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NY Post
New York Post
2 Sep 2023


NextImg:Ron DeSantis did what he does best during Hurricane Idalia: Govern

“It is an ill wind that blows no man to good,” as the proverb says. In the case of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, one might add a much-abused adverb: literally. 

Hurricane Idalia made landfall in Florida this week, bad news for everybody living in Florida except for one man: Ron DeSantis, who in the past has shown that this sort of everyday executive work — governor stuff — is something that he is pretty good at. 

Taking time off from his recent political shtick, DeSantis was on the phone with President Biden while members of his administration were negotiating with their federal counterparts to get FEMA to pick up a larger share of the recovery costs than the usual 75 percent.

Some 40,000 utility workers were mobilized to get the lights back on where powerlines were down.

Florida’s post-hurricane work has been methodical and effective. (Oh, and the Governor’s Mansion was almost destroyed by a falling oak tree.)

An old-growth oak tree split in half near the Governor’s Residence in Tallahassee, Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia.
Twitter/@CaseyDeSantis

When Hurricane Dorian hit Florida in 2019, DeSantis won praise from both sides of the aisle for the state government’s capable and confident handling of the emergency.

“This is the way it’s supposed to be,” said Craig Fugate, who served as Florida emergency management director under Republican Jeb Bush and as head of FEMA under Barack Obama.

Observers pointed to the implicit — and sometimes explicit — comparison between DeSantis’ effective, collaborative style and predecessor Rick Scott’s less celebrated top-down approach. 

DeSantis and his challengers at the Republic debate last week.

DeSantis and his challengers at the Republic debate last week.
Getty Images

Americans say they like electing governors as president.

The executive experience gained in running a big state such as Florida, Texas, or California offers as much in the way of real-world preparation for the presidency as one can get.

But, in practice, we don’t elect governors all that often.

There was a run of them from Jimmy Carter through George W. Bush — broken only by Gov. Bush’s father, whose pre-presidency résumé — war hero, congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, CIA director, vice president — was as good as it gets.

But, before Carter, the last governor to be elected president was Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 and before him, you have to go back to Calvin Coolidge in 1922. 

It is particularly difficult in our time for Republican governors to advance because governors have to actually do things, often in states in which there is significant Democratic political power necessitating broad bipartisan compromise.

In a GOP that today demands not so much ideological purity as raw partisan loyalty, the bipartisan nature of gubernatorial work can be a burden. 

DeSantis was widely panned for his flop of a campaign announcement on X.

DeSantis was widely panned for his flop of a campaign announcement on X (formerly known as Twitter).
Twitter account of Ron Desantis/AFP via Getty Images

Even as recently as last week’s GOP presidential debate, Chris Christie was getting grief (from Vivek Ramaswamy, in this case) for having enthusiastically greeted President Barack Obama when he visited New Jersey to offer assistance after Hurricane Sandy back in 2012.

The people of New Jersey were better off for Governor Christie’s ability to work across the aisle in their interest, but some Republicans still are bitter about a tarmac greeting that would have been, in normal times, utterly normal. 

New Jersey is tough for a Republican.

It is a little easier for DeSantis in Florida, where Democrats have not controlled either house of the state legislature since the 1990s.

But rather than emphasize his general administrative competence, DeSantis has put on the cape of a right-wing culture warrior, clumsily launching his presidential bid with Elon Musk on a glitchy Twitter platform, showing off his relative lack of competency on foreign policy (calling the Russian invasion of Ukraine a “territorial dispute” for the benefit of Tucker Carlson’s audience and then walking it back) and making truly risible threats to invade Mexico with special-forces units to go after drug cartels — “on Day One!” — if elected president. 

During the Republican debate last week, Chris Christie was attacked by his rivals for warmly welcoming then-Pres. Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

During the Republican debate last week, Chris Christie was attacked by his rivals for warmly welcoming then-Pres. Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
AFP via Getty Images

That DeSantis is a political calculator is a fact not lost on anyone who has watched his career—least of all on his admirers and friends.

Judging by his campaign so far, he will pretend to be whatever it is Republican primary voters want him to be, no matter how silly or servile it makes him look. 

The “real” DeSantis, his supporters say, is the details-oriented policy wonk, while the culture-war bomb-thrower is just the guy he plays on television.

But DeSantis has calculated that Republican primary voters do not care about being good at governor stuff nearly as much as they care about sticking it to the Democrats on Facebook or the platform formerly known as Twitter — and he may be correct. But he is not entirely convincing in the role, which may be why his campaign is if the polls are to be believed, in such dire trouble. 

While DeSantis may elicit lots of criticism on the national level, his governing style at home has been applauded as more collaborative and effective than his predecessor, Rick Scott (above).

While DeSantis may elicit lots of criticism on the national level, his governing style at home has been applauded as more collaborative and effective than his predecessor, Rick Scott (above).
AP

DeSantis the good governor might make a good president, but that guy isn’t in the race: DeSantis the right-wing zealot and brawler is running for president, and not having much luck at it.

DeSantis is in the unfortunate position of trying to sell de-Trumped Trumpism to Republican primary voters who don’t particularly want their Trumpism de-Trumped.

But Hurricane Idalia presented that other DeSantis — the one whose main presidential credential is being good at the very important job he already has — a chance to shine.

Whether DeSantis is a capable enough politician to make the most of that remains an open question. So is whether Republicans are inclined to be impressed by a display of mere good governance. 

It is tempting to say, “Will the real Ron DeSantis please stand up?” But it might be just as good if the phony one sat down — and remained seated. 

Kevin D. Williamson is a national correspondent for The Dispatch.