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Is DeSantis Making a Faustian Bargain with the Electorate?

The general outlines of how Ron DeSantis is going to campaign are becoming clear now. He spends a little time talking about how awful the economy is and why it's Joe Biden's fault. Then he launches into the real red meat his campaign is wallowing in. He wants to ban abortions after 6 weeks, ban books that mention LGBTQ people, and declare war on woke, whatever that is. There is no doubt that he wants to outflank Donald Trump on the right and make the election all about the culture wars. It is all an act, but it is a very carefully prepared and rehearsed act. But it could be a flop.

Much of the reason that Republicans did so poorly in 2022 is that many independent voters don't really like the Democrats but considered the Republicans so extreme they voted for the Democrats anyway. While DeSantis' strategy could possibly work in the primaries, it could come home to roost in the general election, with independents rejecting DeSantis en masse.

Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican pollster, said that inflation, the border, and crime "are really good for swing voters. But by trying to out-MAGA Trump, DeSantis is very much in danger that he finds himself in the same category as Trump with these swing voters who will not like a six-week abortion ban, and who will not like his unrelenting focus on culture war fights." In other words, the nature of the Faustian bargain here is the very thing that might get him the nomination is the same thing that will destroy him in the general election.

And this isn't idle speculation. There is plenty of evidence that moving far to the right doesn't work in general elections. Just ask Sen. Blake Masters of Arizona, Gov. Tudor Dixon of Michigan, and Gov. Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania. DeSantis is obviously aware of what happened in 2022, but maybe he is blinded by his own easy win in Florida. Or maybe he fully understands everything perfectly well but has decided the only way to win the nomination is to tack hard to starboard, full speed ahead, the general election be damned. After all, using a strategy that will work will in the general election is useless if he can't beat Trump in the primaries. In other words, first things first, and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson said: "DeSantis' campaign and the entire Republican primary is now about how do they appeal to this narrow, very extreme, very on-line base of a party in order to win the nomination without regard for what it does to their brand for winning the general election." Maybe the candidates think they can pull a bait-and-switch on the voters and be hard right during the primaries and all rainbows and unicorns in the general election. Good luck with that, as the Democrats are busily recording everything DeSantis and the others are saying on the trail and building ads around the clips for potential future use. If DeSantis gets the nomination he can focus entirely on inflation and crime but how will that work when the Democrats run ads with video clips showing him saying "I want to ban all abortions after 6 weeks" to cheering crowds in Iowa and New Hampshire? One of Mitt Romney's advisers famously said of the campaign: "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again." How well did that work for Romney? (V)

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