Donald Trump had better watch out. Ron DeSantis just got a lot stronger.

The growing tension between Republican kingmaker and former protégé is not new. Both are rumored to be seeking the 2024 presidential nomination, and Trump is expected to announce his candidacy soon.

APTOPIX Election 2022 Florida Governor

Incumbent Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis holds his son Mason on Tuesday as he celebrates winning reelection, at an election night party in Tampa, Fla. Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

In the Tuesday elections, DeSantis reigned supreme, securing a historic win and carrying Democratic stronghold Miami-Dade County. That’s no small feat in Florida. But what makes DeSantis a threat to Trump isn’t only his near 20-point victory. It’s also that Trump had a less stellar night.

Trump wasn’t on the ballot but he made the midterm elections about him, anyway, when he put his finger on the scale to support his loyalists. Indeed, some of them won. But his hand-picked candidates for U.S. Senate and governor in pivotal states like Pennsylvania, Georgia and Michigan were under-performing. The much-vaunted “red wave” looked more like a ripple.

Florida, on the other hand, saw a red tsunami. Whether that was thanks to DeSantis, Trump, voter concern about inflation or Democratic ineptitude will be debated over the coming weeks. But DeSantis emerged as the star of Tuesday night with plenty of bragging rights.

DeSantis has already been telling wealthy donors he’s the policy-minded alternative to Trump who also speaks the language of the MAGA base. Trump remains the leader of the Republican Party and DeSantis will have to make a calculation on whether it’s wise to jump into the 2024 race and take on the pugilistic former president.


And DeSantis has weaknesses. He’s good at delivering bombastic statements in his news conferences but he’s not much for more intimate, retail politics and he’s not an experienced debater like Trump. DeSantis comes off as tense and uncomfortable on the debate stage.

He is also just 44, with plenty of time to run for president – though he may decide to capitalize on this undeniable political upswing.

It’s not just DeSantis’ decisive victory that sets him apart. It’s how he won, and how that might translate into victories for Republicans elsewhere – with the caveat that what happens in Florida doesn’t always translate in other states.

DeSantis built on Trump’s 2020 inroads with Hispanic voters, a crucial bloc of swing voters. He won roughly 65% of the vote in majority Hispanic precincts in Miami-Dade, a 16-point improvement from his 2018 performance. He secured the largest margin any Republican candidate for governor has achieved in the county in at least the past 40 years.

Trump lost reelection in the middle of a pandemic he dismissed. DeSantis’ approach to COVID-19 was a risk but it paid off. He reopened the economy and schools early. Like Trump, he showed little regard for the 82,000 Floridians who died from the virus but he became a hero to many Floridians and people from other states who grew tired of lockdowns and school closures. His courtship of anti-vaxxers and attacks on public health experts didn’t backfire.

Trump recognizes the threat DeSantis represents. He held a Miami rally for Sen. Marco Rubio from which DeSantis was conspicuously absent. The ex-president coined a derogatory nickname for the governor: “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

Perhaps Trump understands that a more disciplined, less gaffe-prone version of himself could be his Achilles heel. DeSantis carries the Trump essence in a more statesman-like package. He has a better chance of winning back moderate conservatives and independents who want a forceful leader but are turned off by Trump’s baggage. DeSantis would first have to survive a bloody primary against Trump.

Tuesday’s election results – that 20-point win, that popularity with Hispanic voters – leave DeSantis in a strong position. For now, anyway, it looks as though the student has become better at winning elections than the teacher.

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