Ron DeSantis and the ‘Scaffle’ Vote
If Ronald Reagan were to come back to life, he would probably be confused by the leftist tone that the early 2024 Republican presidential campaign has sometimes taken.
After Ron DeSantis announced he was holding a fund-raiser last night at the Four Seasons hotel, an official close to Donald Trump mocked the event as “uber elite” and “out of touch.” Trump has also criticized DeSantis for supporting past Republican bills in Congress to shrink government partly by cutting Medicare and Social Security.
DeSantis, for his part, has come out in favor of government action to reduce health care prices. He criticized the Biden administration for blocking cheaper prescription drugs from Canada — a country that used to be a symbol of big-government inefficiency among Republicans. This month, DeSantis, Florida’s governor, signed a bill that tries to lower drug costs there by cracking down on companies known as pharmacy benefit managers.
What’s going on?
Trump’s trouncing of the Republican establishment in 2016, and his continued popularity among the party’s voters, has exposed a weakness of the laissez-faire economic approach known as Reaganism. Namely, it isn’t especially popular with most voters, including many Republicans.
With DeSantis announcing his candidacy last night, I want to use today’s newsletter to highlight arguably the most important fact about U.S. politics: Americans tend to be more progressive on economic issues than they are on social issues. If you can remember that, you will be able to make better sense of the 2024 campaign.
It explains why DeSantis and Trump are competing with each other to sound populist, even if it means favoring government regulations and benefits. It explains why Trump’s criticism of free trade resonated with voters — and why President Biden has promoted his own “buy America” economic policies, breaking with centrist Democrats. It also explains why today’s Republicans campaign on social issues like immigration, crime, gender and religion; most Americans are more conservative on these subjects than the Democratic Party is.
It is true that there is a subset of voters, many of them affluent, who like to describe themselves as “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” If you’re reading this newsletter, you probably know some people in that category. Yet it happens to be the least common combination in American politics. The typical swing voter is instead “socially conservative and fiscally liberal.”
The 2024 presidential election is likely to be, at least in part, a battle for that voter.
Medicaid and border security
This chart — originally created by the political scientist Lee Drutman, using a large poll taken after the 2016 election — remains the best visualization of the situation:
It places respondents, each of whom is represented by a dot, on two scales. One scale is based on economic issues like trade, taxes and safety-net programs, while the other is based on social issues like abortion, immigration, race and pride in the United States. Economic progressives appear on the left side of the chart, and economic conservatives on the right. Social conservatives appear in the top half, and social progressives in the bottom. The dots are colored based on their 2016 vote, be it for Trump, Hillary Clinton or a third-party candidate.
Not surprisingly, people who are liberal on both kinds of issues (the bottom left quadrant) overwhelmingly voted Democratic, and consistent conservatives (the top right quadrant) were solid Trump voters. The socially liberal and fiscally conservative quadrant is mostly empty. And the opposite quadrant is the battleground of American politics.
These socially conservative and fiscally liberal voters — you can call them Scaffles, for their acronym — have voted for progressive economic policies when they appear as ballot initiatives, even in red states. Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Nebraska, for instance, have passed minimum-wage increases. Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah have expanded Medicaid through Obamacare. Republicans without a college degree are often the ones who break with their party on these ballot initiatives.
At the same time, Scaffles are the reason that a Times poll last year showed that most voters, including many Latinos, prefer the Republican Party’s stance on illegal immigration to the Democratic Party’s. Or consider a recent KFF/Washington Post poll on transgender issues, in which most Americans said they opposed puberty-blocking treatments for children.
Yes, public opinion has nuances. Most Americans also support laws prohibiting discrimination against trans people, the KFF poll showed. Sometimes, the parties can also overreach. When Democrats talk positively about socialism, they alienate swing voters. On abortion, Republicans have gone so far right — passing almost total bans, that the issue has become a drag on the party.
But don’t confuse the nuances and exceptions with the big picture. DeSantis and Trump understand that the old Republican approach to economic policy is a vulnerability, which is why they often sound like populists. And when they emphasize cultural conservatism, they aren’t merely catering to their base. They are often appealing to swing voters, too.
More on DeSantis
A Twitter malfunction marred DeSantis’s campaign announcement with more than 20 minutes of glitches and hot mic moments.
“That was insane, sorry”: It was a conference call from hell — and a disastrous situation for Elon Musk.
When DeSantis was finally able to speak, he discussed Biden and Disney. Here’s a fact check.
