For the sake of the GOP and America, Ron DeSantis should be the conservative standardbearer

By Jonathon Van Maren

The Red Wave turned out to be a red ripple—if Republicans are lucky. If the GOP wins majorities in the House and Senate, it will be by very narrow margins, setting the Democrats up for the best midterm performance of an incumbent party in years. Trump-endorsed candidates got shellacked, with Dr. Oz (Dr. Oz, who only won the primary because of Trump) losing to a candidate who couldn’t communicate with voters—if Herschel Walker pulls it off, it’ll be because Governor Brian Kemp, whom Trump despises, drags him over the finish line. Trump, meanwhile, actually celebrated the loss of a key GOP Senate seat because everything is always about himself, and he actually couldn’t care less about the stakes of the election.

But I’ll come back to that. First, the real tragedy of last night was the abortion referendums. Abortion activists poured over $50 million into passing Proposition 3 in Michigan. Pro-lifers—including pro-life friends, some family members, and several of my colleagues—had a better grassroots ground game but were competing against millions of dollars worth of incessant TV ads. The Democrats had a good night in Michigan, and babies in the womb will pay the price. The abortion-until-birth agenda that will be implemented post-Prop 3 will turn Michigan into another New York or California. It is an unambiguously awful result.

Michigan was always a toss-up election; the referendum results in California were less of a surprise, although no less heartbreaking. As Californian pro-life leader Lila Rose put it: “Extremely sad day to be a Californian. Killing children on demand, through all nine months of pregnancy, enshrined into law. May God have mercy on our state.” In Kentucky, a ballot measure that would have denied any constitutional protections for abortion narrowly failed, although this result will have no effect on the abortion ban passed by the legislature should it survive a legal challenge before the Kentucky Supreme Court.

It is easy to understand why the abortion activists won. In politics if you’re explaining, you’re losing. With tens of millions of dollars, the abortion industry pounded the air waves with lies: that protections for pre-born children will kill women; that they were merely asking for “reasonable” laws (see Michigan’s Prop 3 to understand how ridiculous that is); that abortion is necessary for a series of horrifying but rare circumstances. This is the playbook we saw unfold during the 2018 Irish referendum, and it is why abortion activists will increasingly turn to direct democracy. A huge war chest, a single, false message pounded home over and over again in the friendly media while pro-lifers are forced to explain nuances and dissect deceits—it is an effective strategy, and we will have to figure out how to combat it.

On the positive side, there was one red tsunami last night—Governor Ron DeSantis’s victory in Florida, where he swept previous Democratic strongholds, raked in Hispanic votes, and did so with an agenda that unapologetically rejected woke and gender ideology and supported parental rights. As DeSantis stated in his rousing victory speech, Florida is now “where woke goes to die”:

With a slew of bad news for Republicans, DeSantis emerged as possibly the most effective conservative standard-bearer in a generation. He passes pro-life laws; he fights for parents; he seeks to protect kids from LGBT ideology; and he does all of that both eloquently and effectively. He actually has a conservative ideology, and he actually knows how to implement it. How refreshing might that be for a change? Any conservative looking at the numbers coming out of Florida last night and the performances of Trump’s candidates (with a few exceptions) and deciding that Trump is the best nominee in 2024 needs to come up for air.

Trump is already worried about DeSantis, and attacked the Florida governor right before the midterms, calling him “DeSanctimonious” and then—just in case you were wondering whether his childishness had abated at all—saying that if DeSantis were decide to run, he would reveal “things about him that won’t be very flattering—I know more about him than anybody, other than, perhaps, his wife.” Trump knows that he could lose control of the GOP, and is issuing threats to prevent that. He isn’t concerned about the future of the Republican Party and the conservative agenda, with fundamental issues like abortion and parental rights on the ballot. He’s concerned with a rerun of 2020.

The universal consensus among conservative political watchers from Ben Shapiro to Erick Erickson to Matt Walsh (and even Mike Cernovich!) is that Trump is a political liability. We’re told he loves to win, but in a very short amount of time, he managed to lose the House, the Senate (Trump cost us two Georgia Senate seats, actually depressing the GOP vote in areas where he held rallies by telling people there was no point in voting); and then the presidency. (And yes, I happen to believe Mike Pence, Bill Barr, Betsy DeVos, and other hardcore pro-life social conservatives who used the Trump Administration to deliver victories rather than Rudy Giuliani, Lin Wood, and the rest of MAGA world. Credibility matters.) If the GOP remains Trump’s personal vanity project, we’re going to likely face disaster once again in 2024. The voters sent some key messages last night: They’re sick of Trump, but they will reward Republicans who govern well and stand up for their interests—especially against the woke mob.

Let’s see if the GOP has the courage to cut Trump loose. They’ve missed a series of other opportunities to do so. Now, it just depends if they’re tired of losing yet.

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