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Ron DeSantis for president? Not so fast.

The Florida governor's victory was impressive, but it's no guarantor of a successful 2024 bid.
Image: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at an election night watch party in Tampa on Tuesday.Giorgio Viera / AFP via Getty Images

Republicans massively underperformed expectations in the midterm elections, but there was a notable exception to the trend: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' re-election.

DeSantis didn't just clobber his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, by about 20 points — he also carried 62 out of 67 counties; secured an astonishing win in Miami-Dade, which was once considered a Democratic stronghold; and performed exceptionally well in areas with big Latino populations.

Republican political strategists instantly processed DeSantis' strong performance through a 2024 lens. A proven ability to win over urban voters and Latinos is an eye-catching asset for any Republican presidential hopeful.

DeSantis' win shone even brighter because it happened at the same time Donald Trump had a lackluster night. A number of Trump's high-profile endorsed candidates failed to deliver, and the electorate displayed an apparent hesitation to embrace MAGA politicians despite Biden's low approval ratings and highly visible inflation.

The coinciding of DeSantis' win and Trump's losses has inspired some on the right to push for the Republican Party to move on from Trump to DeSantis.

The coinciding of DeSantis' big win and Trump's big losses has inspired some on the right to push for the Republican Party to move on from Trump to DeSantis. Right-wing Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlets like Fox News and the New York Post immediately began banging the drums for DeSantis 2024. GOP operators and strategists are quietly complaining to Beltway media that Trump is a liability. Right-wing activists have showered praise on DeSantis for winning widespread support while embracing hot-button cultural issues like critical race theory.

During DeSantis' victory speech, some of the audience chanted, "two more years!" implying that they expected him to cut short his second term to take the White House. (DeSantis, for his part, has gladly embraced the perception of himself as a national leader: “While our country flounders due to failed leadership in Washington, Florida is on the right track,” he said.)

Buzz must not be confused with viability, however. While Murdoch, the GOP strategist class and some DeSantis diehards are eager to capitalize on the moment to encourage DeSantis to run — and encourage donors to help him do it — that doesn't mean that he can beat Trump.

Trump's announcement of another presidential run appears imminent, and he will be entering the race as the presumptive nominee. He's still far ahead of DeSantis in 2024 polls, has much more power to make and drive the news cycle, and there's a good chance that he'll have a big head start on DeSantis on building up hype for a presidential campaign if DeSantis waits until a few months into his term as governor — so he can get some more promised policy accomplishments under his belt — to declare.

It's also unclear if DeSantis' current media hype is durable. Consider that even if Murdoch's influence at Fox News means DeSantis will get more coverage than he would otherwise, some of the most influential pundits there, most notably Tucker Carlson, are right-wing populists who have a long history of supporting Trump. It's almost impossible to envision Fox News — a media outlet that has downplayed and spread conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 insurrection — going all in on DeSantis.

Additionally, while DeSantis' victory is striking, the implications of it are at risk of being overstated. After all, every Republican running for statewide office in Florida won by close to 20 points. Perhaps the bigger takeaway from Tuesday is not that DeSantis can win over independents, but that Florida has turned redder than anyone anticipated. It's possible this reality will sink in for strategists and donors over time — that while DeSantis could show more promise with a wider range of voters, his track record is harder to extrapolate upon than it seems at first blush.

DeSantis has excelled at winning support in his state as a governor, but his skills as an orator before national audiences are still relatively untested. It takes a particular kind of communicator — for which the GOP so far has lacked the spine or the competence to find — to deal with Trump's bullying tactics. In a bid to discourage DeSantis from running, Trump is already warning DeSantis that he "could hurt himself badly" if he entered the fray.

All in all, DeSantis' victory was impressive, but it remains to be seen if the hype is outpacing reality.