- Our Columnists and Writers Weigh In on His Candidacy
By New York Times Opinion
As Republican candidates enter the race for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination, Times columnists, Opinion writers and others will assess their strengths and weaknesses with a scorecard. We rate the candidates on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 means the candidate will probably drop out before any caucus or primary voting; 10 means the candidate has a very strong chance of receiving the party’s nomination next summer. This entry assesses Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, who announced his bid for the Republican nomination on Wednesday.
How seriously should we take DeSantis’s candidacy?
David Brooks Ron DeSantis was overvalued before and is undervalued now. He’s still the most likely Trump alternative since he spans the Trump wing and the non-Trump wing of the G.O.P. But it would take a Trump implosion to bring that about. I doubt there’s much that DeSantis can affirmatively do to control his destiny.
Jane Coaston Extremely seriously, and very literally.
Michelle Cottle About as seriously as a moderate to severe case of shingles. (So, pretty seriously.)
Ross Douthat More seriously than any Republican not named Donald Trump. Ron DeSantis’s weaknesses are obvious — social awkwardness above all — but even as his poll numbers have sagged, nobody else has emerged from the pack, so he enters the race as the only currently plausible vehicle for Republicans who don’t want Trump again.
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David French We should take Ron DeSantis more seriously than many pundits are taking him today. He has struggled under Trump’s relentless attacks, but he’s still the clear second choice, and it’s way too soon to write his campaign obituary.
Michelle Goldberg A few months ago, before it became clear what a problem his personality was going to be, I thought he was very likely to be the nominee. And until 6 p.m. on Wednesday, I still thought he had a decent chance. But I don’t see how he comes back from that catastrophic Twitter launch.
Rosie Gray Ron DeSantis is the only Republican so far who appears capable of putting up a credible challenge to Trump. But his pre-candidacy wasn’t very encouraging: He’s allowed Trump to define him as a personality-challenged weirdo, and he has made politically questionable moves like the six-week abortion ban he signed.
Katherine Mangu-Ward He’s a capable governor of a successful state who has a good eye for the places where political points can be scored — mostly authoritarian culture-war stunts — even if he isn’t always successful in scoring them.
Daniel McCarthy He would be the front-runner any other year. He’ll be the front-runner next year if luck somehow takes Donald Trump out of the race. As things stand, Ron DeSantis is as serious a contender as anyone can be with the ex-president in the contest.
Bret Stephens Three months ago, I would have predicted that Ron DeSantis, fresh from his resounding re-election as governor of Florida, would beat Trump for the Republican primary. Now he looks more like the Ted Cruz of this electoral cycle, pompous, mean and not nearly as clever as he seems to think he is.
What matters most about him as a presidential candidate
Brooks DeSantis’s problem is that he can’t attack Trump, because a chunk of his support is Trumpy, and he can’t not attack Trump, since Trump is flailing him day after day. I can’t think of a candidate who took down a front-runner without criticizing him. DeSantis has locked himself into a posture in which he looks weak and passive.
Coaston He is in almost every way a standard presidential candidate — a successful governor of a big state looking to make the leap to the national stage. That seeming regularity makes him seem familiar, recognizable, even.
Cottle He has long been the great hope of the many, many G.O.P. donors and other establishment Republicans desperate to move the party beyond Trump. As the cliché goes, they see him as Trump without the crazy — a hard-edge conservative who has a gift for playing to the base’s angriest, most revanchist tendencies, but isn’t totally cracked.
Douthat Almost alone among the not-Trump candidates, he has a case that could actually work in a G.O.P. reshaped by Trumpism: namely, that he fought the key battles of the Trump era more effectively than Trump himself. That line may not be enough to win, but it’s an argument that actually meets Republican voters where they are (or, for now, seem to be).
French He’s the most likely Trump alternative in the race.
Goldberg Anti-wokeness is the glue that holds the modern right together, uniting people who disagree about economic organization or foreign policy. DeSantis — who loves to say that Florida is “where woke goes to die” — is betting that anti-wokeness alone can power a presidential campaign. But his official campaign launch suggests he’s so far down the right-wing rabbit hole that he can’t communicate with people who aren’t upset about college “accreditation cartels” and central bank digital currency.
Gray DeSantis will be the clearest test so far of how much Trumpism without Trump actually appeals to voters.
Mangu-Ward In his self-published 2011 book, “Dreams From Our Founding Fathers,” DeSantis writes like a normie Tea Party conservative — and much of his record in Florida is consistent with those values, including during Covid. But the title, which tweaks Barack Obama’s memoir “Dreams From My Father,” is a hint that the Trumpish troll always lurked within and may be all voters care about. The DeSantis candidacy is a test of whether there is anything left of the G.O.P. besides Trump fandom.
McCarthy DeSantis is as much an heir as a rival to Donald Trump. He shows that the changes Trump began as president will continue and expand under the next generation of Republican leadership, with DeSantis at the fore. The governor is an immigration restrictionist and foreign-policy restrainer, and he’s more systematic than the former president about attacking progressivism’s institutional strongholds in corporate America and higher education.
Stephens DeSantis is running on the theory that the best way to beat Trump is to imitate Trump, minus the obvious personal flaws. But it might just be that the only way to beat Trump is to run directly against him, pointing out all the ways in which he has been a disaster for the Republican Party and a disgrace to the United States.
What do you find most inspiring — or unsettling — about his vision for America?
