Winning political campaigns are about addition – adding more voters who support you than your opponent. Losing campaigns are typically bumbled, causing voters to migrate to your opponent, or voters just staying at home and not voting.
In 2020, Donald J. Trump lost his re-election because he failed to understand this principle. Had Trump handled the Covid crisis with more compassion and laid off the insulting Tweets just twenty-five percent of the time, he likely would have carried those states he narrowly lost and been re-elected.
Ron DeSantis, Florida’s effective conservative governor is frequently mentioned as a Trump alternative in 2024. DeSantis is intelligent, experienced, handsome, accomplished, popular with conservatives, and has a beautiful wife and children right out of Hollywood casting.
DeSantis also has some negatives.
He comes across as a bit smug, and generally lacks a “warm and fuzzy” feel. DeSantis is also said to not be a strong listener, and he lacks a cadre of trusted advisors. But those issues are fixable if DeSantis chooses to improve his prospects.
Outside of his control, he is portrayed by liberals and the mainstream media as something of a grim reaper as it relates to his administration of Covid.
DeSantis has fought against masks in public schools, vaccine passports, and shutdowns in favor of common sense and personal liberties. These are winning policies in a Republican primary, but present significant challenges in a general election where voters are more likely to be influenced by the scare tactics of the Democrat Party and the liberal media.
Thus far, DeSantis’ liberty-preserving efforts are a mixed bag of judicial defeats, and media criticism on one hand, and mediocre support from his base and Fox News Channel producers who love to book the well-spoken governor on the other.
Before DeSantis can be taken seriously as a significant candidate in the 2024 presidential election, he must first get re-elected governor in 2022.
First, recall that DeSantis barely won in 2018, when he beat Andrew Gillum by 0.4 percent of the vote out of eight million votes cast. DeSantis won despite exit polling showing he lost every major racial group except white voters. DeSantis also lost female voters. He won because of his strength with white males, and elderly voters.
Since that election, Biden has been elected president, Republicans lost the U.S. Senate, the George Floyd inspired BLM movement swept America’s cities, and “wokeness” is now practiced not just by racial groups and left-wing liberals, but also corporations such as Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, and Major League Baseball.
The political landscape has changed, and as it has, DeSantis has governed with a conservative resolve not popular with liberals, the mainstream media, or the cancel culture we live in (and endorsed by corporate titans looking to keep from offending anyone with a heartbeat).
A politician’s ability to recognize the electorate has changed and tact with the wind accordingly to appeal to new voters (remember, addition), while maintaining their base (not subtracting voters) is critical to electoral victory. If DeSantis is to get re-elected, he must do this.
Right now DeSantis is dancing a delicate balance between effective liberty-protecting leadership and looking like a Trump-Esque buffoon who is tone-deaf to the wants of many voters who continue to be scared by the mainstream media that Covid (and his handling of the crisis) is the end of the world.
In the last year, the number of Covid infections in the country has gotten worse, despite vaccines and a better understanding of how to treat the virus. Surprisingly, the total number of Covid deaths in 2021 back in June (before the Delta outbreak), were greater than all the Covid deaths in 2020. These stats are true for the entire country, not just in Florida, and they are not the fault of DeSantis.
In Florida, 64 percent of the state’s 20 million people have had at least one vaccine shot. Conversely, in New York, 69 percent of the state’s 19.5 million have done so. Although Florida’s Covid positivity rate was 17 percent last week to New York’s four percent, Florida’s fatality rate is just 1.4 percent to New York’s 2.3 percent. That means fewer people are dying in Florida than in NY, despite a higher percentage of Floridians testing positive.
Unfortunately, these compelling comparative statistics are rarely shared by the mainstream media because they don’t support the narrative they wish to project (vaccines work, Biden is managing the virus well/Democrats are leaders, the CDC knows what it is talking about, etc.).
That the media rarely tells the complete story is offensive, but candidates such as DeSantis must understand is a reality they are up against.
For DeSantis, managing the reality, versus the perception is a challenge. While he cannot deny Florida is facing an outbreak of new infections, people continue to choose to visit and move to the state in droves (many from liberal states with highly restrictive Covid measures). Fifty-four percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, the state’s economy is doing well in the post-Covid shutdown world, and overall quality of life in Florida remains good.
If we are talking about those positives – and not “the sky is falling” because of Covid – in November of next year, DeSantis’ prospect for re-election and beyond, will be looking positive.
Chris Ingram is a communication, political, and media consultant in Tampa. Follow him on Twitter at @IrreverentView or send him an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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