Anti-Gay for the Stay

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during the Moms for Liberty Joyful Warriors national summit at the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown on June 30, 2023. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The two wings of Ron DeSantis’ base are parties to a high-stakes wager that, if elected, he’ll govern the way they prefer and disappoint the other camp.

He spent the first six years of his career in national politics as a conventional small-government Republican. He’s spent the last five (particularly the last three) as an eager-beaver Trumpy populist, having correctly identified illiberalism as the path to national stature in the modern GOP. It’s anyone’s guess who “the real Ron DeSantis” is at this point, if such a thing exists.

His supporters are divided in unusual ways by the figure of Donald Trump. DeSantis’ post-liberal populist admirers see him as more Trump than Trump, a man who as president will make good on the frontrunner’s empty promises to use state power against the right’s enemies. DeSantis’ classically liberal conservative fans, like the staff of National Review, perceive him as less Trump than Trump. Yes, the governor sometimes panders to populists in unsavory ways, but as president he’ll govern more responsibly and much less demagogically than Trump would.

That’s the wager. Someone will lose, in the increasingly unlikely event that DeSantis is elected.

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