After midterms, Republicans gear up for 2024

Ron DeSantis – the hard-right governor of Florida – was re-elected by a landslide, making him the favorite to challenge Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination

Republican gubernatorial candidate for Florida Ron DeSantis holds his daughter Mamie during an election night watch party at the Convention Center in Tampa, Florida.
Republican gubernatorial candidate for Florida Ron DeSantis holds his daughter Mamie during an election night watch party at the Convention Center in Tampa, Florida.GIORGIO VIERA (AFP)

On Tuesday, November 8, while Republicans only managed to make modest gains in the House and Senate, Florida was a bright spot on the electoral map. Governor Ron DeSantis was re-elected with nearly 60% of the vote, even managing to become the first Republican gubernatorial candidate to win Miami-Dade county in over two decades. Senator Marco Rubio was also re-elected with the support of many Latinos in South Florida – although DeSantis secured a much more impressive victory across the state.

While several Trump-endorsed candidates lost their elections around the country, DeSantis struck out on his own. In 2018, then-president Donald Trump campaigned hard for him: he won by a tiny margin of only 42,000 votes. However, in 2022 – with Trump ignoring him completely, likely sensing competition – DeSantis crushed former governor Charlie Crist by more than 1.5 million votes. He also won 57% of the Hispanic vote, despite recent stunts that saw him fly Venezuelan migrant families out of Florida and deposit them in the Northeastern US states.

It is no secret that the 44-year-old DeSantis – a veteran and Harvard-educated lawyer – has his eye on the White House. He has repeatedly engaged in culture wars – from shunning pandemic restrictions to passing anti-LGBTQ+ policies for schools – in a successful attempt to capture the national spotlight. During his re-election campaign, he even refused to promise that he would complete a four-year term as governor, implying that he plans to interrupt his tenure to seek higher office. Voters didn’t seem to mind.

Trump was hoping for a “red wave” on Tuesday night, which would have bolstered his 2024 presidential aspirations. However, the Democratic Party held its own, even with President Joe Biden hampered by low approval ratings and the electorate deeply worried about rising inflation and crime.

The Republicans tried to make the 2022 midterms a referendum on Biden. In the end, they likely will only manage to just barely win the House of Representatives. To break a tie with Democrats in the Senate, controversial former NFL player Herschel Walker will need to win a runoff election in Georgia on December 6. His odds aren’t good, given a series of allegations made against him involving violence against women.

In Pennsylvania – the state where Biden was born – Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman managed to defeat TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz – Trump’s hand-picked candidate – despite experiencing a stroke just a few months ago. This Democratic gain in a major swing state was a huge blow to Republican aspirations to control the Senate. It also showed that Trumpism doesn’t always play well in the working-class Rust Belt – a key region for presidential elections.

The fact that Democrats averted disaster on Tuesday has perhaps bolstered Biden’s ambition to seek a second term in 2024. If he were to run and win, he would be 82-years-old upon taking office in January 2025 – something that has caused a lot of concern in his party. Several Democratic Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates repeatedly distanced themselves from Biden over the course of the 2022 campaign, with some even outright saying that they didn’t want him to run again. This was done so that they could defeat Republicans in tight races. Some sources close to Biden note that he would be willing to step aside, but only if Trump is not the Republican nominee. He feels that he is the only person who can defeat the former president in a general election, as he proved in 2020 (although Trump never conceded).

It is expected that Trump will announce his 2024 presidential race from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida next week. Apparently, he wanted to announce his candidacy several days ago, but was dissuaded by Republican leadership – they warned him that such a move would spark higher turnout among Democratic-leaning in the midterms.

There are several legal issues standing in the way of Trump seeking a return to the White House. While Republican control of the House of Representatives would likely result in several investigations into his affairs being shuttered, the courts and the FBI are still on his case. And, of course, there is no guarantee that he can even clinch the Republican presidential nomination.

Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in (Florida).
Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in (Florida).Andrew Harnik (AP)

DeSantis – at the peak of his strength after Tuesday – is seen as a safer bet for Republicans. While he has become a beloved figure among the far-right base by spearheading anti-migrant, anti-regulation and anti-LGBTQ+ policies, he has also managed to appear statesmanlike – something that appeals to centrist voters. He has avoided crude language, cut taxes and championed female sports. When Hurricane Ian struck Florida, wreaking massive damage, he cooperated well with the Biden administration to deliver a successful response to the needs of residents. DeSantis also has a campaign war chest with over $200 million. When President Biden was asked what he thought of a Trump-DeSantis matchup, he smiled and said that “it would be fun to watch.”

Conservative columnist David Frum recently penned an article in The Atlantic, in which he noted that the Republican Party was better off “turning the page” on Trump. Ken Griffin – the billionaire owner of the hedge fund Citadel LLC – is a major backer of Republican candidates, having contributed $60 million in this past election cycle. In an interview with Politico, he said that he was ready to support DeSantis. “For a litany of reasons, I think it’s time to move on to the next generation,” he emphasized.

On the Democratic side, things are tougher: it’s not clear if there’s a safe alternative to Biden. Several high-profile Democrats – such as California Governor Gavin Newsom, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg or Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – have refused to answer if they would consider running for president in 2024. While the logical successor to Biden is Vice President Kamala Harris – whose 2020 presidential campaign never got off the ground – her low approval ratings would make it difficult for her to generate enthusiasm.

Despite the uncertainty, the Democrats can take a moment to feel relief that, despite all the polls that predicted they would lose by a landslide, they’re still maintaining a formidable presence in Washington, D.C. and in dozens of state capitals. Upon being asked to express their support for Trump and his favorite candidates, the American people answered loud and clear – and what they had to say wasn’t very flattering.

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