Update, March 1, 2022:
I owe my readers an apology.
I told you Ron DeSantis would be a trustworthy conservative standard-bearer for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. I can no longer let that endorsement stand in good conscience.
I honestly believed it, after watching his rock-solid performance for two and a half years. But then he signed a Republican-backed law giving doctors another year during which they can subject patients to ineffective and harmful COVID-19 treatment, and evade liability for the consequences by hiding behind the recommendations of the very federal health bureaucracy that DeSantis built his reputation on standing against.
He apparently attempted to distract conservatives by pairing that gift to bad doctors with a new state health guidance giving more flexibility to good doctors, which is welcome but does nothing to address the main problem. And worst of all, it appears to have worked…even among conservatives who should know better.
We can’t say for sure what was going through DeSantis’s mind when he chose to sign the liability extension, especially not until his office honestly engages conservatives who ask about it. But at a minimum, his choice appears to be a smoking gun that his presumed willingness to stand up to the swampier elements of his own party — one of the qualities we need the most in our next president — has some very serious limits.
I suspect that may be why so few conservatives are willing to speak out about DeSantis’s betrayal: because, on top of standard-issue partisanship, they don’t want to torpedo him when all of our currently-known 2024 prospects are even worse.
I understand that impulse; that’s why this is so painful for me. But our unwillingness to hold all of our leaders accountable, our falling into the habit of giving this or that transgression a pass for the sake of perceived political necessity, is part of how the conservative movement and the Republican Party got to be such inept, impotent disasters in the first place. We have to be firm and forthright on these things; otherwise we’ll never improve.
On a related note, as personally, morally, ethically, and philosophically disgusted as I am with Ron DeSantis, honesty also requires me to acknowledge the likelihood that he will still be preferable to the alternatives in the 2024 primary. If that’s the case, so be it. But in the meantime, we have to speak loudly and forcefully about this for three reasons: to manage our expectations of a potential DeSantis presidency; to apply counter-pressure that incentivizes DeSantis to not betray us in the future, and to signal to any potential future candidates watching all this what we want, need, and expect from them.
Sadly, I don’t expect such a candidate to emerge in the next three years. But a lot can happen in three years, so now’s the time to start looking — and praying — for one.
Original June 18, 2021 post, preserved in its entirety for transparency:
Having established that conservatives and Republicans would have to be brain-damaged to nominate Donald Trump for president again, the question now becomes who we should pick instead as our 2024 standard-bearer. As evidenced by the fact that Trump got nominated the first time, the GOP talent pool is usually slim pickings, to say the least.
Fortunately, this time around we have someone who for years has been proving himself an aggressive, effective leader, an authentic movement conservative, and a skillful communicator. Someone with all of Trump’s perceived strengths and none of his weaknesses. Someone who’s been delivering so many conservative wins that his biggest problem may be running out of stuff to do by 2024. That man is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Results, Results, Results
First and most importantly, DeSantis’s record reads like a conservative Christmas list, a collection of results almost too good to be real. Let’s start with an excerpt from a March 2019 rundown by Deroy Murdock:
• DeSantis pioneered Florida Deregathon — a one-day summit in which agency heads targeted red tape, especially in occupational licensing. While eye surgeons and airline pilots should certify their competence, why do nail polishers and boxing timekeepers need Tallahassee’s permission to work? Florida’s 1,200-hour training requirement for new barbers, for instance, stymies competition by boosting costs and headaches for new entrants.
DeSantis summoned the chiefs of 23 professional-licensing boards to Orlando to “discuss, debate, identify and recommend substantive regulations that can be targeted for immediate elimination,” as his letter told these officials. “I see this event as a first step toward creating a regulatory climate as welcoming as the Florida sunshine.”
• DeSantis signed an executive order instructing the commissioner of education to “eliminate Common Core (Florida Standards) and ensure we return to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic” and “equip high school graduates with sufficient knowledge of America’s civics, particularly the principles reflected in the United States Constitution, so as to be capable of discharging the responsibilities associated with American citizenship.” DeSantis also supports legislation to expand school vouchers.
• DeSantis demands accountability. He accepted the resignation of Broward County elections director Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher, her Palm Beach County counterpart, for their spectacular incompetence, if not corruption. DeSantis called Bucher’s operation “the Keystone Kops of election administration.”
