Politics Opinion: The future of the GOP isn't about Ron DeSantis or Glenn Youngkin
Ron DeSantis just gave his first 2024 speech
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is widely being discussed as a potential 2024 candidate for Republicans -- and he's doing little to knock down that chatter. And, his state of the state speech on Tuesday gave us all a preview of how DeSantis would run if he runs. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images MIAMI, FLORIDA - JULY 13: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis takes part in a roundtable discussion about the uprising in Cuba at the American Museum of the Cuba Diaspora on July 13, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Thousands of people took to the streets in Cuba on Sunday to protest against the government.
A year after Donald Trump left the White House and with the 2022 midterms looming, much of the Republican Party has its sights on what, and who, comes next. Though Trump is still very much in the picture -- hishad strong back-on-the-campaign-trail vibes -- two Republican governors (and the states they represent) have emerged as possible answers to these GOP questions: Virginia's Glenn Youngkin and Florida's Ron DeSantis.
But as debates continue about the party's post-Trump future, it will be critical to see past conventional political labels -- lest they conceal the true threats imperiling American democracy.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he should have spoken out 'much louder' about Trump's stay-at-home order when COVID-19 first emerged
"I never thought in February, early March that [COVID-19] would lead to locking down the country," DeSantis said."I never thought in February, early March that [COVID-19] would lead to locking down the country," DeSantis told the hosts of the podcast. "I just didn't. I didn't think that was on the radar.
Youngkin, who won in a state that's been reliably blue in recent years, has emerged as the party's, a Republican who kept Trump at arms' length during his campaign and avoided talking about issues like abortion and guns. DeSantis, on the other hand, has positioned himself as Trump's , picking up Trump's trigger-the-libs patois and his conspiracy-driven grievance politics.
Not that the Trump mimicry has earned DeSantis the former president's favor. In the past few weeks,have been taking potshots at each other, with Trump indirectly calling DeSantis "gutless" for refusing to say he got the booster, and DeSantis suggesting Trump botched the early pandemic response.
Yet this framing of the two men as representing two divergent paths forward for the GOP misses the mark. For one, it mistakes rhetoric for substance: on core issues, there is very little daylight between Youngkin and DeSantis. And evaluating Republican candidates based on how they compare to Trump overlooks the bigger picture. Namely, regardless of how the candidates sound, they are all part of the same project: empowering a distinctly anti-democratic Republican Party.
Psaki claps back at Youngkin over school mask mandates
White House press secretary Jen Psaki weighed into Virginia's debate over school mask mandates on Sunday, after newly sworn-in Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) criticized a school district that pledged to flout his bid to make masking optional.Youngkin's executive order allows parents to opt their children out of any mask mandates at schools. Responding to Arlington Public Schools saying masks would still be required in schools and on buses, Youngkin accused the district of failing to listen to "parents.
The tendency to see the Republican Party as a body organized by a split between moderates and conservatives goes back decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, the moderate-conservative rift described a set of substantial ideological differences between prominent Republican officeholders.
Moderates like New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Michigan Gov. George Romney supported robust social safety-net programs, feminism and advances in civil rights. Conservatives like Sen. Barry Goldwater wanted to dramatically roll back the federal government's role in the economy and in civil rights protections. For more than a decade those fights roiled the party, but by the late 1970s, the conservatives had won a decisive victory, cemented in 1980 by the election of Ronald Reagan.
By the 1990s, the party had moved dramatically to the right, and the divisions were no longer about ideology but about absolutism. After President George H. W. Bush failed to live up to his "no new taxes" pledge, which doomed him within the increasingly conservative Republican Party, the appetite for compromise shrank dramatically. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who rose to power on a wave of uncompromising conservatism, was soon outflanked on his right by even more absolutist members, who constantly attacked him for working with President Bill Clinton on anything.
