PAVLICK: DeSantis’ Star Has Risen To New Heights Within The GOP — But His Political Future Isn’t Set In Stone

Steve Pavlick 

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ star has risen to new heights within the Republican Party — challenging former President Donald Trump’s once-iron grip over the GOP. While bright, DeSantis’ political future isn’t set in stone.

The Florida Republican will have to navigate numerous obstacles.

DeSantis is on a two-track path and has both near and long-term political considerations. DeSantis faces re-election in 2022 as governor of Florida and is also rumored to be a potential 2024 Republican presidential contender.

If DeSantis wins the Republican nomination in 2024, he could face Joe Biden in the presidential contest. For many watching the 2024 presidential race some think he’s maybe peaked too early.

DeSantis must first win his gubernatorial race to have a chance at the presidential race. Last week, reported that a Mason-Dixon Florida state poll showed DeSantis with a 52% to 41% lead over his Democrat opponent Charlie Crist.

However, the poll was conducted Sept. 26th -28th, right before Hurricane Ian struck. The same survey found DeSantis with a 55% approval rating. Along party lines, DeSantis has 92% support from Republicans and 52% of unaffiliated voters. 7% of Democrats also said they prefer DeSantis. Crist has 84% of Democratic voters behind him and 39% support from unaffiliated voters.

Politico reported that DeSantis beat Andrew Gillum in 2018 by more than 32,000 votes or about 0.4%. Then-Gov. Rick Scott beat Charlie Crist by roughly 1% in 2014. In 2006, Crist — a Republican at the time — defeated Rep. Jim Davis by 7%. The last time a candidate for governor won by double digits was in 2002 when Jeb Bush won a second term by nearly 13% over Bill McBride.

Were DeSantis to win re-election by a comfortable margin in what has traditionally been considered a swing state, it would bolster his case that he should be the Republican nominee for president.

DeSantis rose to national fame by resisting the more stringent coronavirus lockdown measures supported by Dr. Anthony Fauci. Critics of DeSantis warned that his policies were reckless and could lead to massive casualties.

However, Florida’s casualty rate was comparable to progressive states like California and New York, which imposed the most stringent lockdowns. Avoiding the lockdowns allowed Florida’s economy to thrive compared with other states and attracted many businesses and people there.

DeSantis has also been selective in picking battles on culture war issues that play well with the conservative base of the Republican Party, which tends to make up a large percentage of the Republican presidential primary vote.

DeSantis hopes to use his response to Hurricane Ian to appeal to voters beyond the Republican base to show that he can be an effective leader in a crisis and is able to work with the other side.

However, if DeSantis is viewed as being too cozy and complimentary of Biden, it could create an opening for political attacks like what Chris Christie endured after embracing Obama. This may be one of the reasons DeSantis did not hug Biden when he came to Florida.

If Donald Trump is going to run again for the Republican presidential nomination, then a good early indicator might be if he starts to criticize DeSantis for being too cozy with Biden. Trump knows DeSantis poses the biggest threat to his presidential prospect. Do not expect DeSantis to wait too long to go back to criticizing Biden.

FiveThirtyEight conducted an analysis of states hit hardest by the 19 tropical cyclones that caused more than $10B in damage in the U.S. this century and how their governors’ polling numbers changed after the storms. And while the average governor’s approval rating did increase after the storms, most of the time, those increases were minor. The study notes that it is impossible to know whether the storms directly caused those numbers to move as other vital events may have also affected public opinion during that time.

FiveThirtyEight suspects that the response by DeSantis may not move the needle that much given that public opinion of him is essentially baked in and that partisanship affects how people perceive politicians in the wake of natural disasters — which could explain why their polling numbers usually do not change too much.

This suggests that Christie’s large bump in the polls in 2021 was the exception rather than the rule.

Only time will tell if DeSantis is able to survive a re-election bid in his home state. Further, he will have to duke it out with Trump on the political stage in order to cement his nomination as the Republican Party’s main man — a far from easy path.

Anything is possible in today’s political universe.

Steve Pavlick is a Partner & Head of Policy at Renaissance Macro and a former Treasury official.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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