Engulfed in turmoil in Washington, D.C., and the humiliation and setbacks of their party leaders, Republicans can be forgiven for looking elsewhere for a savior. Former President Donald Trump was, until those final minutes, largely ineffective in getting his ideological offspring to make Kevin McCarthy speaker, and so hopeful eyes have turned yet again to that other Floridian.
“Wanna know who looks good right now and focusing on his state, constituents and staying out of the chaos and mayhem?” Meghan McCain tweeted. “DeSantis. DeSantis looks good right now.”
“Ron DeSantis looks like a grown-up here, and an adult,” a former Trump adviser, David Urban, said on CNN the night Mr. McCarthy finally got the votes, “where the Washington Republicans are kind of in a quagmire.”
Being smart enough to stay out of the hot mess in the House is hardly the sign of political genius, but there is no doubt the newly re-elected governor of Florida has the wind at his back. After his commanding performance in the midterm elections, I informally polled my conservative family members in Miami, who all said they had dumped Mr. Trump and were on team DeSantis for ’24. One colorfully called the former president she had voted for twice a “whiny crybaby” who could only talk about losing the last election. Ouch.
The case for Mr. DeSantis, according to them, isn’t just that he looks comparatively sage next to Mr. Trump. It’s also that he spoke out early against lockdowns and has overseen a growing economy. Florida now has the fastest-growing population in the country, a factoid that Mr. DeSantis’s spokesman, Jeremy Redfern, immediately touted after it was announced. “People vote with their feet,” he said. “We are proud to be a model for the nation, and an island of sanity in a sea of madness.”
Most criticism of Mr. DeSantis’s national electability has been centered around his lack of charisma, which Mr. Trump crystallized by giving him the cumbersome nickname Ron DeSanctimonious. But focusing on personality and style obscures the governor’s real failings: Florida is not a model for the nation, unless the nation wants to become unaffordable for everyone except rich snowbirds.
While my home state’s popularity might indeed seem like good news for a governor with presidential ambitions, a closer look shows that Florida is underwater demographically. Most of those flocking there are aging boomers with deep pockets, adding to the demographic imbalance for what is already one of the grayest populations in the nation. This means that Florida won’t have the younger workers needed to care for all those seniors. And while other places understand that immigrants, who often work in the service sector and agriculture, two of Florida’s main industries, are vital to replenishing aging populations, Mr. DeSantis and the state G.O.P. are not exactly immigrant-friendly, enacting legislation to limit the ability of people with uncertain legal status to work in the state.
All of the new arrivals have contributed to a growing unaffordability crisis in Florida. You can see it everywhere, but I noticed it most distinctly on a recent visit to the waterfront in the popular neighborhood of Coconut Grove in South Florida. Over the holidays, I went to what had once been a beloved bar and casual restaurant called Scotty’s Landing. It had been one of the few affordable places left to have a bite on Biscayne Bay, and it’s where I had spent many Sundays listening to live music while sitting on white plastic chairs, eating fried fish sandwiches. It is now home to a vast complex centered on a high-end restaurant inspired by the motto “vacation as a state of mind” topped by an Instagramable sign flashing “Miami” in neon lights. Eighty-year-old wooden bungalows nearby now go for almost $2 million, and glitzy new projects have moved into historically Black neighborhoods like Little Haiti, pushing out local people.
While Mr. DeSantis has been busy limiting what can be taught in schools, flying immigrants to Northern states and punishing “woke” Disney, working-class Floridians are being priced out of many Florida cities. Miami now surpasses Los Angeles and New York City as the least-affordable city for housing in the United States, and joining it in the top five is the once working-class South Florida Cuban-American bastion of Hialeah. Miami is also second in income inequality, with levels roughly comparable with Colombia’s and Panama’s. Rents are soaring across many other parts of the state as well. And health care costs are unbearably high compared with those in other parts of the country because workers in the state have to shoulder a higher percentage of premiums.
The fact is, Florida is having many of the same problems as its liberal archnemesis California, and its Republican-led state legislature is doing little to help less-affluent families thrive. More than 76 percent of Floridians live on the coasts, but in an era of fierce storms due to climate change and rising sea levels, many can’t afford or even qualify for insurance for their homes, especially those who live in older buildings or in low-income areas. Lawmakers in Tallahassee ended the year giving insurance companies a huge bailout but doing little to reduce insurance costs for homeowners.
Of course, not all of this is Mr. DeSantis’s fault. But those wanting to anoint him as the next great hope of the Republican Party should take a minute. Mr. DeSantis may look attractive now compared with the mess in Congress, but the Florida he has overseen is anything but paradise.
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of the Opinion podcast “First Person” and grew up in Florida.
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