DeSantis faces a sobering lesson about ambition, hubris and big talk
When you are the governor of a state, you are big business.
Your whims can take on the force of law. The stroke of a pen can open or close schools, help or harm large industries and, in cases involving capital punishment, decide whether a person lives or dies.
A governor who wins an election in a large state, such as, say, California, Texas, or Florida, is even more powerful and can be that much more convinced of his genius and political prowess. (Who will undeceive them?)
Inevitably, Washington beckons, as it did freshly re-elected Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who formally and inauspiciously entered the Republican presidential race on Wednesday with a glitchy announcement on a Twitter live stream.
As if on schedule, DeSantis learned a lesson other great governors quickly learned: Despite their high self-esteem, there’s absolutely no such thing as running for president.
And what’s more, all the glory they’ve reveled in back home doesn’t promise success once they cross state lines to seek the White House.
“It’s a totally elevated experience unlike any other in the political world,” said Don Sipple, who worked on the re-election campaign for Pete Wilson, then governor of California, in 1994 and loser in 1996 at the presidency. “The scrutiny, the magnification of errors. It’s a torture test.
Dave Carney accepted. He helped spearhead Rick Perry’s career as the longest-serving governor in Texas history and suffered from his failed White House bid in 2012.
“It’s not harder,” Carney said. “It’s not just about taking the card and doubling it or tripling it or quadrupling it. It’s a different rhythm. And it’s a different set of questions” in state after state after state.
None of this is to say that DeSantis can’t or won’t be the Republican nominee in 2024, or that he will become the nation’s 47th president.
He has stumbled over the past few months, flaunting his foreign policy inexperience and leaning even more aggressively into his wicked vendetta with Disney, one of Florida’s largest and most important employers.
More importantly, DeSantis’ forays into the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire — and the expectation to see me, smell me, touch me from voters there — revealed a candidate with the social skills. of a hermit and the charisma of a damp cardboard box.
“Think of a race for the presidency as a kind of obstacle course, its path strewn with obstacles of all kinds.
Different rules in each state for collecting delegates. Different rules for being on the ballot. Different political figures in need of care and care. And, not least, the local concerns and cultural quirks that can easily trip up those arriving uninitiated.
“There are parochialisms that are at play in a presidential contest that you don’t encounter in a state contest,” Sipple said.
In Missouri, for example, where he worked on several campaigns, the pronunciation of place matters a lot to some people.
“Those in the remote rural areas of the state think it should be ‘Missou-rah,'” Sipple explained. Elsewhere, residents “think it should be ‘Missour-ee.’ And they’ll give you a discount if you’re wrong.
And woe to the candidates who visit Nevada, one of the top early voting states, and tell the public how happy they are to be in Ne-VAH-duh.
Sipple, who helped George W. Bush win his first term as governor of Texas in 1994, said the only thing success in a great state does “is allow you to compete at a higher level than you never done before”.
Or to put it in a way DeSantis, a college baseball star at Yale, might appreciate: Winning a landslide in Florida is kind of like being a triple-A phenom in minor league baseball. It’s impressive. But you still haven’t proven you can pitch in the big leagues.
That’s the test DeSantis will face in the weeks and months to come.
Mark Z. Barabak is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
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