DeSantis: The Next Teddy Kennedy?

Looking for historical analogs and looking at some numbers.

The NYT‘s Nate Cohn asserts: Ron DeSantis Is Not Scott Walker.

The premise is that there’s an important similarity between the two: They both earned the affection of conservatives by “owning the libs” as governors, rather than by giving soaring speeches or otherwise demonstrating the skills to win a presidential nomination.

Cohn correctly notes that, at a minimum, DeSantis faces far fewer challengers than did Walker, and that his relative popularity at this stage of the game suggests a much better position than Walker had at this time. Although I do think there are some analogs as both built national brands via Fox News by using their offices in similar fashions.

Still, from the information Cohn provides, maybe Ted Kennedy is a better fit analogy-wise, since Kennedy challenged a sitting president while DeSantis’ primary opponent would be the party’s most recent occupant of the White House.

Here are some of the numbers:

It seems noteworthy to underscore that of those listed, only Bush in 2000 and Obama in 2008 won their party’s nomination the first time they ran (and the White House, for that matter).

Note: I don’t really think that either the Walker or Kennedy analogy is nesesarily apt, mostly because Trump as an opponent creates a very specific, if not unique, dynamic (not just because of Trump himself, but because he is a former president seeking a non-consecutive term, which hasn’t happened in the primary era).

Still, the numbers in the piece are of at least passing interest.

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, US Politics, , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. gVOR08 says:

    Scott Walker had a shot only because he was backed by the Koch Bros. And that was after they saved his arse in his recall election as Governor. Is Chuckles Koch backing DeSantis? Why do political reporters like Cohn never get into what really matters, money? Why do we allow the money in our system to be so opaque?

  2. daryl and his brother darryl says:

    The comparison to Kennedy v. Trump is apt only in that DeSantis will be unable to command a cult in the way that Trump has.
    Like Kennedy, I don’t think DeSantis will be incredibly successful on the Nat’l stage. He will remain popular with the base, but not go much further.

  3. Scott says:

    @gVOR08: Like this:

    Larry Ellison pumps $15M into super PAC aligned with Tim Scott

    The donation brings the Oracle chair’s giving to the group, Opportunity Matters Fund, to $25 million.

    I mean, is there really a grassroots demand for Tim Scott for President? The money game has been going on for a long time. However, it has been my contention that the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act put so much money in the hands of billionaires that many more of them have taken up politics as a hobby. It is also my contention that this was a major goal of Mitch McConnell to launder government borrowed money back to the Republican Party.

  4. gVOR08 says:


    It is also my contention that this was a major goal of Mitch McConnell to launder government borrowed money back to the Republican Party.

    Of course it was. And also of the Federalist Puppy Farm justices who pretend to see no difference between money and speech. I’ve said before, Republicans don’t have a governing philosophy, they have a business plan. They do what their wealthy leash holders want and in return the wealthy give them enough money to buy reelection.

    A 90% top marginal income tax rate was high enough to actually reduce revenue, but it sure did cut down on the number of billionaires with idle hands trying to subvert democracy.

  5. Kylopod says:

    Ted Kennedy was part of the Kennedy clan, brother of a former president who had been killed and a presidential candidate who had also been killed. He was very much a national figure by 1980, but still somewhat in the shadow of his famous family. And the Chappaquiddick incident followed him for the rest of his career. It not only proved a problem for him in 1980, but was probably one of the reasons he didn’t run in another cycle.

    Even if we ignore all those specific details that don’t seem to have any equivalent with DeSantis, I don’t see the comparison. Challenging a sitting president from one’s own party is not the same as challenging a former president from one’s party. Or at the very least, since the latter is unprecedented in the modern era, we really can’t draw any conclusions about it. The last time there was even a serious discussion about a former president running–Gerald Ford in 1980–the common assumption was that he’d have a hard time beating the Reagan behemoth. So it’s hardly self-evident that a former president would automatically be a front-runner for the nomination of his party. That just happens to be the case now, because of the nature of Trump’s relationship with the Republican Party. Trump isn’t a good analogue to the embattled Carter in 1980, and DeSantis isn’t a good analogue to Kennedy that year.

  6. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @gVOR08: In point of fact Buckley vs Valeo (which first made the money and speech argument) was decided in 1976 by the Burger court and was broadly supported by all 8 justices who heard the case (there was a vacancy). 4 justices dissented in part (different parts, so it didn’t matter) but all signed off on the main opinion. That court wasn’t a hotbed of Federalist thinking.

    Citizens United, of course, put things into overdrive. And I think both Citizens and Buckley are examples of ivory tower decisions/logic. In the abstract the argument that restricting campaign spending impacts free speech is perfectly valid. But over in the real world where income disparity has reached ludicrous levels the rich are engaging in class warfare and kicking everyone else’s ass, with their propaganda shielded by Buckley and now Citizens. It’s been a disaster for the country in practice, regardless of how logical the abstract philosophical theory is. But you can’t really blame the Federalist society or even the Republican party for opening that particular floodgate (the original plaintiffs were numerous and crossed the political spectrum from Libertarians to the NY Civil Liberties Union and everyone in between).

    There’s a good summary of Buckley on Wikipedia.

  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    Why do we allow the money in our system to be so opaque?

    Because pointing at the money only reinforces the notion that our system may primarily be oligarchical, and that message doesn’t benefit anybody?

  8. Rick DeMent says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    In the abstract the argument that restricting campaign spending impacts free speech is perfectly valid.

    No, it doesn’t. The thing that everyone gets wrong is conflating ones stand on the issues with the ability to attract an audience.

    Money does not buy speech in any way, shape, or form. we all have an opinion. And you know the old saying; opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. You don’t need to spend one red cent on an opinion.

    What money buys is attention, eyeballs, influence, column inches, and ad time. If money indeed equaled speech we should all have a constitutional right to 15 seconds of Super bowl ad time. Your speech isn’t abridged by limiting donations to you super PAC. The government can’t pass laws to censor what you say, how you say it, or who you say it to. But whoever had the idea that government can’t limit campaign cash bribery to elected officials was seriously deranged and frankly it’s is one the the top reasons why are politics are so ridiculously messed up. The very idea that a group from Texas can helicopter a boatload of cash to a State house race in northern Michigan is seriously wrong on all sorts of levels.

    I would agree that an individual could spend personal money, but only on their race and there should be no way a candidate should be able to raise money and “pay themselves back”. We did just fine for 200 years without billion dollar campaigns, we need them even less now.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican: But you can’t really blame the Federalist society or even the Republican party for opening that particular floodgate

    Sure I can, there is nothing to stop me from blaming whoever I want. (Calvin Coolidge is near the top of my list) 😉