Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis inspired the Texas Legislature to pass many bills this session.

Who is the most powerful Republican in Texas? The response from Texas Monthly Senior Editor Michael Hardy may surprise you.

Hardy recently wrote about the impact Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has on the Texas Republican Party, especially after his 19-point second-term victory in November.

DeSantis has made headlines in recent years for addressing Florida’s culture wars, from curbing LGBTQ-themed curriculum to banning mandatory masks. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us a little about why you think Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis plays a huge role in the GOP 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 starting this week. There are numerous bills that, in many cases, directly echo what DeSantis has already signed in Florida. There is a law that creates the state’s electoral police to fight election fraud. There are laws that criminalize gender-affirming health care. There are laws that restrict businesses, their ability to demand vaccinations from their employees. So it’s clear that Texas legislators are taking a cue from Florida and DeSantis.

What is it about DeSantis that makes Republicans in Texas think they should tie their van to what it’s doing in Florida?

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

It was very interesting that it was Ron DeSantis, as I understand it, who sent buses from the Texas border to some other place – I think it was New York or something like that. Do you remember it?

Yes. I think this is actually an example of DeSantis following Abbott’s example. You know, this is what Abbott has been doing for months now, and DeSantis wanted to be a part of it.

I think maybe we’ve reached something. Do we have a 2024 rivalry between DeSantis and Abbott? Are they eyeing each other for possible participation in the presidential elections?

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

Well, let’s say something else about the popularity of DeSantis among ordinary Republicans. I mean, it’s one thing to garner some support among Texas GOP members, but overall, do you think he really has material for 2024, at least for the GOP nomination?

I think he definitely does. Trump’s influence continues to wane and DeSantis’ influence continues to grow, in part because DeSantis won his re-election to the Florida governorship by 19 points while Trump’s candidates faltered across the country. And if you really want to understand his popularity, you need to go back to the pandemic, because DeSantis really made a name for himself by opposing vaccine and mask mandates and stay-at-home orders earlier than any other governor. Abbott was far behind him.

I wonder what all of this means for ordinary Texans right now. I mean, we’re getting close to the legislative session starting on the 10th. Do you think Republican lawmakers in Texas will try to adapt their legislation based on the question “What would Ron DeSantis do?”

Well, Texas legislators are accountable to their constituents, and their constituents love DeSantis. So it’s no wonder they file a plethora of bills that echo what DeSantis is doing in Florida. You know, it’s ironic. For years, Texas Republicans have been saying, you know, “Not California is my Texas.” Suddenly they are rushing to Florida with their Texas.

Do you see this as the direction for the Texas Republican Party for years to come? We’re talking about a short term effect, based on what you can say?

Depends. If DeSantis runs for president, he will become the de facto leader of the national Republican Party and set the agenda in the same way that Trump has done for four years.

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