If Ron DeSantis is elected president in 2024 a phenomenon will take place for the first time in forty years. A conservative will have been voted president of the United States. That has not happened since Ronald Reagan, the last conservative president.
Not since Reagan’s landslide reelection in 1984 have the American people endorsed conservatism in the executive branch. Both Bushes were moderates who leaned right out of expediency, not conviction. They had more in common with Bush the Elder’s father, Connecticut Republican Senator Prescott Bush, than they had with Ronald Reagan, though H.W. was Reagan’s veep.
Both good men personally, Bush the Younger and his dad cut their teeth in the bipartisanly conservative political atmosphere of Texas. When they got to DC they were easy prey for Democrats who took their aw shucks friendliness as a wuss factor and acted accordingly. In policy at times both men were indistinguishable from moderate Democrats and cut deals with congressional Democrats that would have privately made Mitch McConnell blanch with revulsion.
And then there’s the 45th president. Certainly Donald Trump achieved some conservative successes. His economic record, his pushback against the liberal media, and his national security strength were all in keeping with a conservative tendency. However, his power did not lay, and still doesn’t, with a conservative base. The man is a populist and, since November of 2020, he has sought to slake the populist authoritarian thirst with notions so bizarre and lacking in credence that he has forfeited any pretense to conservative credibility.
Trump believes, or pretends to, that a general wisdom can be found in the utterings, biases, and will of the people. But he is wrong. In fact, it is a sanction for mob rule, as we saw on J6. Conservatives believe in tradition, institutions, and representative democracy. They, we, read history and see where popular passions lead. It is rarely to a pretty place.
Be the icon in Rome in 1922, Moscow in 1929, Berlin in 1933, China in 1949, Cuba in 1959, or Cambodia in 1975, a demagogue riding virulent popular sentiment will inevitably lead his mob to rule by the bayonet. This is because most people do not think, they feel, and those feelings can be easily manipulated to evil ends. It’s how the most cultured nation on the planet in 1914 would be in 25 years a pack of rabid dogs ready to do the bidding of an insane Bohemian corporal.
DeSantis so far, while keeping his Trump base creds intact, has shown no inclination to act at the behest of howling mobs. His policies and attitudes are not elitist, far from it, but he, as Reagan did, has found the political sweet spot of populist appeal combined with conservative convictions. DeSantis has consistently sided with individual freedom and order under law. He has not heeded the siren song of the populist right that would scrap the Constitution and replace it with a portable gallows as response to their political opponents.
If DeSantis decides to run and is successful, then, just as in Reagan’s initial presidential victory in 1980, a sunbelt governor will have triumphed over a failed leftist Democrat. With a true conservative in the Oval Office for the first time since MTV was new, it could again be…wait for it…Morning in America.