What a DeSantis victory means | Editorial
The course for the governor - and Florida
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis holds his son Mason as he celebrates winning reelection, at an election night party Tuesday in Tampa. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis holds his son Mason as he celebrates winning reelection, at an election night party Tuesday in Tampa. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) [ REBECCA BLACKWELL | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 10, 2022

Ron DeSantis had a great night and Donald Trump had a lousy one. That’s the takeaway from Tuesday’s general election, and the outcome raises questions about the governor, the presidential race and the politics of Florida for years to come.

DeSantis’ runaway reelection over Democrat Charlie Crist carried Republican candidates up and down the Florida ballot, while Trump suffered defeats of candidates in Pennsylvania, Michigan and elsewhere that he had envisioned as proxies toward reclaiming the Republican presidential nomination.

The question now: What becomes of DeSantis and Florida between today and 2024? Will DeSantis continue to push divisive social issues that energize the Republican base instead of addressing bread-and-butter concerns like housing and property insurance? How would he deal in a contested primary against his onetime patron, who is expected to announce another presidential run Tuesday? With the governor away campaigning for president, do the new leaders of the Florida House and Senate reassert the power of the legislative branch? And what effect will DeSantis’ sharp elbows and agenda have throughout the state now that many acolytes of his won election to lower office?

A national agenda. DeSantis didn’t act as a governor for all Floridians even after first winning the office by less than half a percentage point in 2018, so why imagine he’d do so now after securing a second term in a 20-point blowout? Expect more of the same from a governor who catapulted to Fox News stardom by downplaying COVID, stigmatizing gays, cracking down on voting and highlighting concerns over illegal immigration. DeSantis can claim a mandate to go even further in politicizing education, expanding charter schools, limiting abortion rights, strengthening the death penalty, penalizing individuals and companies for speaking out and consolidating the power of the governor’s office. That doesn’t bode well for Floridians who lack access to affordable housing or health care, whose waterways are choked with toxic algae or who were struggling to protect and insure their properties and businesses long before Hurricane Ian and Thursday’s landfall of another storm, Nicole. But Tuesday’s election showed the reward for playing to culture issues and the image of strength.

Out-maneuvering Trump. Trump teased at a rally in Ohio on Election Eve that “I’m going to be making a very big announcement” on Nov. 15 at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach. Recent polls through early November show Trump leading DeSantis, the second-most favored among Republicans, by anywhere from 23 to 30 points in a potential GOP primary. A New York Times poll in July showed Trump at 49% among Republicans to DeSantis’ 25%, with the rest of the potential field — Ted Cruz, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo — polling in single digits. History may show that Tuesday’s election was DeSantis’ peak. Or it may be the foundation he needs to cut into Trump’s 30-point advantage. Does that mean appealing to younger Republicans who want an America-first standard bearer without Trump’s baggage? Can DeSantis use his family-friendly image to peel away evangelicals? How would the fairly wooden governor parry Trump’s personal attacks (“Ron DeSanctimonious”), and retain the enthusiasm of primary voters for two more years?

Lap dog Legislature. DeSantis has treated the Legislature as another executive branch agency, and there’s every sign that will continue. He can credit himself for rejecting the redistricting maps legislators in his own party drew in favor of his own design that skewed more aggressively to help Republicans. This year, DeSantis also killed pet projects of the Republican leaders of the Senate and House, sending an unmistakable message to the Legislature’s incoming leaders that he would keep them in line. The governor also backed Republican candidates for specific legislative seats, and with the GOP poised to hold supermajorities in the Legislature, the governor has even more opportunities this term to call in favors and to threaten any wayward Republicans with a primary opponent. For their part, Republican lawmakers realize the self-interest in aligning with DeSantis, particularly as the governor elevates his national profile and GOP voter registrations in Florida jump. Legislators aspiring to leadership roles or higher office also want access to DeSantis’ media orbit and expanding donor base.

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Local impacts, too. Scores of Republican candidates this election cycle attached themselves to DeSantis in local races across the state. Many of those elected to county commissions and school boards have vowed to rein in spending, curb business regulations, ease development rules and expand parental rights in schools. In Hillsborough County, for example, a new Republican-majority commission could mean the end of several efforts over recent years to pursue a surtax for transportation improvements. Republican commission candidates have also called for the private sector — not local government — to lead the way on new affordable housing initiatives. DeSantis-aligned school board members have called for greater parental involvement in the selection of library books and school curriculum. This all could lead to a heightened environment of litigation and the politicization of some issues — transportation, school sports, environmental protection and growth policy — that local governments have largely avoided. And it could get the major parties more involved in selecting and financing candidates for nonpartisan, local offices.

DeSantis’ commanding victory is a testament to Republican messaging and turnout, and the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves. How the governor uses his reelection for the people of Florida is another question that should be answered in the coming weeks and months.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.