Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis inspiring plenty of bills in the Texas Legislature this session

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis inspiring plenty of bills in the Texas Legislature this session

Who is the most powerful Republican in Texas? Texas Monthly Senior Editor Michael Hardy’s answer may surprise you.

Hardy recently wrote about the influence Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has on the Texas GOP, especially after his 19-point victory for 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 lightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us a little bit about why you believe Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has a unique 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 begins this week. There are many bills that echo, in many cases quite directly, what DeSantis has already signed into law in Florida. There is a law that creates a nationwide electoral police to pursue electoral fraud. There are laws that would criminalize gender-affirming medical care. There are laws that restrict businesses, their ability to require vaccinations from their employees. So it’s clear that Texas lawmakers are taking their cues from Florida and DeSantis.

What is it about DeSantis that makes Texas Republicans feel like they need to hitch their wagon to what he’s doing in Florida?

The Texas GOP recently polled Republican voters, and in Texas, DeSantis is clearly the frontrunner among the 2024 presidential candidates. He’s ahead of Trump. And no one else breaks out of the single digits. So DeSantis is indeed the most popular Republican in the state among base voters.

It was very interesting that it was Ron DeSantis who, as I understand it, sent buses from the Texas border to another place – I believe it was New York City or something. Do you remember this?

Yes. This is 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 to get in on that.

I think we might be onto something here. Do we have a bit of a 2024 rivalry between DeSantis and Abbott? Are they setting each other up for a possible presidential bid?

I don’t think DeSantis cares about Abbott at all. Abbott doesn’t even make the list in many of these polls; pollsters have stopped asking about it. He has completely dropped out of the picture for 2024.

Well, say something more about DeSantis’ popularity among high-ranking Republicans. I mean, it’s one thing to get some support among the Republican Party in Texas, but in the big picture do you think he actually has what it takes in 2024, at least for a GOP nomination?

I think he definitely does. Trump’s influence continues to fade and DeSantis’ influence continues to grow, in part because DeSantis won his Florida gubernatorial re-election by 19 points as Trump’s candidates clashed 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 well behind him.

I’m wondering what this all adds up to for everyday Texans now. I mean, we’re going into a legislative session that starts on the 10th — do you think Republican lawmakers in Texas are going to try to tailor their legislation based on “What would Ron DeSantis do?”

Well, Texas lawmakers answer to their constituents, and their constituents love DeSantis. So it’s no 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 were saying, you know, “Not in California, my Texas.” Suddenly they are longing for their Florida 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.

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