He also sacked Broward County sheriff Scott Israel for totally bungling the deadly Parkland mass shooting in February 2018, then exacerbating that toxic failure with a deluge of finger-pointing and a drought of self-criticism.
• DeSantis replaced the entire South Florida Water Management District with appointees not beholden to the heavily subsidized sugar industry — a notorious polluter whose fertilizer, pesticides, and other agrochemicals befoul Florida’s waterways. DeSantis was one of only three members of Florida’s 27-member U.S. House delegation who voted last May to curb the disastrous sugar program. DeSantis’s appointees should make Big Sugar clean up its bitter harvest.
• DeSantis’s tax proposal is modest, but it steers levies the right way: down. His budget cuts taxes $335 million: $289.7 million in property-tax reductions; a three-day, $39.5 million back-to-school sales-tax holiday; and a one-week, $5.8 million disaster-preparedness sales-tax holiday before hurricane season.
It cannot be stressed enough that DeSantis did all of the above in just the first two months of his governorship, during which we can already see a key contrast between him and Trump: DeSantis came in and quickly recognized the need to fire holdovers before they could do additional damage; Trump left in place countless Democrat resisters and saboteurs who undermined the agenda his supporters voted for every step of the way (fun fact: Trump rejected his advisers’ urgings to fire ex-FBI Director James Comey as soon as he took office, and we all know how that turned out).
Since then, DeSantis has signed laws cutting more taxes, cutting spending, strengthening election security, pioneering legal remedies to internet censorship, banning sanctuary cities, requiring parental consent for minors’ abortions, keeping males who claim to be female out of women’s athletic programs, toughening penalties for riot-related offenses, banning localities from restricting Second Amendment rights, allowing more teachers to undergo training to carry guns on school grounds, mandating E-Verify for public employers and government contractors (while advocating for it to be applied to the private sector as well), banning anti-Semitic propaganda in public education, banning eco-radicals at the local level from giving the environment legal rights (yes, that’s a thing leftists actually want to do), cracking down on foreign influence in higher education, requiring schools to provide silent time students can use for daily prayer if they so choose, and more.
Additional issues DeSantis has addressed through executive action or is prepping for future legislation include protecting data privacy (thereby hitting a major source of revenue for social media censors), banning critical race theory in public education, and preventing the state pension system from investing in companies complicit in the anti-Israel “boycott, divestment, & sanctions” (BDS) campaign. [UPDATE: See the bottom of this article for additional accomplishments.]
Florida certainly has more that needs doing (especially heartbeat, late-term, and disability abortion bans that didn’t reach the governor’s desk in the last legislative session). But it’s hard to be disappointed when one considers that DeSantis fit all of the above into just two and a half years—and that for more than half that time, he did it all while deftly handling a public health crisis that devastated dozens of other states.
Leadership in a Time of Corona
Even if DeSantis hadn’t prioritized tackling so many problems of grave concern to conservatives, his response to the COVID-19 outbreak alone arguably would have been enough to secure his standing as the best executive-branch leader in America. As Daniel Horowitz summarized last May:
They said DeSantis was killing his state’s people by not issuing a stay-at home order early enough and never issuing a full lockdown against church services and other activities. Then, on May 4, he decided to end even the tepid lockdown. Last in, first out. What are the results?
Despite the fact that Florida is the haven for those most susceptible to the virus, the elderly, the state’s numbers beat almost every comparable state […]
While it wasn’t as cool and heroic as locking up every healthy person with near-zero risk in their homes, DeSantis quietly barred hospitals from sending COVID-positive patients to nursing homes – the exact opposite of what Cuomo and many Democrat governors did. He also used the National Guard to secure nursing homes rather than to spy on people.
In New Jersey, 51 senior care residents out of every 100,000 people died. In New York, nearly 27 per 100,000 have died. Even in smaller and younger Colorado, more than 10 nursing home residents have died per capita. In Florida? Just 3.5 per 100,000. In the state of “God’s waiting room,” just .008% of the population died of COVID-19.
DeSantis was even pressured by the White House to go along with the flat-earth lockdown science. But he understood that the threat of the virus is limited to a known population and that outdoor transmission is negligible. So he put his resources where they were needed.
Florida’s COVID numbers were so impressive that, as Horowitz notes, leftists were reduced to falsely accusing DeSantis of cooking the books to explain them away. In March, even the Associated Press admitted that California’s vastly more restrictive policies didn’t save more lives than Florida’s targeted, freedom-friendly approach, despite Florida’s large elderly population. On top of the health outcomes, DeSantis’s leadership saved hundreds of thousands of jobs and spared his state the large-scale destruction of businesses that plagued the rest of the country (despite Florida’s tourism industry being particularly vulnerable to the fear of travel that gripped the rest of the country).
