The DeSantis Doctrine

The DeSantis Doctrine is to use the institution he controls—government—to rescue or defang other institutions consumed by wokeness.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R.) announced his presidential candidacy during a Twitter Spaces event Wednesday, but it was Elon Musk’s show. The Twitter, Tesla, and SpaceX CEO received co-billing. Moderator David Sacks, an investor and former executive at PayPal, said the technical snafu that botched the conversation was a consequence of Musk’s enormous Twitter audience. DeSantis thanked Musk for buying Twitter and turning it into a platform for free speech. Each of the guests lauded Musk’s ingenuity and courage before asking DeSantis a question. One especially obsequious Republican congressman bragged that he owned a Tesla.

DeSantis would make a point on some issue and then Musk would respond, calmly and commandingly, in his mellow South African accent. It was easy to forget that you were listening to a campaign launch and not the Wall Street Journal’s “Future of Everything Festival.” Occasionally DeSantis would fall silent, and Sacks and Musk carried on without him. Musk might as well have been the candidate—and there is reason to think that, but for the Constitution, he would be.

The Twitter glitches got most of the attention, but what fascinated me were the exchanges between DeSantis, Sacks, Musk, and others. The dialogue not only revealed aspects of DeSantis’s primary strategy. It also clarified some of the animating ideas behind DeSantis’s corner of the New Right. For the contest between former president Donald Trump and DeSantis is not just over who will lead the GOP. It is also a struggle between two concepts of the New Right, pitting the former president’s MAGA populism against the Florida governor’s institutional culture war.

No one needs a lesson in Trump’s impulses and grudges. They have been at the center of our public life for six years. What’s important to recognize is that, despite his personal idiosyncrasies, Trump is an archetypal American figure.

Tribunes of the people have sprung up to rail against the Eastern elites for centuries. Jackson, Bryan, Wallace, Buchanan, Perot, Palin—the list is long. All of them have identified scapegoats, indulged in conspiracy theories, and cultivated personal followings. All of them have spoken in straightforward, declarative language. All of them have drawn huge crowds by telling the dispossessed that social status can be reclaimed by throwing out the corrupt elite and replacing it with the leader’s steady hand. Their nationalism and traditionalism have been leavened by a folk libertarianism that distrusts centralized power and is individualistic and entrepreneurial in spirit.

Populists may criticize institutions as dysfunctional and debased, but they don’t really know what to do with them. Populists are rarely put in charge. When they do find themselves in positions of authority, the result is often confusion and disarray. They possess neither the expertise necessary to manage a bureaucracy nor the professional networks where they might find such expertise. Populists must incorporate parts of the establishment into their government just to make it function. The clash of priorities and interests within this populist-elitist coalition would be difficult to harmonize for any chief executive. If the person in charge is ill-tempered, thrives on conflict, and easily persuaded, problems are made worse.

Trump’s 2025 Vision was revealed to pardon nearly all of the convicted Jan. 6 rioters (numbering around 500) and to immediately broker an end to the war in Ukraine.

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