Opinion | Ron DeSantis shows the way forward for Trumpism without Trump

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Perhaps the only person who triggers progressives as much as Elon Musk these days is Ron DeSantis. Every week, it seems, Florida’s Republican governor takes some new measures that make the left angry and the right happy. His polls are rising, which is bad news for Democrats – because DeSantis is leading the way for Trumpism without Donald Trump.

Like Trump, DeSantis is a counterpuncher – minus the political baggage and personal vendettas. He cracked down on the left-wing educational institute and signed a law banning critical race theory in schools. He cracked down on Disney and moved to remove its special tax status after Burbank, a California-based company, demagogued his bill to protect parental rights for Florida. He slammed Big Tech and signed a law banning social media companies from censoring or de-platforming political candidates. (Law enforcement has been put on hold due to lawsuits.) He retaliated against racially enticing Democrats who slandered the GOP’s electoral integrity laws as “Jim Crow 2.0” and signed a sweeping ballot revision law that strengthens voter identification requirements, bans mass broadcasts of ballot papers and prohibits the collection of ballot papers.

Most importantly, DeSantis fought back against the perpetual lockdown establishment, making Florida a bastion of freedom during the pandemic. He put seniors at the forefront of vaccines, banned vaccine passports, restricted vaccine and mask mandates, suspended local emergency orders, and gave full pardon for all nonviolent offenses, and waived all fines related to covid restrictions by local governments. And in July 2020, his state education department ordered Florida schools to reopen in the fall for full-time in-person learning – limiting the catastrophic learning losses that have plagued children in other parts of the country.

His strategy works. Americans have voted for DeSantis with their feet, escaped high taxes, covid-restrictive blue states and flocked to freedom in Florida. After languishing in the mid-40s last year, DeSantis’ approval rating in the state has risen to 59 percent in a new poll from Saint Leo University, where only 37 percent are disapproving – almost President Biden’s approval rating turned upside down.

DeSantis is on track to win re-election this fall by a larger margin than the 3.4 points Trump won two years ago. DeSantis leads its most likely opponent, Congressman and former governor Charlie Crist, by nearly nine points in the RealClearPolitics poll average. He is ahead of his second most likely opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, by 13 points.

If DeSantis secures a decisive victory in November, he could prove to be a formidable challenger to Biden – and an attractive alternative to Trump. While Biden continues to reach new lows in approval, polls also show that most Americans still do not wish Trump was back in the oval office. A Harvard CAPS-Harris poll shows that the majority do not want either Trump (55 percent) or Biden (63 percent) to run in 2024, with nearly 6 in 10 saying they would be open to supporting a third-party candidate if they face a rematch between the two. If they both line up again, Trump has just a two-point lead over Biden – a statistical draw.

The fact that Trump is stuck with Biden – whose approval has plummeted longer and faster than any modern president – should be a red flag for Republicans. Right now, 69 percent of Republicans say they want Trump to run again, according to a CBS News-YouGov poll. But after seeing the disastrous policies Biden has implemented – the worst inflation in 40 years, the worst crime wave since the 1990s, the worst border crisis in American history – they also know that the 2024 election is an election that Republicans absolutely must win. If Republican primary voters are convinced that Trump cannot win, they may be able to support another.

DeSantis puts itself in a strong position to be the other. He understands that Republicans do not want a nominee like Mitt Romney who let the Democrats go over him without fighting. They want a counterpuncher. DeSantis is building a record in office that will send a strong message to Republican primary voters: I will give you everything you liked about Trump – except I will win.

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