All along the way, DeSantis has defended the rights and choices of Floridians from the COVID maniacs, undaunted by the wailing of the media: standing against school closings, vaccine passports, mask mandates, and local lockdowns, pardoning anyone persecuted by rogue localities, suing the Biden administration over its ban on the cruise ship industry, and quickly embracing hydroxychloroquine.
If there’s one area where DeSantis could be doing more, I have to admit I would like to see him direct his health department to do their own digging into COVID vaccine data. If his administration found cause for concern, its warnings would be more credible than so much of what’s swarming around the internet; if it affirmed the vaccines’ safety, its reassurances would carry far more weight among the hesitant than a federal health bureaucracy whose credibility is at an all-time low. Especially coming from a socially-conservative, pro-freedom governor who has described himself as “hungry for data” and whose grasp of the science has been credited as rivaling that of actual epidemiologists, stepping in to fill this national trust vacuum would be a great way to distinguish himself as a national leader even more.
[UPDATE: Since this was originally published, DeSantis has improved significantly on this point with the hiring of Dr. Joseph Ladapo as state Surgeon General and Secretary of Health, who has used the role to speak the truth about the “the climate of scientific dishonesty” that has tainted promotion of the COVID vaccines with exaggerated promises, strengthening confidence that DeSantis will continue to consider all the relevant evidence…unlike certain other politicians. END UPDATE]
Nevertheless, DeSantis’s stance on the vaccines—dutifully making them available for those who want them while standing up for the rights and dignity of those who don’t—is a commonsense approach that doesn’t lend itself to easy demagoguing, and represents the balance most broadly palatable to the electorate. More importantly, the overall picture is clear. COVID-19 is one of the biggest tests of leadership in our current political moment. More so than any other sitting governor or former president, DeSantis aced it.
A Full-Spectrum, Non-Establishment Conservative
The above already paints a reasonably broad cross-section of DeSantis’s conservatism, from fiscal to social to liberty issues. Still, it’s worth noting some highlights from his pre-gubernatorial career, which show he’s also rock-solid on issues beyond what he’s had to deal with as a state governor, and that he’s long been on the right side of the divide between the Republican Party’s leadership and its grassroots.
An inaugural member of the House Freedom Caucus, Congressman DeSantis introduced legislation to empower states to ban investment in Iran, ban post-government lobbying by scores of ex-government officials, force members of Congress to use the same health care plans Congress would force on the public, ensure Americans could keep their pre-Obamacare health plans, prohibit recognition of and foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority unless and until it truly reformed (including but not limited to allowing free elections, recognizing Israel’s right to exist, ending its boycotts of Israel, ending its promotion of and support for terrorism, and dismantling Hamas), force the Justice Department to answer to Congress for failure to enforce federal law, and ban foreign aid to countries that receive Guantanamo Bay detainees only to let them to return to the battlefield.
While in Congress, DeSantis also cosponsored and/or voted for the full range of conservative priorities, including the REINS Act, Kate’s Law, right to work, concealed carry reciprocity, defunding Planned Parenthood, reforming the Veterans Administration, withholding funding from the United Nations’ “Human Rights” Council and climate agenda, and letting states opt out of No Child Left Behind, as well as backing enough tax and spending cuts to earn the title of “Taxpayer Super Hero” from Citizens Against Government Waste.
Additionally, during his House tenure DeSantis distinguished himself as willing to call out establishment GOP leaders such as Paul Ryan for ducking the fights that needed to be fought. In April 2016, DeSantis was among the Republicans pushing to impeach IRS commissioner John Koskinen over the agency’s targeting of conservative Americans for political persecution.
“I think what’s holding it back, I think the leadership is worried about being criticized by inside the Beltway media and stuff,” DeSantis told Breitbart at the time. “We are going to try to force the issue potentially in a way that at least people have to go on the record […] I think the American people are so sick of, you know, government imposes all these rules on them and if they run afoul to it there are consequences, yet, the people in positions of power, they are never held accountable and that just cannot last.”
