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Ron DeSantis

If DeSantis loses to Trump, is Florida in for perpetual presidential politics?

If the DeSantis campaign is following that traditional Florida political trajectory – still a big if – what's a former presidential up-and-comer to do when he's no longer up and coming?

Mark Lane
Opinion columnist

The Florida Legislature just finished a rare foreign affairs-oriented special session. Legislators and gave Gov. Ron DeSantis needed in the buildup to January’s Iowa presidential caucuses.

Lately, all levels of government in Florida are straining to boost the DeSantis campaign, from the Legislature’s special session to local school boards voting on the latest book removals.

But here’s a thought: What if Gov. Ron DeSantis comes in a distant second or even third in the Iowa presidential caucuses, has meh showings in early primary states, then drops out of the race after coming in second in his home state’s Republican presidential primary in March? What would the next two years of his governorship be like?

suggests this would hardly be a shocking series of events.

Would DeSantis revert to being a normal governor concerned with state issues or would he need to be an even more aggressive culture warrior so he might stay in the news for a 2028 presidential run? Meanwhile, it’s easy to detect the first signs of weariness among Florida Republican lawmakers at the prospect of continuing to march in formation for the DeSantis campaign.

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by NBC News, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) ORG XMIT: FLRB401

At a recent Republican gathering, (including Deltona’s controversial Rep. Webster Barnaby) .

Granted, this still leaves more than 150 Florida legislators who have not endorsed Trump, but taken with Trump endorsements of U.S. Sen. Rick Scott and most Florida Republican members of Congress (including Volusia area Reps. Michael Waltz and Cory Mills), the first cracks are showing.

DeSantis campaign isn't dead – yet. But Florida hasn't produced a president.

I’m not pronouncing the governor’s 2024 candidacy dead. A lot can happen. It would be surprising if nothing surprising happens next year. Still, if the past is prologue, it has not escaped notice that no successful presidential candidate or even vice-presidential candidate has yet to emerge from Florida’s political scene.

And here, let us quote the words of A.J. Liebling, a media critic before there was such a thing, who in the 1960s wrote, “Southern political personalities, like sweet corn, travel badly. They lose flavor every 100 yards away from the patch.”

DeSantis could be fresh start for GOP:Republicans, if you don't want to keep losing, pay attention to what voters are telling you

By the time they roll into New Hampshire, many a mile from the home patch, they get stale, even mushy. Primary voters wearing hats with earflaps and puffy coats wonder what all the fuss had been about down in Margaritaville.

Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bob Graham, Reubin Askew ... all men with excellent resumes, all Florida political success stories, somehow never caught fire when they tried to take their acts on the road. I had a particular fondness for Graham, but people from out-of-state and the national political media swiftly found him oddball and puzzling when he was just being the good ol’ Bob Graham we all know.

Bush bored out-of-state primary voters when, like him or not, back home, he hardly seemed dull or “low energy,” as Trump tagged him. His governorship might have even benefitted from turning down the energy a notch.

Rubio came across better on TV than any recent Florida House speaker. It quickly turned out, though, that wasn’t actually such a high bar to clear.

DeSantis can't win MAGA faithful from Trump

And now Florida Republicans, who loved DeSantis because he was Trump-endorsed and could talk just as mean as his sponsor, are surprised so many out-of-state Republicans see little reason to dump the original for the new, improved version. The classic act for the tribute band, as it were. DeSantis was supposed to be Trump without the baggage, yet to the MAGA faithful, the baggage never mattered or was just fake news.

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But if the DeSantis campaign is following that traditional Florida political trajectory – still a big if – what’s a former presidential up-and-comer to do when he’s no longer up and coming? There have been many second acts in American presidential politics from Richard Nixon to Grover Cleveland, but they tend to be the exceptions.

Despite this discouraging history, once a politician sees a president in the mirror, the feeling seldom evaporates. That’s why so much of the U.S. Senate is populated by people who know they would be excellent leaders of the free world.

Still, I hold out hope that all Florida politics won’t be mired in an unending DeSantis-for-president campaign and war on woke over the next several years. That could get tedious long before the 2028 Iowa caucuses are tabulated and is no recipe for effective governance on issues that have some actual effect on Floridians’ daily lives.

Mark Lane

Mark Lane is a columnist at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, where this column first published. Reach him via email atmlanewrites@gmail.com.

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