Who is the most powerful Republican in Texas? Texas Monthly Senior Editor Michael Hardy’s answer might surprise you.
Hardy recently wrote about the influence that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has on the Texas GOP, especially in the wake of his 19-point win to a second term in November.
DeSantis has made headlines in recent years for taking on culture war issues in Florida, from limiting classroom curriculum that addresses LGBTQ topics to banning mask mandates. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit about why you believe Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has an outsized role in the Republican Party in the Lone Star State.
Michael Hardy: Well, all you have to do is take a look at the bills that have been filed in the new legislative session, which starts this week. There are numerous bills that echo, in many cases quite directly, what DeSantis has already signed into law in Florida. There’s a law that creates a statewide election police to go after election fraud. There are laws that would criminalize gender-affirming medical care. There are laws that clamp down on businesses, their ability to require vaccines from their employees. So it’s clear that Texas legislators are taking their cues from Florida and DeSantis.
What is it about DeSantis that makes Republicans in Texas feel like they should hitch their wagon to what he’s doing in Florida?
The Texas GOP recently did a poll of Republican voters, and in Texas, DeSantis is clearly the leader among 2024 presidential candidates. He’s ahead of Trump. And nobody else gets out of single digits. So DeSantis is really the most popular Republican in the state among base voters.
It was very interesting that it was Ron DeSantis who, as I understand it, had buses sent from the Texas border to some other location– I believe it was New York City or something. Do you remember this?
Yes. That’s actually an example of DeSantis following Abbott’s lead, I believe. You know, this is something that Abbott has been doing for many months now, and DeSantis wanted in on that.
I think maybe we’re getting to something here. Do we have a bit of a rivalry for 2024 between DeSantis and Abbott? Are they sizing each other up for a possible presidential bid?
I don’t think DeSantis is worried about Abbott at all. Abbott doesn’t even make the list in a lot of these polls; pollsters have stopped asking about him. He’s completely fallen out of the picture for 2024.
Well, say something more about DeSantis’ popularity among rank-and-file Republicans. I mean, it’s one thing to win some support among Texas members of the GOP, but writ large do you think that he actually has the stuff for 2024, at least for a nomination by the Republican Party?
I think he definitely does. Trump’s influence continues to wane and DeSantis’ influence continues to rise, in part because DeSantis won his reelection for Florida governor by 19 points while Trump’s candidates floundered across the country. And if you really want to understand his popularity, you have to go back to the pandemic, because DeSantis really made his name opposing vaccine and mask mandates, and stay-at-home orders, earlier than any other governor. Abbott was way behind him.
I’m wondering what all this adds up to for everyday Texans right now. I mean, we’re heading into a legislative session that begins on the 10th – do you think that Republican lawmakers in Texas are going to be trying to tailor their legislation based on “What would Ron DeSantis do?”
Well, Texas legislators answer to their constituents, and their constituents love DeSantis. So it’s not a surprise that they’re filing a lot of bills that echo what DeSantis is doing in Florida. You know, it’s ironic. For years, Texas Republicans said, you know, “Don’t California my Texas.” Suddenly they are eager to Florida their Texas.
Do you see this as the direction for the Texas GOP for years to come? Are we talking about a short-term effect, based on what you can tell?
Well, it depends. If DeSantis runs for president, then he becomes the de facto leader of the national Republican Party and will set the agenda just as Trump did for four years.