Why Ron DeSantis looks just like Bill Clinton in 1992


In attempting to describe Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over the last four years, the press has reached for a whole host of inapt comparisons: He’s Donald Trump! He’s Scott Walker! He’s Satan! But none of these seem right.

Instead — and hear me out! — he may well be Bill Clinton.

No, not morally. Despite Donald Trump’s grotesque insinuation that there is something “unflattering” about DeSantis that only he knows about, there’s no indication that Florida’s governor is anything other than an upstanding husband and father.

But, in other respects, the parallels are clear. Like Clinton, DeSantis is a young governor from the South entering his political prime against a backdrop of inertia and irritation with the status quo. Like Clinton, DeSantis has been careful to combine the non-negotiable parts of his party’s broader platform with some policy innovations and stylistic habits that have served to set him apart. Like Clinton, DeSantis is intelligent, fluent, and able to triangulate when the moment demands.

As a young governor from the South in his political prime, Ron DeSantis is following a career path similar to Bill Clinton’s — but without the womanizing.
As a young governor from the South in his political prime, Ron DeSantis is following a career path similar to Bill Clinton’s — but without the womanizing.
AFP via Getty Images

Like Clinton, DeSantis has sensed — and taken advantage of — a changing demographic environment. 

Aware that his party was struggling to win elections, Clinton enthusiastically aligned himself with the moderate New Democrats, and worked to develop a reputation for competence. Aware that his party is struggling to win elections, DeSantis has made some concessions to Trumpist populism, made a big deal of his practical environmentalism, and ensured that he handled bread-and-butter issues such as hurricanes with a proficiency that is beyond partisan reproach

On Tuesday, Gov. DeSantis romped to re-election by an astonishing twenty points, taking all but five of Florida’s 67 counties on his way. This victory echoes Clinton’s 1990 big win in the Arkansas gubernatorial race, in which he won 57 percent of the vote, and took 64 of the state’s 75 counties in the process.

Speaking at his victory party last night, DeSantis noted that he had “garnered a significant number of votes from people who may have not voted for me four years ago,” and recorded that he was “honored to have earned your trust and your support.” Or, as Bill Clinton put it during his 1992 campaign, when appealing to disaffected independents: “join us, and together we will revitalize America.”

The landslide win on Tuesday for DeSantis, who took 62 of 67 counties in Florida, mirrored Clinton’s romp in the 1990 Arkansas gubernatorial race.
The landslide win on Tuesday for DeSantis, who took 62 of 67 counties in Florida, mirrored Clinton’s romp in the 1990 Arkansas gubernatorial race.
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There are other similarities, too. Bill Clinton was 46 when he first ran for the White House — the exact age DeSantis will be come 2024. Both men are from modest, blue-collar backgrounds, and like to cast themselves as champions of ordinary people against corporations and elite institutions. Despite neither of them growing up rich, both men made it to Yale Law School, where they were noted for their exceptional intellects. 

Really, the only things they don’t have in common is their height (DeSantis is just 5-feet-9 next to Clinton’s 6-foot-2), their politics, and the fact that, as far as we know, DeSantis doesn’t play the saxophone.

In the 1992 race, Clinton was the first sitting governor to face off with a sitting president in a presidential race since 1948.
In the 1992 race, Clinton was the first sitting governor to face off with a sitting president in a presidential race since 1948.
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If DeSantis wins the 2024 Republican nomination for president, he will likely face off with Joe Biden in another race pitting a sitting governor against a sitting president.
If DeSantis wins the 2024 Republican nomination for president, he will likely face off with Joe Biden in another race pitting a sitting governor against a sitting president.
AFP via Getty Images

If DeSantis wins the Republican nomination for president, he would almost certainly be facing off with President Joe Biden who served two terms as vice president before becoming president himself, and whose vice president, Kamala Harris, is widely seen as incompetent. Substitute the names George HW Bush and Dan Quayle into this scenario, and one has a fairly close match with 1992.

And, just as it was for Clinton in 1992, this is Ron DeSantis’ moment. There will likely not be another like it.

Bill Clinton was 46 when he first ran for the White House — the exact age DeSantis will be come 2024.
Bill Clinton was 46 when he first ran for the White House — the exact age DeSantis will be come 2024.
Getty Images
Just as Clinton was once seen as a politician who could work across the aisle, DeSantis has bipartisan support for proficiently handling basic issues, such as the hurricane that recently battered his state.
Just as Clinton was once seen as a politician who could work across the aisle, DeSantis has bipartisan support for proficiently handling basic issues, such as the hurricane that recently battered his state.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Beating Donald Trump in the primaries may be difficult, but if it is to be done, the time is now. In hindsight, Bill Clinton’s nomination in 1992 seems inevitable, but, at the time, it was anything but. Clinton lost New Hampshire and Iowa, and he seemed dead in the water until a late comeback in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida made him the first sitting governor to run against a sitting president since 1948.

In politics, as in life, nothing comes easy. Both DeSantis and Clinton undoubtedly know that, too.

Charles C. W. Cooke is a senior writer at National Review.



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