DeSantis was also among the conservatives who recognized that the House GOP’s Ryan-backed first stab at an Obamacare replacement wasn’t good enough because it, as he said, “retain[ed] the core features of Obamacare.” Trump, by contrast, attacked the DeSantis wing of the party for holding out for a better bill, because Trump just wanted to sign something he could take credit for. Patient attention to detail: what a concept!
He Fights! …Competently
Some of Trump’s greatest strengths, we were told, were his ability to stick it to the Left rhetorically, his talent for channeling and reflecting the perennially-neglected feelings of the GOP base, his knack for speaking bluntly in a way that was both entertaining and free of the faux civility that defines most of the stuffed-shirt Republicans in national office. And that was all true, as far as it went…it just didn’t go far enough to win a second term, #BuildTheWall, #DrainTheSwamp, #StopTheSteal, or get Congress to go along with any of the other legislative agenda items we elected him for.
There are two basic reasons for that: because lacking a filter can be a double-edged sword, leaving one just as likely to say stupid, self-defeating things as to speak harsh truths; and because talking a good game is no substitute for the principles, knowledge, and skills necessary to translate words into action.
Fortunately, here too DeSantis runs circles around Trump. In public appearances he regularly displays a clear, conversational style that makes the issues easy to understand, reveals a strong command of the facts, forcefully frames the stakes and identifies the guilty parties in our current debates, and eviscerates fake news at least as effectively as Trump ever did…and all without making a fool of himself, generating distractions from the objective, or sparking endless inane arguments about taking him “seriously versus literally”:
Finally, perhaps the most important difference between DeSantis and Trump can be found within an especially-lame attempted hit published by Politico in May:
RON DESANTIS is looking ahead to reelection next year and quite possibly a 2024 bid for president — but he’s left behind a trail of former disgruntled staffers and has no long-standing political machine to mount a national campaign, DeSantis vets say.
We talked to a dozen or so onetime aides and consultants to the Florida governor, and they all said the same thing: DeSantis treats staff like expendable widgets. He largely relies on a brain trust of two: himself and his wife, CASEY DESANTIS, a former local TV journalist. Beyond that there are few, if any, “DeSantis people,” as far as political pros are concerned.
Yes, DeSantis recently hired highly regarded operative PHIL COX. But there’s no savant that he’s been through the trenches with, like a KARL ROVE or DAVID AXELROD — let alone an army of loyalists. That’s probably not fatal to his White House prospects, but it can’t help.
To the Swamp, few things are more horrifying than insufficient regard for themselves. But to those not easily cowed by the complaints of disgruntled staffers (who are naturally going to dislike a boss who doesn’t hang on their every word), there’s a different takeaway here:
DeSantis accomplished all of the above…without consultants or pollsters having to tell him what to do.
His stellar record isn’t the result of a PowerPoint presentation or taking direction from handlers. It comes from his own values and instincts, from not just listening to conservatives’ concerns but understanding them. From sharing them. From caring enough about problems to figure out solutions. This, perhaps more so than anything else, explains why he’s a cut above most Republicans and offers genuine assurance that his decision-making will continue to be solid.
After Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, one might have reasonably expected political insiders to have learned that rejection of the things they think are politically important is what people want. But one of the biggest ironies of the era is that not even Trump learned this from Trump. Despite having certain stylistic instincts and perhaps an insight or two about the base that served him well, on policy his advisers constantly led him around by the nose, to disastrous effect.
Ron DeSantis obviously does not have that problem. By every available metric he’s smarter, more independent-minded, more disciplined, more upstanding, more eloquent, more conservative, and more effective than Donald Trump. He also matches all the other hypothetical 2024 Republican contenders in character and eloquence, and exceeds all of them in results. Not since Ronald Reagan has the choice been this clear. Vote accordingly.
UPDATE: The following will begin a list of additional actions DeSantis has taken as governor since this article was first published, which will continue to be updated as the hits keep coming in:
- Sending Florida law enforcement to Texas and Arizona to help secure the southern border
- Signing a law strengthening transparency and parental consent for sex education in public schools
- Signing a trio of laws requiring that high schools teach the evils of communism & totalitarianism, that colleges make civic literacy a condition of graduation, and requiring colleges to conduct annual assessments of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity on their campuses
- Signing a pair of laws allowing concealed carry on the grounds of religious institutions shared with schools, and codifying a parent’s right to “direct the education and care of his or her minor child,” including a right to “access and review all school records” related to that child
- Signing an amicus brief with ten other governors calling on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.