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DeSantis and Abbott take the lead in battle to inherit Trump's mantle

·4 min read

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have both been on a tear lately with new conservative and populist initiatives, creating the impression they may compete for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in the lane dominated for years by former President Donald Trump.

Build the wall? Abbott is doing it in Texas, amid a border crisis most Republicans believe is President Joe Biden’s making. Not to be outdone, DeSantis sent Florida officers to the Lone Star State to help along the southwest border.

Abbott signed a “trigger law” enacting an abortion ban if Roe v. Wade is overturned. DeSantis has signed legislation keeping transgender athletes from competing in female sports after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem flinched from a similar bill. DeSantis sought to crack down on Big Tech, Abbott on “vaccine passports.”

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Both Texas and Florida emerged as models for economic reopening as the pandemic began to wind down. Both governors were attacked by Democratic elected officials for recklessness, including those in blue states with relatively worse COVID-19 outcomes. Now they both claim vindication while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — similar to Anthony Fauci, who was once the hero of the coronavirus story — is being reappraised.

The Republican Party has undergone ideological changes in the past few years. Ties between the business community, especially major corporations, and the social conservatives who make up a disproportionate share of the GOP rank-and-file have frayed. The party’s base has little confidence in its leadership or governing class.

These conditions led to Trump’s rise in 2016, as he bypassed a field of 16 established Republican candidates to win the party’s presidential nomination and the White House. He remains a major force in the party and could be either a kingmaker or the nominee again in 2024.

"Will Trump have so much weight still that his support will make a difference?" asked a Republican strategist in New Hampshire. "That's the biggest question."

But successors are also needed as Trump may not run for office again. In any event, he turned 75 on Monday. Even younger than Biden, 78, that suggests some limits to his political shelf life. Republican governors across the country have been trying to fill what could become a major leadership void, though it is hard to compete with the two largest red states.

DeSantis, 42, has been openly floated as a possible presidential candidate, with Trump publicly acknowledging him as part of a strong Republican bench. Some public polls suggest he is well-positioned if Trump does not run, with only former Vice President Mike Pence also consistently in the top tier. Abbott is less frequently mentioned in these terms, but a Texas operative said, “He’s ambitious.”

Some might say the two are leading the GOP down a path of elected officials trying to win a Trump impersonation contest. But, to Republican insiders, that is an oversimplification.

“I don’t think they are out-Trumping each other,” said GOP strategist John Feehery. “I think they are racing to align themselves better with the heart and soul of the Republican base, which is emerging post-COVID pissed off at the sharp leftward shift of the Biden administration and desperate to reclaim freedoms that were taken from them by the healthcare bureaucracy. And the reason I say that is I don’t think Trump has made himself all that relevant to the discussion since Jan. 6.”

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Both Abbott and DeSantis are up for reelection next year in an important midterm campaign for the party. Democrats will be defending razor-thin margins in both houses of Congress.

While both men are heavily favored to win a second term, Florida is a battleground state where Republicans have won consistently but by small margins. Democrats have made some gains in Texas — Sen. Ted Cruz won just 51% of the vote in 2018, and Trump’s margins were down from John McCain and Mitt Romney — but have yet to make it truly competitive. Abbott received nearly 56% three years ago.

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Tags: News, Campaigns, 2022 Elections, Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, Donald Trump, Republican Party, 2024 Elections

Original Author: W. James Antle III

Original Location: DeSantis and Abbott take the lead in battle to inherit Trump's mantle