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Op-ed

The ‘red wave’ fizzled, but Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis showed the GOP how to win | GUEST COMMENTARY

Incumbent Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis arrives to speak to supporters at an election night party after winning his race for reelection in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Republicans did not sweep the nation with a “red wave” of conservative wins on Election Day, like they hoped. If anything, it was more of a red trickle. Still, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis swept Florida by nearly 20%, an incredible margin by anyone’s standards. And Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott bested Beto O’Rourke, the left’s most popular gubernatorial challenger, by 11%.

It’s clear that conservatives should look to DeSantis and Abbott for an explanation of their wins and direction forward.

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Unlike many conservative candidates who narrowly won or even lost, neither DeSantis nor Abbott tiptoed around their core beliefs. Both also focused on governing competency. DeSantis and Abbott went hard on what some people call 2022’s version of the culture wars: lockdowns, mandates, education, “woke” corporations.

Really, this is all just liberty. DeSantis and Abbott went all-in on competence and freedom, which turned out to be a winning combination.

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In his rousing victory speech, DeSantis said: "We saw freedom and our very way of life, in so many other jurisdictions in this country, wither on the vine. Florida held the line. We chose facts over fear, we chose education over indoctrination, we chose law and order over rioting and disorder. Florida was a refuge of sanity when the world went mad. We stood as a citadel of freedom for people across this country and across the world."

DeSantis couldn’t be more right. A politician with an authoritarian bent believes he or she knows what is best for everyone. A leader who values competence and liberty equally knows that letting people have freedom of choice while offering a solid framework of boundaries, laws and consequences for those choices is how people really thrive.

The pandemic provided an apt example. During the pandemic, Abbott and DeSantis issued brief quarantine orders, but after analyzing the data on COVID-19 and its spread, they decided to reopen Texas and Florida. Ultimately, mask mandates were lifted after a short time, people were allowed to reopen their businesses, and children were allowed to learn in-person at school.

Compared to other parts of the country, some of which remained in strict lockdown for almost two years, this was a breath of fresh air, an indictment of government overreach, and most importantly, a boon for liberty. Both governors had the competence to see the right thing and follow through with it, even though they were in the minority and scolded for it.

Their courage has paid off. People are leaving states that locked down for years, like California and New York, and flocking to Florida and Texas in droves. Liberty coupled with competence is magnetic.

In his victory speech, Abbott said he ran for office again for “parents who just want to be able to choose the school that’s best for their child.” In the last few years, DeSantis has supported parents’ advocating for their kids’ and the content they consume in school. As governor, he listened to them when they disagreed with progressive ideas in schools.

Letting parents help determine what their children learn, shunning liberal indoctrination in schools, refusing to give in to “woke” ideas, laying down boundaries, facts, and data and choosing to honor those, refusing to implement income taxes — these are things that the electorate clearly wants.

DeSantis and Abbott share another commonality: Both men were careful not to lean too much on former President Donald Trump in their re-election campaigns or obsess about the integrity of the 2020 election results. This paid off. Other staunch Trump allies, like Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Senate candidate Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Michigan governor candidate Tudor Dixon — likely in part due to their vocal alignment with the former president, who refuses to acknowledge the 2020 election results.

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Abbott and DeSantis focused on the best ways to make two of the largest states operate effectively, championing low taxes, listening to what the people want, and letting them make their own choices within a reasonable framework of laws. This strategy increased their competence and marked them as leaders who love liberty. It’s the path forward for the GOP.

Nicole Russell (Twitter: @russell_nm) is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where this story originally appeared.


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