: I showed the leadership to beat Covid. I made Florida a byword for economic dynamism and freedom. I can make the rest of America like Florida.

Things rarely work out so smoothly. For a start, Trump is unlikely to simply disappear. At some point, DeSantis will have to break his silence and take him on. He is likely to have some killer arguments against Trump — you can just imagine DeSantis grilling him over hiring Fauci for his Covid taskforce and failing to build a border wall. But he risks losing some of Trump’s supporters along the way.

Last weekend Tucker Carlson had some warm words for Donald Trump, and some anecdotes:

“the best 9+ minute dialogue on both men you will hear.”