If we were to break down the midterms among winners and losers, four people qualify for recognition. The two big winners nationally: Joe Biden and Ron DeSantis. Biden and the Democratic Party he leads defied history in beating back Republican midterm prospects. It was a convincing night for the Biden camp and represents a historic shift in modern American politics — a strengthened Democratic coalition, and the continuation of the pro-democracy, pro-sanity efforts Democrats led in 2018 and 2020.
Ron DeSantis was hands down the biggest Republican story of the night, strangling Democratic prospects in the Sunshine State with his jaw-dropping 20-point win in a state accustomed to one-point margins, and sharing his coattails with nearly every down ballot Republican to firmly turn Florida red.
The biggest losers of the night? Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump. McCarthy, a man so desperate to become Speaker of the House that he is lampooned even by his own friends, now on the precipice of losing his second bid for the top job. And Donald Trump now a weakened GOP standard bearer that leading Republicans and their media allies are desperate to consign to the dustbin of history.
Which leads to a more important analysis of what happened in Florida, a state that under Ron DeSantis has quickly become a refuge for the rich and the reckless, governed by a cavalier brand of Republicanism, with an arrogant conviction that the rest of the country is desperate to ‘Make America Florida’.
There’s only one problem with subscribing to the notion that the future of Republicanism now goes through the Governor’s mansion in Tallahassee, and it’s a huge one. To look at the strength of DeSantis and Florida Republicans last night as a signal for where the party should go nationally ignores the reality that Florida’s politics are now firmly outside of the American mainstream.
Last night was not a national mandate for Republicanism. It was, in fact, a rejection of it. Yet this morning, national Republicans seem to think the answer for the party is in offering the nation Florida’s hard-core culture wars, economic inequity, its cost-of-living crisis, and the little dopamine hits of manufactured freedom the Governor ceremoniously dispenses from his divinely ordained throne. But that strategy would be like going to Vegas and doubling down on a losing hand. The rest of America last night rejected Florida’s politics.
A second and related question for a post-Trump world is whether DeSantis would be allowed to shake the stench of Trumpism, to pretend he was not the former President’s greatest student, to deny that his political fortunes were created by association with and promotion of the former President. To get there requires a full rewrite of history and a reinvention of the Florida Governor himself. Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. National Republicans are desperate this morning. Perhaps the national GOP tries to put DeSantis back in the lab and bring him out with a different profile. But the wiser course may be to now look elsewhere.
Last night was a clear indication the national GOP continues to learn all the wrong lessons. If they indeed now turn to the Florida model, to elevate its current Governor, it is a national strategy replete with demonstrated danger, and it very likely will provide national Democrats with exactly the environment they want for a successful reelection of Joe Biden in 2024.
Who’s going to tell them?