Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is undertaking a strategic pivot in his 2024 presidential campaign, refocusing his messaging toward a comparison between Florida and the national economic landscape. It’s a move in the right direction for DeSantis to stop engaging in the never-ending culture war quagmire and instead zero in on the economic issues currently at the forefront of voter’s minds.
Sometime this week, DeSantis is widely expected to transform his campaign messaging and stake his presidential prospects on a strong Florida-centric economic record. But despite the soundness of the plan, executing the pivot won’t necessarily be smooth sailing.
That’s because both the national and Florida economies have complicated stories to tell – both good news and bad news – which will muddy the waters both for DeSantis and for the rivals attacking him.
The national picture: inflation is hurting people, but where’s the recession?
One of President Joe Biden’s strongest talking points, (admittedly, it ain’t much), is that a nationwide recession hasn’t manifested itself in 2023, and it might not materialize at all. It’s also a positive for Biden that the national gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a pace of 2.4% in the second quarter, beating recession forecasts and market expectations. Consumer spending, nonresidential fixed investment, government spending, and inventory growth all contributed to the surprising resilience of the national economy.
In short, we aren’t out of the woods yet nationally, but the fact that we’re not in a recession makes it tough for DeSantis to find an obvious campaign talking point upon which to base his campaign. The most obvious talking point against Biden – record inflation – could actually prove to be deceptively treacherous for DeSantis.
There are two reasons for that. One is because the national inflation argument is slowly losing some of its potency. Case in point: the national inflation rate “only” rose by about 2.6% so far this year compared to nearly 9 percent last winter, and compared with a 4.1% inflation surge in the first three months of this year.
The second reason is that DeSantis’s own economic record is clouded by nearly double-digit inflation across key parts of the Sunshine State.
The Florida picture: the state economy is strong, but inflation is eating away at the DeSantis success story
There’s no doubt that Florida has been a powerhouse of economic growth, outpacing the national economy in several key areas. In the first quarter of 2023, Florida flexed its muscle with a growth rate of 3.5 percent, far outpacing, and in fact, helping to lift the national economic growth rate to a meager 2 percent. But the state’s job market will be the hero of DeSantis’s narrative. Against the backdrop of nationwide low unemployment rates at around 3.7 percent, Florida shines even brighter, with South Florida posting a stunning 2.4 percent unemployment rate. And that’s even with more people entering Florida’s workforce as Americans from around the nation flock to the Sunshine State in record numbers.
Those are all excellent talking points for DeSantis, especially when coupled with his “Free State of Florida” message. He’s got a strong story to tell about how he opened the state for business earlier than most, a gamble that produced desperately needed economic activity when most of America remained couped up in their homes.
But DeSantis’s post-COVID economic success story is complicated by the state’s red-hot inflation problem, which also has its epicenter in South Florida. There, cost of living increases – skyrocketing housing and food costs – are making places like Miami downright unlivable.
The national inflation rate has been shrinking for months, but South Florida’s inflation rate appears to be stuck in 2022, and it’s only getting worse. Compared to a national inflation rate below 4 percent, South Florida prices in April were up a scorching 9 percent year-on-year.
The bottom line: there’s a lot of political ammo for everyone
As DeSantis starts to make the case for why he should be president, his opponents will undoubtedly try to poke holes in his narrative, pointing to the state’s rapidly inflating cost of living. DeSantis will have plenty of ways to counter those attacks, with his trump card being Florida’s growing population. People are voting for Florida with their feet. Now DeSantis just needs to get people to vote for him, too.