Move over Donald, it’s time for Ronald 

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FILE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the media at a coronavirus vaccination site at Lakewood Ranch on Feb. 17, 2021, in Bradenton, Fla. Both DeSantis a Republican and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat said their reelection victories were in part because of their commitment to freedom. But the governors have vastly different definitions of what freedom means. Photo by AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File

Three weeks ago, I authored a lengthy piece predicting the results of six key 2022 Senate elections. To summarize, I predicted the Senate would be divided 50-50, with wins by: Mark Kelly (D-Arizona), Herschel Walker (R-Georgia), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nevada), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin). Though I did not include my House of Representatives predictions in that article, I expected the GOP to win a 15-25 seat majority in Congress’ lower chamber. 

As Election Day neared and polls showed Republican candidates gaining nationwide, I feared I might have to eat my words underestimating the so-called “red wave.” However, the Democrats exceeded everyone’s recent expectations last Tuesday by hanging tough in many key races. 

In Pennsylvania, Fetterman somehow defeated Oz by more than I had predicted before his disastrous debate performance. And in Georgia, Raphael Warnock — with some help from the Libertarians keeping Walker below 50% — looks poised to edge past the football star and set up Georgia’s second runoff election in as many years. Said runoff is scheduled for Dec. 6, which gives both parties an entire month to slip up. 

Speaking of screwing up Georgia runoffs, it is widely believed that former President Donald Trump’s influence there in 2020 hurt GOP Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, costing the party control of the upper chamber. During this year’s midterms, we have seen — and could see, given Trump’s four-decade friendship with Walker — a similar story in which Republicans snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In this scenario, Democrats would not only hold, but gain Senate seats in a year with record inflation. 

Truly crazy, but who is to blame? The GOP’s underwhelming midterms performance may not be completely Trump’s fault, but principled conservatives and right-leaning voters alike should be furious with the former president for endorsing candidates so impulsively in key races. 

Look no further than Arizona and Pennsylvania — two states that narrowly voted for President Joe Biden in 2020, but should have been easy to flip red in 2022. Trump’s picks, Blake Masters and Dr. Mehmet Oz, respectively, were simply not strong candidates. Given the national environment this year, more serious candidates like Arizona’s Doug Ducey or Pennsylvania’s David McCormick could have defeated Kelly or Fetterman. 

In Nevada, Trump initially seemed poised to get away with endorsing 2020 election denier Adam Laxalt, but Laxalt was defeated by a late surge of mail-in/absentee ballots for Cortez-Masto. And in the Midwest, Trump got lucky by backing Ohio’s Vance and Wisconsin’s Johnson — both initially weak candidates until their opponents proved to be even weaker.  

Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather outside of Trump Tower Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022, in New York. Photo by Frank Franklin II/AP Photo.

In conservative circles, the question after these midterms should be: “How much more Trumpian sabotage are we willing to put up with?” For quite some time, the alliance between Trump and party leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) was uneasy but necessary to pass a political agenda and confirm judicial nominees. But now, Trump is no longer the GOP’s best option, even in his “home state” of Florida. The time has come for Republicans to ditch Trump for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

Besides the Senate and House elections, there were 36 governorships up for grabs across the country last week. Once again, Trump’s impulsive ineptitude was on full display in these gubernatorial elections. Two MAGA candidates, Arizona’s red-carpet vacuumer Kari Lake and Pennsylvania’s concession-averse Doug Mastriano, both lost easily-winnable races, while Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp — who stood up to Trump’s 2020 election lies — cruised to re-election over mainstream Democrat Stacey Abrams. 

But this all pales in comparison to DeSantis, who gained his reputation as a darling of the right during the COVID-19 pandemic and has railed against the “woke ideology” permeating his state. On election night, DeSantis crushed Democrat and former Florida GOP governor Charlie Crist by nearly 20 percentage points. In doing so, DeSantis scored perhaps the only true “red wave” of the midterms, carrying the cities of Jacksonville and Tampa, as well as flipping Miami-Dade County to the GOP. According to NBC News exit polls, he won 46% of all non-white voters and bested Crist with voters of all education levels — unheard-of numbers for a conservative Republican. 

It’s really hard to do this victory justice, but look no further than Trump’s raging jealousy to put the governor’s win in context. Florida was a swing state just six years ago (and to a lesser extent, two years ago); now DeSantis knows he has “rewritten the political map.” The fact that DeSantis won by TWENTY points on an otherwise disastrous night for his party only boosts  speculation of his potential 2024 presidential run. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has all but declared DeSantis the GOP’s new kingmaker— and for good reason — while Trump can only seethe from behind his piles of allegedly declassified documents at Mar-a-Lago. 

Not surprisingly, DeSantis’ victory has shown many Republicans what they refused to believe about the former president for years: Trump has no commitment to principles and is only out for himself, not his party or the people. This was already evident when Trump dubbed DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimous” at a Nov. 5 rally in Pennsylvania — an obvious projection of character that makes Hillary Clinton’s “Presumptuous Donald” jab look clever. And on Truth Social last Thursday, Trump blasted DeSantis for winning fewer Floridian votes in the 2022 gubernatorial election than he did in the 2020 presidential election. This apples-to-oranges comparison certainly did not sit well with GOP voters, and it’s honestly sad to watch Trump completely losing his mind. 

For his part, DeSantis has not publicly acknowledged Trump’s furious barrage, which further attests to his strong political skills. DeSantis’ simple but effective communication style and his ability to build a broad coalition of supporters mean that, right now, his ceiling is up there with conservative icon Ronald Reagan. Of course, his floor is down there with Chris Christie, the disgraced former governor of New Jersey whom many Republicans thought could make a serious presidential run in 2016. But unlike Christie, DeSantis has shown that he re-builds bridges after hurricanes instead of closing them to commuter traffic, so such a career flop may not be in the cards for the Florida governor. 

The last time Republicans nominated a Ronald, he was a Hollywood actor who committed to principles over pettiness, and he inspired an entire generation of both American conservatives and freedom fighters across the world. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t be so crazy if the party cast aside Trump’s increasing toxicity and did it again with DeSantis — who could be on his way to becoming the Reagan of our time. 

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