Brooks The modern G.O.P., like many populist-right parties across the West, is built around one idea: The progressive highly educated elites are awful; they serve themselves and condescend to everyone else. DeSantis has embraced this belief up and down the line. It’s served him well politically.
Coaston His belief is that America is a problem that must be solved by the state. He appears to believe that American companies, business and schools and universities were once deserving of freedoms and liberties, but some of them have failed (in his view) and thus must be punished until they submit to the will of the state. He reminds me of Woodrow Wilson, another former governor who believed in the perfectibility of the American populace by government intervention.
Cottle He is just as thirsty for power as Trump — and just as cruel and cynical in pursuit of that power. Fly planeloads of hapless migrants to Martha’s Vineyard? Make schoolteachers pawns in his culture war? Use the levers of government to threaten and punish those who say things he dislikes? It’s all good in DeSantis Land.
Douthat The thing that many of his critics loathe most about DeSantis, his willingness to use political power directly in cultural conflicts, represents the necessary future of conservatism in America. The line between politics and culture is always a blur, and a faction that enjoys political power without cultural power can’t serve its own voters without looking for ways to bring those scales closer to a balance. There are good and bad ways to do this, and DeSantis’s record is a mixture of the two. But the project is a normal part of democratic politics, not an authoritarian betrayal.
French Ron DeSantis has a Jekyll and Hyde persona. He ran an extremely MAGA first campaign for governor, then governed as Dr. Jekyll, squarely in the mainstream. Even his divisive Covid response was within the norms for Southern G.O.P. governors. Then, as his star rose, Mr. Hyde emerged, and he began to run to the edge of the populist G.O.P., trying to outflank Trump from the right. He’s now the avatar of a more authoritarian G.O.P., eager to wield state power against his ideological enemies, often in unconstitutional ways.
Goldberg Of all the Republican candidates, DeSantis is the most likely to govern as an American Viktor Orban. He’s been relentless and at times very effective — — despite his Twitter broadcast — in using the power of the state to persecute his enemies and impose his ideology. A DeSantis presidency would represent a more orderly and disciplined kind of authoritarianism than we saw with Trump.
Gray His vision is an America under dire threat from woke teachers and Disney. He’s spent his time as governor engaged in emotionally charged culture war by wielding executive power (with the assistance of a Republican legislature) — something that raised his profile in the conservative media.
Mangu-Ward I love to hear a candidate talk about freedom, but it would be more exciting if I believed his policies would match his rhetoric. For someone who has a lot to say about liberty, DeSantis has scored his biggest hits on the national scene in an overwhelmingly authoritarian vein — book bans, border walls, punishments for dissenting speech, restriction on the internal policies of private companies and more.
McCarthy Higher education wields enormous power over American life but is disproportionately the preserve of a single party and political outlook. DeSantis has a vision of greater representation, balance and intellectual diversity in Florida’s universities, and ultimately America’s. It’s an inspiring vision that shifts conflict from the culture, and all its private and public institutions, back to the realm of ideas. More ideological balance on campus means more of it in corporations, journalism and beyond.
Stephens DeSantis minus the bombast could be an effective governor, never more so than when he defied conventional wisdom and required public schools to open up in the fall of 2020. But his pinched view of democracy — whether it comes to freedom of speech, abortion rights or the importance of supporting Ukraine in its struggle for survival — disqualifies him as someone I could think of supporting.
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Imagine you’re a G.O.P. operative or campaign manager. What’s your elevator pitch for a DeSantis candidacy?
Brooks Many fast-growing states are run by Republicans — Texas, Georgia, Florida. Florida has passed New York in population, Miami is becoming a tech hub, times are good. We need a president who has a record of economic success, not someone a majority of Americans have already rejected.
Coaston He’s like Donald Trump with a plan.
Cottle He knows how to use theatrical jerkiness to own the libs without getting himself impeached.
Douthat He turned Florida a deeper shade of red. He knows how to govern. And nobody else who can win is walking through that door. If you don’t get behind DeSantis, you might just as well get behind Trump.
French He’s the only man who can unite every faction of the party. Anti-Trump or Trump-weary Republicans will vote for him despite their reservations, and he’s the only other candidate who can pry the populists from Trump’s grasp.
Goldberg He’s still the leading Trump alternative, so if you don’t want an insurrectionist loser who’s fighting off felony charges, it’s time to coalesce.
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Gray DeSantis has shown that he can run a state that attracts hundreds of thousands of new residents while at the same time making the MAGA right feel good.
Mangu-Ward DeSantis: He’s Trump, but also not Trump!
McCarthy Ron DeSantis is sternly disciplined, strikes an irresistible contrast between his own youth (44) and vigor and Joe Biden’s age (80) and infirmity, and can serve two consecutive terms if elected. He’s primed to be the most transformative president since Franklin Roosevelt.
Stephens To beat a creep takes an even bigger creep.
More scorecards from Times Opinion
Jane Coaston (@janecoaston) is a staff writer in Opinion.
Michelle Cottle (@mcottle) is a member of the Times’s editorial board.
Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) is a political reporter.
David Brooks, Ross Douthat, David French, Michelle Goldberg and Bret Stephens are Times columnists.
Katherine Mangu-Ward (@kmanguward) is the editor in chief of Reason magazine.
Daniel McCarthy (@ToryAnarchist) is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review.
NYTimes.com 05 25 2023