Ron DeSantis has been doing a lot as governor of Florida. But there’s one job that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves: In many ways, DeSantis is serving as America’s shadow president.
In the Westminster parliamentary system of government, used in Britain and elsewhere, the opposition forms a shadow cabinet: A group of senior opposition-party members takes responsibility for issues facing various government departments. So there might be a shadow defense minister, who focuses on military issues, and the group might put together a “shadow budget.”
None of these activities has any direct impact on the actual Cabinet; the shadow government has no executive power. But it does provide a contrast to the ruling government and a source of criticism. It also cultivates people with some expertise, ready to take over the various offices when political power shifts.
America doesn’t use this system, but in a very real way we nonetheless have a shadow president in DeSantis.
Unlike a British shadow government, DeSantis has real executive power of his own — not in the federal government, but in his capacity as governor of America’s third most populous state. And he has been doing an excellent job of drawing contrasts between his way and the approach taken by the Biden-Harris administration.
DeSantis was an early opponent of widespread lockdowns. This got him called a murderer by many national pundits and politicians. Yet his approach was vindicated: Despite predictions of doom, the Sunshine State did much better than lockdown-heavy states like California and New York, not only in terms of disease, but also economically. Now Florida’s biggest economic “problem” is the influx of people fleeing from states with more intrusive COVID policies.
DeSantis’ approach contrasts sharply with that taken by disgraced former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was once touted as a COVID hero by virtue of snappy news conferences that garnered a (now-revoked) Emmy. It turns out Cuomo’s policies killed many thousands in nursing homes, something his own administration covered up, while seriously damaging the Empire State economy.
(Nor was it DeSantis who was opposing the science here; as I’ve noted in these pages, the World Health Organization opposes lockdowns as a means of dealing with COVID except in very limited, short-term circumstances.)
Likewise, DeSantis has opposed mandatory masking. While masks are useful in some circumstances, the evidence that mandating widespread mask-wearing helps is limited. A recent study by a US Army medical team found that the introduction of mask mandates in the San Antonio area did nothing to reduce rates of illness, hospitalization or death.
Democrats, on the other hand, have been all masks, all the time — except when it comes to their own glitzy events, like the Emmys or former President Barack Obama’s birthday party, where the “sophisticated” attending crowd was deemed mask-exempt. (But not the servants.)
DeSantis has moved decisively elsewhere, as when he sent law enforcers from Florida to Texas to help the Lone Star State deal with a Biden-engineered crisis at the Mexican border. That sets up yet another contrast with the current administration, which has been letting that region groan under the weight of many thousands of illegal immigrants.
DeSantis has been antitax, pro-small-business and a strong opponent of defunding law enforcement, all in contrast with his opposition.
He has also been quick to respond to media efforts to drum up scandals, as when fraudulent “whistleblower” Rebekah Jones falsely claimed that the DeSantis administration was cooking the numbers on COVID. Unlike the Cuomo administration, the DeSantis administration was doing no such thing, and DeSantis stood up and denounced the smear, setting another example.
Of course, being governor of Florida isn’t the same as being president of the United States. But DeSantis has been able to show the spirit, and sometimes the substance, of actions that a Republican president might take. (And while governors don’t have much in the way of military or foreign affairs functions, does anyone really think a DeSantis administration would create the kind of ally-alienating debacle President Joe Biden did in Afghanistan?)
As the 2024 election grows nearer, Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) will no doubt try harder to take DeSantis down. But the more attention they focus on him, the more he will stand as a shadow president, showing Americans what someone else might do in Biden’s place.