The presidential race is entering a new phase. Here’s who’s best.
Joe Biden and Ron DeSantis
While many Trump-backed Republican candidates faltered mid-term, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (whom Trump endorsed in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, as he will surely remind us many times over the coming months ) won re-election by a ridiculous 19 points. That’s the widest margin for a Florida gubernatorial victory in 40 years, just four years after DeSantis survived a nail-biter.
Along the way, his national profile has steadily grown. one december the wall street journal polling pegged DeSantis’ name identification at 82%, just two points behind former Vice President Mike Pence. With more recognition came more support. Three pollsters — POLITICO/Morning Consult, Harvard-Harris and YouGov — sampled Republican primary voters both at the start of the year and after the midterms. In those polls, DeSantis’ average level of support nearly doubled, from 16.3 to 30.7 percent. In several post-midterm surveys testing the Trump-DeSantis two-sided matchups among Republican registered voters, DeSantis has the advantage, with leads ranging from two to 23 points.
DeSantis accomplished these feats with Trump-like pugnacity combined with unparalleled ruthlessness and uncompromising ideology. He revoked tax and zoning benefits from one of the state’s biggest cash cows – the Walt Disney Company – for criticizing its new law that effectively banned discussion of the sexual orientation and identity of gender from kindergarten to third grade. He used taxpayer money to lure Venezuelan refugees to Texas on a plane to Martha’s Vineyard to alter blue state liberals and fired an elected Democratic county prosecutor who signed a pledge not to prosecute abortion cases under DeSantis’ new 15-week ban. (DeSantis almost totally eclipsed fellow Republican mega-governor and potential presidential candidate Greg Abbott of Texas, despite the fact that Abbott ferried far more migrants north than DeSantis and enacted a far more sweeping ban on ‘abortion.)
Most central to DeSantis’ personality is his anti-expert attitude towards Covid-19. “We had to choose freedom over faucism in the state of Florida,” he says in a well-rehearsed stump speech. It presents “the Free State of Florida” as a model for the country, leaning heavily on its rejection of pandemic vaccine and mask mandates. Perhaps sensing an opening in veering to the right of Trump, he moderated a roundtable of vaccine skeptics this month in which he called for a grand jury investigation into alleged « wrongdoing » by vaccine makers. vaccines, and announced the planned formation of a « Public Health Integrity Committee » designed to challenge CDC guidelines. DeSantis has been regularly corrected by fact-checking reporters for his statements about vaccines, but the stance clearly appeals to some rank-and-file GOP members.
He also widened the Republican Party’s divide between culture-warring conservatives and culture-aware business leaders, but portraying himself as an « anti-revival » warrior didn’t stop him from building a vast network of donors. His $202 million gain is the highest on record for a gubernatorial election cycle, even after adjusting for inflation (excluding self-funded multi-millionaires). He drowned his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist in cash, spending more than four to one on him – and he still has around $70 million left to use for a presidential campaign, giving him a huge head start on the most other potential rivals.
DeSantis may have repainted Florida from purple to red, but Biden adopted a medium-term strategy that kept a lot more blue on the map than most people thought possible.
Six months ago, Biden was widely assumed to be a deadweight, leading Democrats into 2022 and beyond. In June, The New York Times reported a story on “Democratic Whispers” urging Biden not to run for re-election. Over the next few days, the the wall street journal published a similar article, and Atlantic published « Why Biden Shouldn’t Run in 2024 » by Beltway columnist Mark Leibovich. These articles appeared when the endorsement of Biden’s work in the Really clear policy the average had fallen below 40% (before hitting a low of 36.8% in late July), his domestic agenda had been stalled for months, and he gave an extremely rambling interview performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
The low point has passed. Biden signed a flurry of bills this summer. He ended the fall campaign with two scorching speeches warning that democracy itself is under threat from Trump’s « MAGA » movement, helping to elevate the issue in the minds of voters and arguably contributing to the defeat of many. Holocaust deniers. It had the best midterm performance by a presidential party since George W. Bush’s Republicans in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Then he capped off the year by negotiating the release of women’s basketball star Brittney Griner from a Russian penal colony and signing legislation codifying same-sex marriage rights.
Now the « don’t run » chatter has died down. In recent polls by USA Today/Ipsos and Quinnipiac University, the majority of Democrats want Biden to run for re-election, which was not the case in either poll before midterm (although a December CNN poll has consistently shown a majority of Democrats against a Biden race). Newsom, after retiring from the 2024 mix, told POLITICO, « I hope he runs, I will be supporting him enthusiastically. » Last month, outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal publicly urged Biden to run again.
The talk of retirement has not completely disappeared. You can still find columnists pleading with Biden to hang him up. But the political cost of a bold primary challenge has risen. Without a large chorus of Democratic officials publicly calling on Biden to step down, any Democrat who ultimately wants to make it to the Oval Office needs to think twice before showing up too soon. Any decision perceived as dividing the party and harming its chances in the general election could permanently harm its future prospects.
Biden’s biggest political achievement this year is his run in the 2024 general election. In June and July, Biden trailed Trump in most polls (although he fared better against DeSantis). In eight post-midterm polls of registered voters, Biden holds an average lead of 3.6 points over Trump and is exactly tied with DeSantis. (A ninth survey, from The Wall Street Journal, gave Biden two points over Trump, but didn’t ask about a race against DeSantis.) If in 2023 Biden sinks in the polls, Democratic panic could increase to the same extent. But in 2022, the incumbent held firm.