The DeSantis bubble may burst

The misfortune of Glenn Beck: How Donald Trump managed to win the 2020 midterm election without losing a tidal wave

Glenn Beck was a bit sad when he made this suggestion the day after the elections but he felt a desire to linger and see a red tide that wiped out the Republicans. The reality – that the party had an unusually poor showing in a midterm that many expected would be a historic blowout – felt too sour to linger on.

Such actions bolstered his popularity in Florida, as did his attention to public opinion. He introduced a gas-tax holiday in the month before the election, and focused on effective hurricane relief rather than campaigning in the wake of the recent storm. He made gains with Latino and Democratic voters in the state, and it appears that he won traditional conservatives in the state as a result. If the dream for many on the right was Trumpism without Trump, DeSantis seems to be the ideal politician to carry them into that future.

Now, it’s possible that while a violent insurrection could not break the base’s loyalty to Trump, an uninterrupted losing streak could. DeSantis is certainly better positioned than any other Republican in the country to challenge Trump for the nomination, especially since he has attracted broad support from Republican elites and right-wing media. Trump, however, has an exceptional track record against such odds. Which means that the dream of a DeSantis victory in 2024 may prove just as elusive and illusory as Tuesday’s red wave.

On the surface, DeSantis seems like a natural successor to Trump. He molded himself after Trump, picking up everything from his hand gestures and speech demeanor to his media-bashing and calculated viciousness. DeSantis leaned into the politics of resentment and resistance, flouting Covid-19 guidelines, attacking schools for teaching about racism and sexuality and dumping asylum-seekers in Massachusetts as part of an anti-immigrant publicity stunt.

He is a strongman and married that style of politics. He targeted people for opposing his policies when he was the governor. After voters restored their voting rights a few years ago, he has taken action to round up people with felony convictions who have been confused by the state attempts to take their voting rights away. He has bent the Florida legislature to his will, whipping up support for anti-gay laws, a new redistricting map and punitive legislation targeting Disney after the company criticized the state’s infamous “don’t say gay” bill.

Success in Florida and success in theory don’t translate into national victory for the Republicans, as Sen. Marco Rubio knows. Part of that is due to the particulars of Florida. The electorate there has been trending more conservative in recent years, even as the country as a whole has coalesced around center-left policies (note how even many red states now vote for Medicaid expansion, abortion protections and higher minimum wage laws).

Meanwhile, unlike the national party, the Democratic Party in Florida is in tatters, struggling to field and support candidates and to organize and mobilize voters. It is unusual for a state to have such a mix of Latino voters that is weighted so heavily toward immigrants from Cuba and Venezuela.

Then there is the issue of fellow Florida resident Donald Trump. The Dump Trump crowd, though bigger at the moment than at perhaps any time since 2016, does not seem to fully understand how deep and unquestioning the cult of personality around Trump still is within parts of the party.

Two years ago the party failed to pass a platform and instead issued a statement of loyalty to Trump. When party elites inched away from Trump after his election loss and the insurrection that followed, they did not manage to bring the party with them. Instead, the majority of Republicans in the House voted to overturn the election and the vast majority of Republican voters clung to the belief that the 2020 election was stolen.

The imitation of Donald Trump may soon run the other way if President Biden sometimes sounds a lot like him. The preview of how he hopes to run against G.O.P. in 2024 were the attacks on congressional Republicans that Biden took for wanting to cut Medicare and Social Security. They were a possible preview of what Trump might try to do in order to regain his party’s nomination – by attacking potential rivals who don’t care about the tea party and by reviving his 2016 campaign’s rejection of Tea Party austerity.

Recently, Joseph Zeballos-Rig andShelby Talcott showed off that strategy to the public. Their subject was the so-called Fair Tax, a longstanding fascination for certain right-wing activists that proposes to replace the U.S. tax code with a sales tax. This would lead to a dramatic tax increase on the middle class and give certain advantages in economic efficiency.

During the heyday of the Tea Party, the Fair tax was endorsed by many of the candidates who are running in the next election. Which gives Trump a license to accuse all these potential rivals of supporting a middle-class tax hike, so he can force them to answer for what they supported.

It could easily apply to the entitlement changes that were embraced by many Republicans, under the influence of Paul Ryan’s budget blueprints. Those proposals were serious rather than crankish, if ill-timed for a moment when there was more fiscal space than deficit hawks believed. They were unpopular and Trump’s abandonment of them was crucial to his success. Having discarded them, he is in a position to go after the others now, according to Philip Klein of National Review.

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