I see more of politicians than I would like, and the most revealing moments are always the ones just before a politician steps into the spotlight.
It’s easy to fake it on demand. But the moments before that are the ones that reveal the true character.
Much has been made of Ron DeSantis, the U.S. Congressman who represents St. Johns County and points south, getting into the Florida governor’s race. In large part, that has been because his political team puts out breadcrumbs every couple of months, suggesting strongly that the groundwork is being laid for a run.
DeSantis is one of the smartest people in Northeast Florida politics—a degree from Yale, with a Harvard Law chaser—and he certainly seems to know it. That makes for some awkwardness when it comes to the grip-and-grin parts of the program.
At one event in 2016, I was walking behind DeSantis into a building where Flagler County Republicans were congregating. Generally, it’s the type of thing where someone reflexively holds a door so it doesn’t slam behind them. That wasn’t DeSantis’ style.
At another event in 2016, when DeSantis was looking at a run for senate (before Marco Rubio reversed course and ran for re-election), DeSantis waited less than patiently as a laundry list of politicians addressed Nassau County Republicans.
The retail politics thing isn’t his strong suit.
And there are those here, prominent Republicans, no less, who will volunteer less-than-positive feelings about DeSantis, using a certain seven-letter scatology to describe him.
All of that said, none of it may matter.
DeSantis, who isn’t officially in the governor’s race yet, might as well be.
After all, President Trump endorsed him on Twitter, driving a dagger through the hearts of the rest of the GOP field.
“Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!”
In terms of an endorsement for a Republican primary candidate, could there be anything better? Sure, Trump played the Alabama Senate race about as badly as it could be played.
But Ron DeSantis is the antithesis of Roy Moore; DeSantis is generally the smartest guy in the room, and as those who have seen him and Casey Black together will assert that he definitely married up.
DeSantis addressed Trump’s tweet after XMas on Fox and Friends—the official television program of The Villages.
“I can tell you that when that tweet went out, the amount of buzzing on my phone from calls and texts, I thought the phone was malfunctioning, or there was something going on,” said DeSantis. “When he tweets, and he has 100 million people that are seeing that, it’s a really, really big deal, and I really appreciate the kind words from the President.”
“[Trump] loves Florida, and he’s been good for Florida, and I anticipate he’ll continue to do that,” DeSantis said, adding that he’ll “come back on [the show] in the New Year and break some news then.”
Whether Trump has been good for Florida or not is debatable. We’re still waiting for FEMA money, and we are about one storm away from serious budget cuts locally and elsewhere.
While the narrative that Trump has been good for Florida plays with Republicans, it presents existential problems for other candidates.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has run a very disciplined campaign, and he has been a draw: I saw him hold a crowd of 400 people deep on the Westside on a weeknight, a cross-section of local Republicans. The homophobes came out, the moderates came out, with a quorum of city councilmembers in between.
Where do they go now? They all but took Putnam’s promise ring before Christmas break. And now they may have to return it. Because God forbid they go against the president.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran was supposed to be running to the right of Putnam. But where does he go now? Corcoran said he won’t even announce until March, and while a reliable Koch Brothers ideologue, he’s not exactly dripping charisma.
Trump backing DeSantis works really well for one Democrat in the field: frontrunner Gwen Graham.
Graham is the only one with establishment bona fides and fundraising ability, and she can make the case that the race has been nationalized. From there, it follows that she—not Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum or Philip Levine—should be the logical consensus candidate.
Can Graham hang with DeSantis in debates? That remains to be seen.
However, if Mayor Gillum were the nominee, can you imagine the bloodbath when DeSantis goes in on the culture of corruption in Tallahassee city government? You’d have to buy stock in triage units.
It’s looking like a DeSantis/Graham general election. And Democrats should be worried if that’s the case.