David Brooks: Trump and DeSantis could both lose

There are two different narratives running through the Republican Party right now. The first is the populist Trump narrative with which we are all familiar: American carnage…the elites have betrayed us…the left is destroying us…I am your punishment.

On the other hand, Republican governors in places like Georgia, Virginia and New Hampshire often have a different story to tell. They rule growing and prosperous states. (Seven of the 10 fastest-growing states have Republican governors, while 8 of the 10 fastest-declining states have Democratic governors.)

So their stories are not about those left behind; they can tell stories about the places people go. Their most compelling narrative is: jobs and people come to us, we have a better model, we provide business leadership to keep it going.

These different narratives generate different political messages. Belligerent populists put culture war issues first. Tory governors certainly play the values ​​card, especially when schools try to usurp the role of parents, but they are strongest when they focus on pocketbook and quality-of-life issues.

Governor Brian Kemp, for example, is making Georgia a hub for green manufacturing, attracting huge investment in electric vehicle technologies. In his inaugural address, he promised to make Georgia “the electric mobility capital of America.” As Alexander Burns noted in Politico, Kemp isn’t selling this as climate change activism; it is jobs and prosperity.

The two narratives also produce radically different emotional vibrations. The Donald Trump/Tucker Carlson orbit is full of outrage and anger. Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, and former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey are warm, upbeat people who genuinely enjoy their fellow man.

The former resemble the combative populism of Huey Long; the latter are more likely to reflect the optimism of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

If American politics worked as it should, then the Republican primaries would be battles between these two different narratives and styles of government – between populism and conservatism.

But this is not happening so far. The first reason is that Trump’s supporters are so numerous and so loyal, and his political style is so brutal, that it might discourage governors from entering the campaign trail. My educated guess is that Youngkin will not run for president in 2024; he wants to focus on Virginia. And Kemp might not either. Kemp has taken on Trump in the past, but who wants to get into a fight with a favorite when you already have a fantastic job running the state you love? The GOP presidential field may be much smaller than many of us thought a few months ago.

The second reason we don’t see the two narratives face to face is Ron DeSantis. The governor of Florida should be the most optimistic, conservative business. Its state is growing faster than any other in the country. But instead, he’s running as a stern, humorless culture war populist — probably because that’s what he is.

So right now, the GOP has two like-minded front-runners and the same ever-present anti-revival combativeness. The race is between populist Tweedledum and populist Tweedledee.

The conventional wisdom is that it will stay that way – but maybe not. Right now, in previous election cycles, Jeb Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee were doing well in the polls. None became nominated.

Furthermore, the conservative managerial wing of the party is no small branch of the Tucker Carlson universe. In 2022, the normies fared much better than the populists. Look at Governor Mike DeWine’s landslide victory in Ohio. Millions and millions of Republicans vote for these people.

In Georgia, Kemp challenged Trump on the Big Lie and came away victorious. As Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report pointed out, Kemp had a nearly 90 percent approval rating among his state’s Republican voters in a January poll, while Trump’s approval rating was nearly 20 points higher. low among those voters. Kemp’s overall approval rating among Georgia voters was 62 percent, including 34 percent among Democrats. Trump’s approval rating was a pitiful 38% in this fluctuating state.

The Republican donor class is mobilizing to try to prevent a Trump nomination, and DeSantis is too expensive.

Do we really think a guy with a small, insular circle of advisers and limited personal skills is going to do well in intimate contests in Iowa and New Hampshire? As voters focus on the economy, DeSantis made a massive mistake by playing the culture war issues so hard.

My conclusion is that the Trump-DeSantis duopoly is unstable and represents a wing of the party that many people are sick of.

What this means? Maybe someone like Kemp is convinced to run. Perhaps eyes turn to Tim Scott, an efficient and upbeat senator from South Carolina. Maybe former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is entering the race and taking a sledgehammer to Trump in a way that doesn’t help his own candidacy but shakes up the status quo.

The basic truth is that the Republican Party is like a baseball team that has tremendous talent in the minor leagues and a star pitcher who can’t throw strikes or do his job. Sooner or later, there will be a change.

David Brooks writes a column for the New York Times.

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