Reviews | Ron DeSantis was a Slam Dunk in Florida. Until he wasn’t.

Among the possible candidates for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination not named Donald Trump, one governor has received more than his share of attention: Ron DeSantis of Florida.

But to even reach the 2024 starting line, Mr DeSantis will first need to get re-elected in Florida – and the treacherous politics of Covid-19. Lately his approval ratings have plummeted and his re-election has looked a lot less like a slam dunk. By pulling hard to the right on some issues, especially Covid mandates, he may have left himself potentially vulnerable to a Democratic challenger. His stumbles also suggest the possibility that the kind of harsh and inflexible Covid policies typically associated with Donald Trump may prove to be a hindrance for some GOP candidates embracing them in 2022 and beyond.

Mr DeSantis passed conservative red meat legislation, such as voting reform and “riot” law (a federal judge recently blocked its application) and has battled with supporters of the mask and warrants warrants. vaccine, Big Tech, the media and even some Florida cruise lines.

Mr. DeSantis’ movements were not a complete surprise. In our partisan political atmosphere, there is a reason to activate your base to maximize participation. Since 2018, the proportion of Republicans registered in Florida has increased slightly and has moved closer to the Democrats’ share. As Steve Schale, an election expert in Florida, recently noted, “By the end of this year, there will be more Republicans registered in Florida than Democrats” – which, he said, won’t. has never happened before.

And Mr. DeSantis’ focus isn’t just on Florida. He receives many out-of-state donations, including highly sought-after small donors who avidly consume Fox News and love his fiery rhetoric. And he’s already embarking on out-of-state trips like future presidential candidates to lay the groundwork.

Still, he might be taking a risk. Donald Trump won Florida just three points in 2020. Other famous swing states like Ohio and Iowa were redder – Mr. Trump gained eight points each – and many new residents there. tributaries come from places more to the left like the Northeast.

In a larger context, there is evidence, from places like the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, that Mr. Trump was seen as going too right between 2016 and 2020, and it cost him dearly. with voters swing. They are a smaller group than before, but especially in close elections they can still make a difference. Likewise, many suburban women in areas like central Florida distanced themselves from the Republican Party during the Trump era.

Worse yet, there is evidence for Mr. DeSantis that right-wing grassroots strikes are problematic even with some Republicans. Florida has suffered a devastating wave of Covid cases and deaths this summer. Mr DeSantis’ mandates against masks and vaccines have met with resistance, and not just in areas on the left. Several counties that heavily favored Mr. DeSantis in 2018 defied his order and instituted mask warrants (some temporary), including Sarasota County, which he won by nearly nine points; Indian River County, which he won by 22 points; and Brevard County, which he won by 17 points.

Mr. DeSantis’ approval numbers have also declined. A Morning Consult poll in late August showed it at 48% approval compared to 54% at the end of June – the biggest change coming from independents. Another inquiry into the governor’s approval of Quinnipiac is now 12 points lower than it was in 2019. And while he opposed the vaccine mandates for cruise ships – a major industry in the state, with plenty of Republican customers – over 60% of Floridians backed them.

Mr DeSantis is not the only Republican to have taken a straight line on the Covid measures and to suffer the political fallout. Since June, the number of approvals for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has fallen among Republicans and Independents.

Next year Mr DeSantis could run against a former Republican governor, Charlie Crist, or Nikki Fried, the agriculture commissioner, who would be the state’s first female governor.

By following a Republican grassroots strategy on pandemic issues in a state hit hard by Covid, Mr DeSantis may have made himself vulnerable. To reverse this trend, he could look to the kinds of initiatives he pursued that were popular beyond his grassroots – for example, on education and the environment – as well as popular policies among politicians. Republicans like the tax cuts.

If he is to decisively win in 2022 – a prerequisite for a 2024 Republican primary competition that could include at least one person named Trump – he will have to perform a lot of tricky choreography in Florida.

Liz Mair (@LizMair), Campaign Strategist for Scott Walker, Roy Blunt, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry, is the Founder and Chairman of Mair Strategies. She was also a consultant for a major cruise line.

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