In the world of power, a year is an eternity. A year ago today, Andrew Cuomo was doing his Emmy Award-winning press conferences, mostly talking about “ventilators, ventilators, ventilators.” “Cuomosexuals” thought about scrapping the cognitively-challenged Joe Biden and making him the Democratic nominee. Meanwhile, Gavin Newsom was getting less attention, but still wide praise as a governor who “did it right” with his early stay-at-home orders. Maybe not 2020, they thought, but 2024 if there was no choice but the otherwise unpalatable Biden. Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan also got wide praise and chatter as a possible vice presidential contender.
The governor getting the most scorn was Ron DeSantis in Florida, for no particular reason. The scorn grew in the summer when Florida had its “spike.” Even though California, Texas, and Arizona also had spikes, Ron DeSantis got the worst of the ire.
Now, the balance of power has changed radically. Andrew Cuomo is on the verge of being forced out. Even if he survives, his auctoritas is gone, to the point that he’s complaining of “Cancel Culture.” Meanwhile, Gavin Newsom will now face a recall election because of his insane and hypocritical lockdowns. While he might survive it, 2024 is a much less likely prospect now. The psychotic Gretchen Whitmer now also faces possible criminal charges because of her nursing home policy.
And Ron DeSantis? The bad boy of COVID is now the hottest thing in Republican Party politics and is the strongest candidate to not only take Trump’s throne, but build the empire he couldn’t. It’s not just in the Republican Party, either. Many Democrats are quietly admitting that he and Florida won the COVID war. Some, now fed up with virus theater and all it entails, are even signaling their belief he will be president, though not necessarily their outright support. Belief creates reality all the same.
How did he do it? Without further ado, let’s look at the leadership lessons from Ron DeSantis.
1. Associate Yourself with Popular Causes
Like Julius Caesar, Ron DeSantis kept his ear close to the people he needed to appeal to. When he campaigned for the Republican Party’s nomination in 2018, he knew that the most important thing was to get Donald Trump’s endorsement. That was the surest path to victory. He also kept his finger on the pulse and knew that Donald Trump, who had already won Florida, was getting more popular there, not less (a result borne out in the 2020 election).
So he associated himself with Donald Trump as much as he could. He even had an ad where he had his children participating with Trump paraphernalia.
In most contexts, this is cringe, but in a place where Donald Trump’s word is the most important, and “owning the libs” always helps, it was effective. And it worked. Ron DeSantis rode the Trump wave to victory in the primary and the general election, despite 2018 being a D+8 year. Afterward, he governed well, becoming one of the most popular governors in the country and a potential 2024 contender.
Then COVID hit, and unlike Trump, he flourished in the crisis.
In Florida last year, he understood that he would have the support to end the CCP-inspired lockdowns early. He unhesitatingly did so. He would have anyway, but he knew where the energy of the entire country was going, which is the even more important part of the battle. A good leader not only knows where the energy is, but where it’s going. Ron DeSantis knew that people were going to get fed up. The influence principle of scarcity is especially potent when something becomes scarce because it is taken, rather than a simple shortage of supply.
People, especially his base of supporters (who think differently than Democrats) wanted their lives back. He saw this as far back as the spring of 2020 and can now claim credit for being far ahead of the curve.
2. Fight Back Intelligently
“Worship Athena, not Ares,” so said Robert Greene in The Laws of Human Nature. Ron DeSantis does just that. Donald Trump’s calling card was to lash out against the media in brutish ways. It kept the attention on himself, but it was a double-edged sword because he often reaffirmed their frame to defend his ego.
In contrast, Ron DeSantis actually takes the 2016 playbook and applies it far more consistently. He fights back against the media – but intelligently. He’s quick enough on his feet to take control of the conversation, but instead of using the opportunity to talk about how great he is or how terrible the media is, he shows how terrible the media is, rather than just telling, and defends his mission, not his ego.
Ron DeSantis doesn’t have the charisma of Donald Trump, but he’s quick-witted, can impose frame, and knows that the results will ultimately speak for themselves. The state of Ultra Instinct is not necessarily charisma, but a flow-state, where “there is nothing but yourself, your opponent, and the fight.” Donald Trump’s ego prevented him from truly achieving this state. Ron DeSantis has shown that he might get there.
Or more simply, as President, Donald Trump often went against his 2016 playbook and emphasized features like “fake news” or “we’re doing great,” rather than benefits. See Ron DeSantis above. In his fight with the media he “circled back” to benefits without a second thought.
Ron DeSantis also reminds one of Mamoru Takamura’s fight with Bryan Hawk in Hajime no Ippo, where the latter was mighty, but undisciplined, while the former brought a mighty offense in a far more disciplined manner, which targeted vital areas.
In this day and age of North Korea-imitating media propaganda, you need to set the record straight, but how you do it matters. Ron DeSantis has demonstrated how it’s done.
3. Govern with Virtue
The core theme of Lives of the Luminaries was that all power must be exercised in line with Ma’at. This motive – to exercise power in a way that upholds and improves the natural, cosmic, organic order – is what separates those who win in the end from those who don’t. Lives documents may people over the eons and shows that the ones who lived and acted according to virtue (which upholds the Egyptian concept of Ma’at) had a truly happy end. Those who didn’t were ultimately slaves to fortune and met a bad ending.
