In a New York Times op-ed, Rich Lowry does an okay job of explaining Ron DeSantis's appeal to right-wing voters, though he seems locked into a Republican taxonomy that doesn't make much sense in the real world, even though everyone in the media takes it very, very seriously. According to this taxonomy, there are Trump Republicans and there are pre-Trump Republicans; some right-leading commentators and most commentators who aren't on the right hope there are post-Trump Republicans. So in which category does DeSantis fall, according to Lowry?
If any of Mr. DeSantis’s Republican admirers are hoping he will chart a path back to the pre-2016 party, they’ll probably be disappointed. Instead, the governor is a leader in a new, Trump-inflected party, but without the character flaws and baggage of the former president.
(DeSantis appears to lack some of Trump's character flaws -- he's not compulsively corrupt or all-consumingly narcissistic -- although he's as steeped in rage and resentment as Trump is.)
Lowry says DeSantis is "Trump-inflected," so he doesn't represent a return to a time before Trump. However, a few paragraphs later, Lowry tells us:
For all the talk of how Trumpy Mr. DeSantis is, ... there is much about him that recalls the party’s pre-Trump era. He was elected to Congress as a Tea Party conservative in 2012, and he is fond of boasting that Florida’s budget is roughly half the size of New York’s even though his state is more populous. He’s proud and protective of Florida’s status as a low-tax state.
He’s been a highly committed advocate of expanding charter schools and scholarship programs to help families send their children to private schools. He’s firmly anti-regulation....
Indeed, any movement conservative sealed in a time capsule circa 1984 and emerging today would recognize Mr. DeSantis as a more or less standard Sunbelt Republican — a fiscal conservative wooing people and businesses to his state based on a favorable economic climate who is also anti-elitist, socially conservative and eager to reform public schools.
None of this is new. What stands out as a true departure is Mr. DeSantis’s willingness to use government power in the culture war.
DeSantis fights with educators, with Disney, with Big Tech. To Lowry, and to readers who believe in the Trump-vs.-pre-Trump taxonomy, this raises a question:
How can a limited-government Tea Party Republican like Mr. DeSantis have become comfortable with this use of government? For that matter, how is it that so many Tea Party types moved so easily toward Trumpist populism?
The key, I think, is that for many people on the right, a libertarian-oriented politics was largely a way to register opposition to the mandarins who have an outsized influence on our public life. And it turns out that populism is an even more pungent way to register this opposition....
If Florida’s culture-war initiatives succeed, the education establishment in the state will not mindlessly absorb the latest left-wing fad. Corporations will be warier of wading into hot-button social fights.
What Lowry makes clear here -- even though he clearly doesn't understand it herself -- is that it's all the same Republicanism. DeSantis is fighting the same old culture wars more viciously, building on Trump's nastiness. It's always a fight against modernity and liberalism and "elitists" (who are, somehow, never the right-leaning billionaires who fund GOP campaigns). It's always anti-"big government" unless, say, you want an abortion; now that's being extended to a crackdown on your access to gender-affirming meds, or your right to take a book with gay themes out of the school library.
The goal has always been to crush liberalism. The only difference between now and the pre-Trump era is that Republicans have made further progress on the Long March. They've gerrymandered more state legislatures. They've tailored campaign finance to their specifications and been given the go-ahead to restrict voting rights as they please. They have unquestioned control the Supreme Court. They've learned from Trump that they pay no price for abandoning any pretense of empathy or compassion for people who aren't in their coalition. And they face an increasingly weakened Democratic Party that doesn't know how to fight back.
That's the only real difference between the time before Trump and now: Republicans are closer to victory.
Published with permission of No More Mr. Nice Blog