George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

Na⁠t⁠⁠i⁠onal Rev⁠i⁠ew: Flor⁠i⁠da’s Lessons for Conserva⁠t⁠⁠i⁠ves

By: Dr. J. Robert McClure / 2022

Dr. J. Robert McClure


George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity


November 16, 2022

Last Tuesday’s election results started as a mirage for the GOP — returns began to come in for Florida that showed Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Marco Rubio delivering what could only be described as beatdowns to their Democratic opponents. At that point, political junkies were fooled into thinking it would be a “red tsunami” by the end of the night. As the hours ticked by, and states such as Colorado, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York dampened the Republican mood with Democratic wins, it became clear that the wave had diminished to a ripple.

And then there was Florida.

Dating back 20-plus years, the Sunshine State was a red-leaning, but potentially gettable, swing state. Barack Obama won the state twice, and while Democrats haven’t had equal success, they haven’t been completely out of the ballpark. Both Bob Graham and Bill Nelson won several statewide elections as Democrats, and as late as 2018 Nikki Fried was able to eke out a victory to become Florida’s agriculture commissioner.

That all changed on November 8, 2022.

While the other 49 states tried to find silver linings in unexpected clouds, Florida Republicans racked up win after win after win. When all the dust had settled, the Sunshine State had awarded Governor Ron DeSantis a 1.5-million-vote, 20-point victory and Marco Rubio another term in the U.S. Senate by more than 16 points — both historic margins. In his win, DeSantis won all but five of Florida’s 67 counties — flipping Pinellas (the home county of his opponent), Palm Beach, and even Miami-Dade (a traditionally deep-blue county he lost by 21 points four years prior).

But that wasn’t all. Florida voters expanded their Republican majority in the Congress — with 20 Republicans on their way to D.C. The state legislature is now also significantly redder, with supermajorities in both the state house and senate. It’s impossible to overstate the level of devastation Florida’s Republican Party laid on the Democrats Tuesday night.

With such a contrast in results between Florida and the rest of the country, it raises the question: Is there a lesson here? The answer is, absolutely, if states are willing to listen and learn.

First and foremost are the three C’s: conviction, courage, and competence. Agree or disagree with Ron DeSantis on policy, Florida’s governor possesses each in spades. Whether it was his stance on pandemic policy, parents’ rights, corporate wokeness, or any other fight he took on, Ron DeSantis acted out of principled conviction and with courage. He bore the arrows of the Left, the legacy media (redundancy noted), and his political opponents — and he stuck to his guns. It helped greatly that on just about every policy position he took, he’s been proven correct, but that wasn’t necessarily evident in 2020–21 when waves of Covid were hitting the nation. Which brings us to the third C: competence. Evidenced most recently by his actions during Hurricane Ian, which included the rebuilding of a washed-out bridge in under two weeks, the governor projected a proficiency in leadership that even had President Biden offering praise.

Could the same be said of many of the rest of the candidates across the country?

Second is ground game. Looking back just ten short years, registered Democrats in Florida outnumbered Republicans by more than 300,000. Now? That figure is inverted — registered Republicans currently outnumber Democrats by 325,000. As refugees fleeing New York, New Jersey, and Illinois flocked to Florida (to the tune of 800 per day), the state GOP saw each one as a likely voter to engage. That ten-year journey was accomplished through slow, consistent hard work. And last week, it made its mark.

Could any other state’s ground game over that time match up against the Florida machine?

Last is a commitment to articulating policy differences boldly, emphatically, and visibly. Throughout the course of the campaign, Governor DeSantis cast his policy vision in a way that gave voters — including hordes of registered Democrats — common purpose in a fight for the soul of the state. “Florida was a refuge of sanity when the world went mad,” he stated in his victory speech, a common theme from his campaign. “We stood as a citadel of freedom for people across this county and indeed across the world.” Setting this contrast up, he cast a vision: “We fight the woke in the Legislature. We fight the woke in the schools. We fight the woke in the corporations. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.” Agree or not, voters were attracted to the fact that as a political leader, he did not shy away from taking a stand and planting himself firmly in it.

As the rest of the country discovered last Tuesday night, candidate quality matters greatly. Those seeking to advance conservative agendas in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and other states would be wise to take a cue from the Sunshine State if they hope to perform better in 2024.

Originally found in National Review.