How DeSantis and Abbott advanced their 'radical conservatism' with 'an eye beyond their states': report
Governor Ron DeSantis speaking at a Turning Point USA event in Tampa, Florida. (Gage Skidmore)

The 2022 midterms went much better than expected for the Democratic Party, with Democrats slightly increasing their U.S. Senate majority and winning key gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona. Republicans flipped the U.S. House of Representatives, but their new House majority under Speaker Kevin McCarthy is only in the single digits — not the 40-seat or 50-seat supermajority that pundits at Fox News and Fox Business were predicting.

However, two states where Democrats suffered major disappointments were Florida and Texas. Florida is known for close elections, but Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigned from the far right and was reelected by 19 percent. MSNBC’s Joy Reid has argued that Florida shouldn’t be considered a swing state anymore — it has become a full-fledged red state.

Texas has long been a red state, but Democratic strategists believed they were making headway when their candidates only lost in Texas by single digits in statewide races in 2018 and 2020. President Joe Biden lost the Lone Star State by about 6 percent in 2020 compared to the double-digit losses Democrats typically suffered in statewide races in Texas during the 1990s and 2000s. But in 2022, incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott defeated Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 11 percent.

Journalist Luisita Lopez Torregrosa, in an article published by the Texas Observer on January 4, offers a Texas/Florida comparison. Both states, she notes, were bad for Democrats when it came to statewide races in 2022. But Torregrosa stresses that from a demographics standpoint, there are major differences between Florida voters and Texas voters.

Texas, Torregrosa observes, is a state in which non-Hispanic whites are now a minority. Democratic strategists have long fantasized about flipping Texas, based on its demographics. But so far, that hasn’t happened.

“Texas has been a majority-minority state for close to two decades, but Latinos command far less political and economic influence here than they do in Florida,” Torregrosa notes. “Non-Hispanic white Texans make up about 39.4 percent of the state’s 30 million population. Latinos account for nearly half, around 40.2 percent, with Blacks making up 13.2 percent, Asian-Americans 5.5 percent, and American Indians 1.1 percent.”

A Florida/Texas comparison, according to Torregrosa, underscores the fact that there is no “one-size-fits-all” model where U.S.-based Latinos are concerned. Florida has a large Cuban and Cuban-American community, while Texas’ Latino community is heavily Mexican and Mexican-American/Chicano.

“With a dominant contingent of conservative Cubans and Venezuelans, Florida Latinos enjoy more power in their state and in Washington than Latinos do in Texas,” Torregrosa explains. “Florida’s 27-member congressional delegation is 26.5 percent Latino. Latinos occupy high-level statewide and county posts and make up around 20 percent of the state legislature in Tallahassee. By comparison, Latinos are under-represented in Texas. Only 19 percent of the state’s congressional delegation — the second largest in the country — are Latino. The state legislature is 61 percent white, though the state is only 39.4 percent white. There is, to be sure, Latino local political power in many Texas communities, especially around the Rio Grande Valley, but the state is run by primarily white Republicans.”

For Democrats, one of the most discouraging things about the 2022 election results in Florida was the fact that DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio fared well in some of the state’s most heavily Latino counties.

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with a 19-point reelection landslide, got about 77 percent of the vote in the ten precincts with the heaviest Latino populations,” Torregrosa observes. “The only notable exception came in Central Florida, where Puerto Ricans continue to support Democrats. The Puerto Rican population in Florida has grown substantially since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, and thousands migrated to Florida.”

During the 2016 GOP presidential primary, Donald Trump chastised former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish on the campaign trail (Bush is a fluent Spanish speaker who has had no problem being interviewed in Spanish on Univision). But in 2022, GOP groups in Florida aggressively targeted Latino voters with Spanish-language ads.

“Abbott and DeSantis each orchestrated the right-wing agenda with an eye beyond their states,” Torregrosa says of the 2022 midterms. “Abbott has done so relatively quietly, DeSantis visibly and volubly all over the country. Both men easily won reelection, but DeSantis’ landslide has more repercussions. He turned Florida crimson red and polished the Republican brand, giving himself a springboard to the 2024 GOP presidential nomination should he decide to defy his former mentor and now rival, former President Donald Trump…. For now and the foreseeable future, Abbott and DeSantis will continue to advance their brand of radical conservatism.”