Sending out a Better Messenger with the Same Wrong Message Only Clarifies the Florida Governor’s Fundamental Problem
“Pull him off the trail.” It’s the growing refrain from political pundits offering counsel to Ron DeSantis and his limping presidential campaign.
DeSantis has outraised Donald Trump in the race for the 2024 GOP nomination, he’s outworked him, outmessaged him, he’s barnstorming the early primary states, and yet the Florida Governor’s numbers continue to get worse, not better.
It’s a long, hard fall for perhaps the most popular Republican Governor in the country. Coming off an historic 20-point re-election in a state known for razor-thin gubernatorial victories, DeSantis has had the wind at his back as he not only pushed a hard right culture war agenda, but as he fundamentally created the war’s most defining battles of this cycle — attacks on the classroom, on science and history, the condemnation of LGBTQ equity and parental rights, the marginalizing of black voters, and outright xenophobia toward migrants.
The confidence of the Florida Governor has been obvious. So too has been the confident role of his wife and partner, Casey DeSantis.
As the Governor cruised toward his 2022 re-election, Casey DeSantis mobilized a constituency she coined “Mamas for DeSantis”, evangelizing the Governor’s divisive message to Republican-friendly audiences across Florida. Among the fawning establishment GOP set, consultants and lobbyists were quick to credit Casey for accomplishing an outsized role in expanding the Governor’s reach.
But the reviews may be a mix of obligatory praise and fundamental miscalculation. Organizing a mom constituency for a strong incumbent Governor without a primary and considered a lock for re-election is about as straightforward as a World War II vet founding a veterans’ group for the Governor, a trucker founding a trucker’s group, or a seamstress founding a sewing group. They’re critical to a campaign’s organization, but they’re not transformational.
Which brings us to Ron’s new Casey strategy. There’s nothing transformational about it.
NBC News reported this week that the DeSantis campaign has decided to deploy Casey DeSantis to Iowa and elsewhere, not as the political partner of the Florida Governor, but as the headliner. “We are going to launch the largest mobilization of moms and grandmothers across the United States of America to protect the innocence of our children,” Casey declared to an Iowa crowd.
But mobilizing on behalf of what? Because what many moms and dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and allies understand is that they want a home that teaches love, not hate. Most Americans believe in working in good faith toward equity and inclusiveness, agnostic of the ideology they choose to achieve it. They believe America can embrace and lift up people of all walks of life, regardless of race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, or personal identity. But that’s not Governor DeSantis’ message, nor the one Casey is amplifying.
And that is Ron’s Casey problem. Sending out a better messenger with the same wrong message only clarifies the Florida governor’s fundamental problem, it does nothing to solve it.
Of course the GOP primary is not one where a progressive message of equity is the key to surpassing Donald Trump. But all elections, including primaries, are decided by the contrast between two candidates, or in this case 12 candidates. And for Ron DeSantis, now months into one of the most well-financed, well-organized campaigns in presidential history, the contrast of his culture war messaging with Donald Trump’s retribution message simply isn’t working. Nor will DeSantis’ hateful message resonate in a general election against a sitting President positioned as an ally to all Americans.
Ron DeSantis needs to fundamentally shake up his message before he can shake up his poll numbers. It doesn’t matter if the DeSantis doctrine is presented in heels or boots. It’s a losing one.