Ron DeSantis Welcomes You to Florida, America's New Texas | Opinion
There is a sense here in Florida that this place is the future.Considering also the romantic notions that have attached to that state since films began to romanticize the Wild West over the last century, it's remarkable that Texas' once-nonpareil position in the conservative imagination has been displaced so quickly—and by a place that was long thought of as a blue-leaning swing state.
None of this made Gingrich a moderate, any more than the Sen. John McCain's 2017 vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act made him one. But even as the Republican caucus moved further and further right, the labels "moderate" and "conservative" shifted with it, concealing the party's growing radicalism.
That same language is being used to describe the future directions for the Republican Party: the moderate path of Youngkin versus the more conservative path of DeSantis. Youngkin has been widely praised for finding a way to appeal to the White suburbanites turned off by Trump's coarseness, putting together a coalition that won in a state that has rapidly turned blue in recent years (and that Biden won).
DeSantis, meanwhile, governs in a once-swing,, and his rallies have the sort of energy -- raw and rowdy -- that used to accompany Trump's. That divergence has left some wondering if voters turn away from Trump and choose more Youngkins, or double down and become the party of DeSantis?
But these frameworks -- moderate or conservative, Trump-like or Trump-avoidant -- obscure much more than they reveal. First, there is no political substance to the moderate/conservative divide anymore. Youngkin is no moderate. On his first day in office, he issued an executive order. Though he stopped talking about abortion during the general election, he s at 20 weeks and pledged to "go on offense" on the issue once elected. And while he acknowledges Joe Biden's legitimacy as president, he has also played into the big lie about the 2020 election, vote audits in Virginia, where Biden won handily.
Hundreds of Virginia Schools Rebel Against Glenn Youngkin, Refuse To Lift Mask Mandate
Arlington Public Schools said it would make decisions that "prioritize the health, safety and wellbeing" of students.Youngkin, a Republican, issued an order on Saturday that effectively allows parents to exempt their children from mask requirements imposed by schools, one of his first acts as governor.
He plays culture war with Covid and education rather than abortion and guns, but his policy stances on all those issues are deeply conservative. If there is a moderate in today's Republican Party -- and it's not clear there is -- they do not represent its future.
Likewise, the focus on how similar candidates are to Trump centers almost entirely on personality: how crass and outrageous and brazenly untruthful a candidate can be. Trump certainly opened the door for a new level of shamelessness and conspiracy in politics, and there are plenty of imitators eager to do the same. DeSantis has refined the act some, dog-whistling his outrageousness withof the chant "Let's Go Brandon" (a coded way of saying "f*** Joe Biden").
Yet while those comparisons with Trump are interesting, they simply aren't that important. DeSantis and Youngkin both have worked to adapt to Trumpism, to find ways to tap into the excitement Trump arouses in their own way, something nearly every Republican candidate will do in the next few election cycles. But the real question we should be using to assess these candidates is not the moderation of their tone or their relationship to Trump -- it's their dedication to democracy.
In Republican politics these days, that dedication is increasingly rare. Calls for election audits, attempts to strip power from voters, threats of future insurrections -- all have been defining features of Republican politics in the past year since Trump left office. Which is why, when it comes to discussions of the future of the Republican Party and who might lead it after Trump, the main question we should all be asking is about the candidate's relationship to democracy. Are they actively working to undermine it? Are they playing along with the baroque schemes and conspiracies of the antidemocratic right? Are they speaking out forcefully against the insurrection and efforts to undermine future elections?
Where Republicans land on those questions will determine not only the future of the Republican Party, but the future of the republic itself.
Youngkin faces new lawsuit as Virginia mask order kicks in .
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin was facing a new legal challenge over his executive action that aimed to let parents opt out of school mask mandates as his order took effect Monday. Youngkin issued the order as one of his first acts after being sworn in as governor Jan. 15, and confusion has swirled over the implications since then. Some districts have interpreted the order as being at odds with a state law that deals with COVID-19 mitigation in schools and have opted to keep pre-existing mask mandates in place for students.