Does this not describe the arc of Donald Trump, Andrew Cuomo, Gavin Newsom, and Gretchen Whitmer over the past year? It will describe the arc of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris if they don’t get off the Fauci fraud train very soon (by July 4th).
Ron DeSantis has lived and acted in line with virtue, upholding a just order that affirms and expresses the best part of human nature. He has prospered as a result.
But what does it mean to live and act in line with virtue? The four cardinal virtues, first listed by Plato and passed down through the Western tradition, serve as a guide.
Aristotle called it “right reason applied to practice.”
Though he didn’t say it directly Thomas Sowell explained the lack of wisdom of the ruling class by showing that they don’t consider trade-offs. They tend to just think of something as having a magic “solution” and so go full-steam ahead on it, especially if it makes them feel good about themselves. In this case, they considered (at least outwardly) “stopping the spread of COVID” as the end-all, be-all, and ignored the tradeoffs. Lockdowns were the “solution.” Their thought process was justified by epidemiological models that we now know were full of shit.
Ron DeSantis got the same models, but “didn’t think they were worth the paper they were printed on.” He did not believe that hospitals were going to overflow with people coming from the general public and as a result, refused to issue an order to send elderly patients back to nursing homes to preserve bed space.
He also considered the trade-offs – what would virus restrictions do to civil society? What were the costs and benefits? What did the data actually say about the virus’ risk profile? These were all questions he carefully considered.
The result of it all is that Florida, despite having the second oldest population in the country, is actually below the national average in COVID fatalities per capita – all without destroying its economy and citizens’ lives in the process. Compare it to New York, California, and other northeastern states which thought that the virus was dangerous enough to flood hospitals everywhere and therefore that “stopping the spread” alone mattered. Their economies were destroyed and their residents are living in misery, which is why they’re fleeing to Florida in droves.
Justice is the attribute of giving each man his due, according to Aquinas. By using his wisdom, Ron DeSantis was able to provide justice and give each person in Florida his due. The data was clear from the get-go that the virus was not particularly dangerous to the general public but posed a serious risk to two groups of people – the elderly and those with serious health conditions. Those two groups heavily overlap. You’re far likelier to have diabetes in your 70s than in your 30s, for example.
Justice in this situation therefore mandated that the elderly be protected as much as reasonably possible while letting younger people live as close to normal as possible. By concentrating resources on the nursing homes early, and adopting a “Seniors First” vaccine strategy, Ron DeSantis did justice to the old. By lifting lockdowns and mask mandates early and letting the young people live – and therefore letting the virus work its way through the low-risk younger age groups to give the elderly a shield – he did justice to the young.
This was common knowledge in health policy before the woke virus infected it. Because Ron DeSantis was vaccinated against that virus, he was able to act according to nature and embody virtue.
Other “leaders” have degraded the concept of “justice” through their virtue signaling. Ron DeSantis actually provided it.
As we saw above, Ron DeSantis was mercilessly attacked all year long for his policy. If he did not have the courage to withstand this assault, how could he have provided justice? How could he display his wisdom if he cared about what the narrative thought of him and all the names it called him?
He didn’t give into the cynical hysteria. From the beginning, he showed he was going to stand up to the panic and refuse to change course. Even when his approval rating looked like it took a big hit, even during the height of the hysteria in the sunbelt spike, even with ridiculous “blue anon” conspiracy theories, he refused to back down.
As a result, he had the fortitude to enact the other virtues.
Aristotle famously described virtue as residing within the mean between excess and deficiency. There has certainly been an excess in virus panic and a deficiency in virtue. You just saw how Ron DeSantis found the mean in his virus response. Lockdowns were excessive. Not protecting the most vulnerable was a deficiency.
DeSantis was not tempted to boast too heavily about himself, either. Sure, he’s taken a victory lap (as he deserves), but it’s not full of the effusive self-praise you’d expect from Donald Trump. He calmly explains his policies and for the most part lets success speak for itself. He restrains the need to be vindictive or arrogant just as much as he restrains his fear.
Ron DeSantis does the right thing. He doesn’t just talk about it. If we can sum up good leadership in a few words, there they are. He did it while most other “leaders” didn’t last year, which is why he’s rising and they’re falling, despite the propaganda. It’s gotten to the point that his detractors need to make up ridiculous conspiracy theories about him hiding deaths and now, “vaccine favoritism,” to try and attack him – because they otherwise can’t. They look stupid.
He’s been so successful that the handlers of the rotting corpse in the White House threatened to sanction Florida with travel restrictions – because he’s embarrassing them.
Barring an apocalypse, he will win reelection easily next year. Pay attention to the margin and his performance in Duval, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Seminole, and Miami-Dade counties. That will say the most about his presidential prospects and whether he can do what a Republican candidate must do to win. If he does better than Donald Trump did last year, he’s in good shape. If he wins by more than 5% with Trump-like margins in Miami-Dade, he’ll storm into the 2024 cycle. In that case, Trump might even find it advisable to endorse him early and effectively nullify the need for a Republican primary, putting him in much better shape to challenge the likely Democratic candidate, Kamala Harris.
Learn more of the lessons of leadership from Ron DeSantis’ victory in the COVID war by studying other great leaders in Lives of the Luminaries.
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