Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has positioned himself at the front of the line to be the 2024 GOP nominee, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argued on Saturday.
"It's just that this time the theory is less a message than a man: Right now, the party's autopsy for 2020, and its not-Trump hopes for 2024, are made flesh in the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis," he argued. "The proximate cause of the enthusiasm for DeSantis is his handling of the pandemic, and the media's attempted manhandling of him. When the Florida governor began reopening Florida last May, faster than some experts advised, he was cast as a feckless mini-Trump, the mayor from 'Jaws' (complete with open, crowded beaches), the ultimate case study in 'Florida Man' stupidity."
"A year later, DeSantis is claiming vindication: His state's Covid deaths per capita are slightly lower than the nation's despite an aged and vulnerable population, his strategy of sealing off nursing homes while reopening schools for the fall looks like social and scientific wisdom, and his gubernatorial foils, the liberal governors cast as heroes by the press, have stumbled and fallen in various ways," he argued. "So DeSantis has a good narrative for the Covid era — but his appeal as a post-Trump figure goes deeper than just the pandemic and its battles."
Douthat argues that DeSantis is the best hope for the donor class to regain control of the GOP from Trump.
"This is not exactly the kind of Republicanism that the party's donor class wanted back in 2012: DeSantis is to their right on immigration and social issues, and arguably to their left on spending. But the trauma of Trumpism has taught the G.O.P. elite that some compromise with base politics is inevitable, and right now DeSantis seems like the safest version of that compromise — Trump-y when necessary, but not Trump-y all the time," he argued."
Douthat compared DeSantis to other Republicans that are considered hopefuls.
"Still, if you were betting on someone who could theoretically run against Trump, mano a mano, and not simply get squashed, I would put DeSantis ahead of both the defeated Trump rivals (meaning Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz) and the loyal Trump subordinates (meaning Mike Pence or Nikki Haley). Not least because in a party that values performative masculinity, the Florida governor's odd jock-nerd energy and prickly aggression are qualities Trump hasn't faced before," he argued. "The donor-class hope that Trump will simply fade away still seems naïve. But the donors circling DeSantis at least seem to have learned one important lesson from 2016: If you want voters to say no to Donald Trump, you need to figure out, in a clear and early way, the candidate to whom you want them to say yes."