Haggling and uncertainty are still dominating some of the remaining midterm election races, but one definitive reality from the week’s chaos is perfectly clear: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is, at the moment, one of the primary leaders of the Republican Party.
Long expected to be a potential 2024 presidential contender, Mr. DeSantis had a stunningly big win against Democratic challenger Charlie Crist that upped the ante on his rising star.
Mr. DeSantis finished with 59% of the vote, as Mr. Crist didn’t even hit the 40% threshold. Without a doubt, Mr. DeSantis‘ electability in Florida has grown since his 2018 race. He captured just 49.6% of the vote at the time, edging out Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum, who came in at 49.2%.
Numbers aside, Mr. DeSantis‘ standing as a formidable GOP opponent has been further cemented in recent days by former President Donald Trump’s increasingly antagonistic verbal assaults on the Florida governor.
Mr. Trump, who is expected to be laying the groundwork for a third presidential run, recently slapped one of his infamous nicknames on Mr. DeSantis, dubbing him “Ron De-Sanctimonious.”
But that’s not all. The former president also unleashed a virulent attack via his Truth Social account, proclaiming Mr. DeSantis an “average” governor with good public relations bolstering him to success. He also suggested Mr. DeSantis is disloyal.
Trump’s furor and panic further highlight Mr. DeSantis‘ standing as a party leader and the former president’s raw insecurities about his potential peril should the Florida governor seek the Oval Office.
Moving beyond those elements, one must ponder what makes Mr. DeSantis so popular, why he obliterated Mr. Crist at the polls, and why Mr. Trump appears so perturbed.
One of the hallmarks of Mr. DeSantis‘ tenure has been a brash boldness that, at moments, mirrors Mr. Trump’s tenor yet comes with authority, authenticity, competence and conviction.
Mr. DeSantis has politically, socially and culturally gone to lengths many in his own party would shudder to consider. He took on Disney’s increasingly woke agenda, publicly sparring with the company before rescinding the entertainment giant’s special district status for its Florida theme park.
At the core of the DeSantis-Disney spat was Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which critics wrongly dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” Despite igniting a national debate over the law, Mr. DeSantis proceeded to lambaste the world’s most popular children’s entertainment company — and did it all while still coming out on top.
Most recently, Mr. DeSantis tackled another fiery social issue, successfully urging medical officials to ban children with gender dysphoria from receiving hormones or undergoing sex-change surgeries. It was a move made just days before residents went to the polls.
These actions might seem politically risky in an increasingly progressive culture.
But it seems Mr. DeSantis‘ playbook is working, as the governor often says the quiet part out loud, seeking to codify laws and policies many secretly support but are reluctant to admit for fear of cancellation.
Consider a recent poll finding 73% of Americans are unlikely to vote for candidates who support puberty blockers, hormones, and sex-change surgeries. Just 27% of voters expressed interest in voting for candidates who support such measures.
Mr. DeSantis seems willing to do and say what he believes needs to be said and done, even if it’s politically risky. But perhaps he‘s also strategically tapping into concerns that aren’t being uttered openly but do bubble under the surface.
Either way, he does it with the confidence few wield in today’s bizarre political arena.
Plus, on COVID-19, he took a totally divergent path from the mainstream narrative, proclaiming in March 2022 that he was “clos[ing] the curtain on COVID theater.”
After rebuffing lockdowns and mask mandates throughout the pandemic, Mr. DeSantis held a press conference this year to “discuss the failures of lockdowns and mandates in response to COVID-19,” pushing back against politicians and the “medical establishment.”
“Over the past two years, the data has shown us what works and what doesn’t work. It is long past time to stop the COVID theater,” he said. “In Florida, we told the truth, we let the data drive our response, and we let Floridians make decisions for themselves and their children.”
These radical departures from Democrats’ ideals — and actions taken by some in his own party — appear to have earned him greater adoration among Floridians, and, in turn, he‘s gained the ears of a broader conservative base.
In the end, it’s not about a singular issue such as COVID-19 or any of the aforementioned social issues. It all comes down to a mixture of authority, authenticity, competence and conviction in the face of a multitude of issues that might just earn Mr. DeSantis the chance to lead the free world — should he choose that path.
• Billy Hallowell is a digital TV host and interviewer for Faithwire and CBN News and the co-host of CBN’s “Quick Start Podcast.” Hallowell is the author of four books, including “Playing With Fire: A Modern Investigation Into Demons, Exorcism, and Ghosts,” and “The Armageddon Code: One Journalist’s Quest for End-Times Answers.” He was formerly the director of content and communications at Pure Flix and the former faith and culture editor at TheBlaze.