Florida governor Ron DeSantis is carrying an enormous burden, whether he knows it or not. As of right now, he is single-handedly carrying the GOP and its still somewhat loyal Trump base on his back and away from Donald Trump in four years. There is a buzz around DeSantis and a possible 2024 presidential run that hasn’t been seen or felt since perhaps Chris Christie circa 2010. Everyone saw how that worked out. DeSantis would find himself in a precarious position by crossing Trump, who as of now seems to be refusing to retire quietly and settle into a role as the GOP kingmaker. The king wants his crown back.
DeSantis has already managed one political feat that mortally wounded Christie’s chances in 2012 — appearing with a sitting president of the opposition party on the heels of a disaster that rocked his local community. In October 2012, Christie’s embrace of Barack Obama on the airport tarmac after a brutal storm ravaged the New Jersey coast cost him a frontrunner status. Last week, after the Champlain Tower collapse in Surfside, Florida, DeSantis sat next to Joe Biden, while managing praise for the President’s response and assistance and maintaining a professional tone. There were no echoed hollers of ‘treason’, or ‘RINO’, or ‘cuck’. There were no extended segments on DeSantis betraying the GOP or Trump by appearing with Biden — simply because the right understands who DeSantis is and what he represents right now: hope. Not hope for the country in a generic, pliable Shepard Fairey-poster sort of way, but hope for a political right that finds itself secretly, and not so secretly, eager to move on from Donald Trump and the 2020 election. Forever. Why assist the media in their game of attempting to tear down the one guy who looks poised to do just that?
The Florida governor has already signaled this, intentionally or otherwise, when Donald Trump held a July 4 rally 200 miles from the Surfside collapse. DeSantis neglected to attend, choosing instead to remain on the site of the recovery operation, a deft political move. Should Trump choose to run, and right now it certainly appears he is going to do so, he will no doubt deploy this as a failed loyalty test of DeSantis, for whose successful gubernatorial campaign the former president takes credit. As I wrote previously, Trump’s plans right now effectively freeze the 2024 GOP field of potential candidates. Those who might be poised for a run now may decide the insults and bombs simply aren’t worth it. They’re probably correct. DeSantis may read the writing on the wall, even if Donald Trump is not able to, and decide to roll the dice anyway.
As of now DeSantis is the only name mentioned as a future replacement for Trump. He tacks close or higher than Trump in casual polling, his name is the first that comes up, even among the Trumpist base, as a preferred candidate. This is a burden no politician should be saddled with. The country and the GOP is one Ron DeSantis scandal away from returning to Trump’s awkward embrace in 2024. The national media knows this — which explains the feverish attempts to elevate every charlatan with a story or half-rumor to tell about his state and his governorship. Should DeSantis falter, there is no second option other than Trump.
This is an uncomfortable truth the GOP must confront. It’s also why they cannot fully move on from Trump’s one-term presidency no matter how desperately they want to. Trump himself is not going anywhere. He’s made that painfully obvious by now — his goal seems to be to re-litigate the 2020 election and his personal grievances stemming from it from now until the 2024 primaries. This is unsustainable and the national media is licking their chops at the prospect of talking about the January 6 Capitol riot until then as well.
DeSantis more or less offers a clean break from all of that. He has been picking and choosing the parts of the Trumpworld platform that suit him, like taking on Big Tech censorship, critical race theory in schools, strong immigration policy and punching back at the media in a more refined and focused way. This approach seems to reflect where the party appetite is. However one major falter, and A New Hope becomes The Empire Strikes Back. All of the eggs are in the DeSantis basket.