DeSantis is expected to use policy issues, like abortion, to distinguish himself from Trump.
Though he has been struggling with plummeting poll numbers and skeptical donors, Nate Cohn explains why it is far too soon to write DeSantis off.
His wife, Casey DeSantis, has used fashion to craft her image, dressing with nods to Jackie Kennedy and Melania Trump.
THE LATEST NEWS
Biden commemorated the anniversary of the Uvalde school shooting with a plea to Congress to pass stricter gun regulations.
Republicans negotiating the debt limit want to curb government spending. But they have focused mostly on a small part of the federal budget.
Biden is expected to nominate Gen. Charles Q. Brown, the Air Force chief of staff, to become the country’s most senior military officer.
A man who was photographed putting his foot on a desk in Nancy Pelosi’s office during the Capitol attack was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.
U.S. officials believe Ukraine’s security services were most likely behind the recent drone attack on the Kremlin.
A Chinese state hacking group infiltrated computer systems in Guam, where there is a U.S. military base, Microsoft said.
Cultural events were abruptly canceled across China after a stand-up comedian joked about the military.
In Peru, where dozens of civilians died in recent clashes with the police, there is a long history of protesters being killed often without consequence.
Tina Turner, whose explosive energy and singular rasp made her one of the most successful recording artists of all time, has died at 83.
Musicians, politicians and fans mourned Turner. “She was inspiring, warm, funny and generous,” Mick Jagger wrote.
Hear 11 of her greatest tracks, which show her mastery of R&B, rock and pop.
It is hard to think of a boundary Turner didn’t break, Jacob Bernstein writes. See her life in photos.
Other Big Stories
A paralyzed man was able to walk naturally again using brain and spine implants.
The typhoon that lashed Guam with at least 150 mile-per-hour winds is now heading toward the Philippines and Taiwan.
Fetty Wap, a rapper who shot to fame with his song “Trap Queen,” was sentenced to six years in prison for drug trafficking.
TikTok employees have regularly posted user information on the messaging tool Lark, raising questions about the company’s data practices.
The Biden administration is funding projects around the country aimed at reconnecting communities divided by highway design.
A group of orcas has been ramming into boats in Southern Europe, sinking three.
When transgender people sue to block anti-trans laws, they are also protecting the right to dress how one pleases, Kate Redburn writes.
To remove plastic from oceans, governments should focus on just 1,000 polluted rivers, Boyan Slat writes.
Here are columns by Pamela Paul on affirmative action and Charles Blow on the Republicans in the presidential race.
Superstar barbers: Their clients are celebrities. So are they.
Bussin and cakewalk: Editors released words from a dictionary of African American English.
Millionaire vs. billionaire: The mega-rich are just like us — they fight over home renovation, too.
Advice from Wirecutter: Try a timesaving laundry sorter.
Patio chic: How to hang your outdoor string lights correctly this summer.
Lives Lived: Bill Lee was a bassist and composer who scored the early films of his son Spike Lee and worked prolifically as a sideman for Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin. He died at 94.
SPORTS NEWS FROM THE ATHLETIC
A walk-off clincher: Matthew Tkachuk scored with 4.9 seconds left in the Panthers’ win over the Hurricanes, sending the No. 8 seed to the Stanley Cup Final.
Block mania: P.G.A. pro Michael Block is still trying to make sense of his newfound fame.
Superfan: The eccentric Yankees ballhawk who caught an Aaron Judge home run ball this week is more than a lucky spectator.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Classical audiences return
Last fall, orchestras around the U.S. were in crisis: They were playing to concert halls that were often less than half full. “It was very visible, and very scary,” said Melia Tourangeau, the chief executive of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. But those fears as easing this spring, as orchestras find success winning back audiences with popular programs and collaborations on film screenings and theater productions.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
These crispy chicken cutlets are infused with lemon.
What to Watch
The eight-episode Disney+ series “American Born Chinese,” loosely based on Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel.
Now Time to Play
The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was deductive. Here are today’s puzzle and the Bee Buddy, which helps you find remaining words.
And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
Here’s today’s front page.
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David Leonhardt writes The Morning, The Times’s flagship daily newsletter. He has previously been an Op-Ed columnist, Washington bureau chief, co-host of “The Argument” podcast, founding editor of The Upshot section and a staff writer for The Times Magazine. In 2011, he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. @DLeonhardt • Facebook
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