LOWRY/DeSantis and the new Republican Party
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had another moment that lit up the right, this time pushing back against Disney’s critique of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
In his statement, DeSantis was absolutely stalwart, saying that the chances are “zero” that he’s going to back away from his support for the law. And he didn’t hesitate to go on offense against Disney. He said it had made a fortune off being family-friendly so should understand that families don’t want inappropriate material injected into the curriculum at schools and smacked the company for making money in China without denouncing the brutal practices of the Chinese Communist Party.
DeSantis had been equally forthright a few days earlier, contesting the dishonest “Don’t Say Gay” characterization by a reporter at a news conference. “It’s why people don’t trust people like you,” the governor said, “because you peddle fake narratives, and so we disabuse you of those narratives.”
This is the voice of the new Republican Party.
Which is not to say that the party wasn’t socially conservative before (George W. Bush ran against gay marriage in 2004), or that it didn’t criticize the media (one of George H.W. Bush’s best moments in 1988 was slamming Dan Rather during a live interview). But there’s a new combativeness that is clearly a reflection of how Trump underlined the power of cultural issues and changed the rules around how you deal with controversy — by doubling down and hitting back harder.
Perhaps DeSantis would be just as inclined to rumble if Donald Trump had never emerged — Chris Christie, for instance, had considerable success with a “bring it on” attitude toward criticisms during his governorship.
What feels new, though, is the zest for combat on cultural issues, as well as a willingness to bring to bear public power to the fight where possible (government has every right to control what is and isn’t taught in government schools).
There’s also a complete intolerance for playing along with false media narratives.
And, lastly, there’s zero hesitation to stand up to corporations siding with the left in policy disputes. It seemed several years ago in the debates over religious-freedom restorations acts at the state level that corporations held the whip hand over state officials. Not anymore. Not after Republicans have learned that the appropriate response to such pressure is, “No. Hell, no.”
If this new approach draws on Trump, it should vitiate one of the arguments long made for Trump: “At least he fights.” Now, the party is full of people who want to fight in a broadly similar fashion — however, with important differences from Trump.
In the “Don’t Say Gay” controversy, DeSantis isn’t relitigating what happened in the last election; he is freshly litigating a defense against a cutting-edge progressive cause.
He isn’t defending the indefensible; he’s defending the eminently defensible, in fact the unfairly maligned.
He isn’t dragging anyone through a fight occasioned by his personal failings or dubious practices; he’s standing up for a well-considered conservative initiative.
And he isn’t jousting with reporters who know more about the contested topic than he does; no, on this and pretty much everything else, he knows more than any of his antagonists.
So, DeSantis opens up a vista offering an important element of Trumpism without the baggage or selfishness of Trump.
The same can be said of Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. He gave a speech the other day at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library that thoughtfully integrated Trumpian populist themes with traditional GOP thinking.
Here is another vista, of a policy vision with a strong element of Trumpism that might have broad appeal to GOP voters of all stripes without the distracting obsessions of the former president.
This gets at what could be one of the most persuasive arguments to Republican voters for Trump not running again — not that he needs to go away so the old party can be restored, but that he’s unnecessary because a new party has emerged.
Rich Lowery is editor of National Review, a leading conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley.