Two years ago, Florida was the first state to suggest that things had gone horribly wrong for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, and that an upset of historic proportions was in the works. On Tuesday, Florida delivered yet another verdict on the state of American politics: Trumpism is alive and well in 2018.
That judgment came in the form of a victory for Ron DeSantis, the Trump-loving Republican candidate for Florida governor. CNN called the race for DeSantis at 11 o’clock Eastern on Tuesday. The ex-GOP congressman had a lead of 79,000 votes with 99 percent of precincts reporting, barely edging out Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee who was vying to be the first black governor in Florida’s 173-year history.
Soon after DeSantis was named the winner, President Trump declared the night a “tremendous success” for him:
Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
DeSantis, a 40-year-old former JAG attorney elected to three terms in Congress before resigning this summer, didn’t run on any particularly interesting or novel policies. He had no specific vision for the future. There was no memorable slogan, no bracing oratory or larger appeal to history. He ran as one thing: Donald Trump’s mini-me.
Recall his most memorable TV ad, titled “Casey,” a 30-second mindfuck of a spot that featured DeSantis’ wife lauding her husband’s parenting skills. The ad showed DeSantis’ young daughter making a wall out of toy blocks while he looked on fondly and said, “Build the wall!”; DeSantis reading one of Trump’s books to his daughter as the words “pitbull Trump defender” flashed onscreen; and DeSantis teaching his daughter to talk using a “Make America Great Again” yard sign. “People say Ron’s all Trump,” his wife said at the end, “but he is so much more.”
Indeed, DeSantis’ run for governor was little more than an experiment in whether unfiltered Trumpism could win without Trump himself on the ballot. That was one of the larger themes of these midterm elections, and nowhere was it more stark than in the Florida governor’s race and specifically in DeSantis’ candidacy.
DeSantis was about as close to a Trump clone as you might find. He played footsie with white nationalists. He waffled when forced to condemn the racist fury of his supporters. Sometimes his racism was glaringly obvious, like when he went on Fox News and used the phrase “monkey this up” when referring to Gillum’s progressive agenda. That dog whistle was so loud even Fox News called him out on it.
Naturally, President Trump gave DeSantis his full-throated support. In fact, Trump endorsed DeSantis twice during the 2018 campaign. The first, in December 2017, elevated DeSantis from an also-ran to the presumptive (and later actual) nominee. This past summer, Trump tweeted again about DeSantis during the general election, gushing over his loyal foot soldier. “Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes – Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!”
Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida. Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes – Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2018
The president’s approval rating may be underwater, but candidates like DeSantis took their cues from Trump and rode a wave of fear-stoking, race-baiting, chest-beating nationalism to victory on Election Day. DeSantis’ campaign handed out photos of the candidate seated next to Trump on Air Force One and took every opportunity it could to play up the connection between them. DeSantis bet on the #MAGA faithful, and the #MAGA faithful responded in kind. As Trump did in 2016, DeSantis ran up big margins of victory in rural counties and performed just well enough in the state’s cities and suburbs to eke out a victory.
Floridians will now get a firsthand view of what a #MAGA governor looks like.