A number of high profile Republican political candidates are already jockeying to be the next U.S. Senator from North Carolina. Yet, much of the attention quickly pivoted towards the suspense of Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson running. Even if Robinson was merely drumming up his name ID for the news cycle, with no serious consideration of jumping in, he has legitimate appeal. This was all the more evident when somebody close to me called from Northern Michigan saying the local conservative radio host up there spent 20 minutes imploring Robinson to run. The political landscape is changing. We all know partisanship is up, and in a post-Donald Trump Republican Party and culture, voters are hungry for clear contrasts on the issues. Perhaps more importantly, they value a street fighter who has their back most of all.

This is why there is already a considerable buzz around Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-FL, as a 2024 presidential candidate. While dodging a barrage of media attacks over decisions to open Florida while focusing on the elderly population, DeSantis has shot up in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination. He aggressively pushed back against centralized decision-making while citing data often neglected by the media and other Covid lockdown proponents. “The proximate cause of the enthusiasm for DeSantis is his handling of the pandemic, and the media’s attempted manhandling of him,” wrote opinion columnist Ross Douthat in the New York Times. Yet, Douthat goes on to argue that those factors aren’t even his greatest qualities and notes that Florida’s governor is the best compromise candidate for the donor class to wrestle the party back from Trump’s control. Douthat describes DeSantis as “Trump-y when necessary, but not Trump-y all the time.”

It doesn’t hurt that DeSantis is one of the few Republicans that receives consistent praise from Trump and the Florida governor is to the right of many establishment Republicans on immigration and social issues. Asked what would be the main focus if he was president, DeSantis says it’s getting the border chaos and illegal immigration situation under control. He’s also keen on attacking the entrenched bureaucracy and bureaucratic mechanisms in Washington that are eroding the whole concept of representative government. “I think we are at a point now where even if a Republican wins the election the other party still maintains control of the apparatus of the executive branch and that can’t be the place where this goes,” says DeSantis. “If you go in [and win], you should have the opportunity to implement your agenda.”

Right now, outside of Trump, there is nobody more formidable in grassroots conservative circles than DeSantis.

The era of tepid conservatism will continue to shrink as long as the Left continues their headlong assault towards remaking society, not just relating to economic redistribution, but cultural issues where the goalposts are constantly changing as well. Americans now are routinely doxxed and cancelled for having opinions counter to the new cultrual orthodoxy. Often times, those thoughts and ideals were perfectly fine less than a decade ago. Candidates that offer clear contrasts on the issues, while pushing back against news by narrative, are not only in the best position to win, but will thrive.

Robinson recently did just that at the Moore County Republican Dinner in April. The lieutenant governor aggressively pushed back on the media and academy’s negative depictions of the Republican Party on race issues. Robinson made the point too that the Republican Party’s legacy is much richer and vibrant than just articulating talking points on limited government and tax cuts, but oriented toward even deeper principles of human freedom and ordered liberty. If Robinson means that Republicans can’t be successful talking about economic issues alone, he’s 100% right. Conservative is more than economics.

One doesn’t have to support Robinson, Trump, or even DeSantis to be a conservative. Obviously, that’s not the point here. Politicians come and go — they rise and fall. They are all fallible, and often at a much higher rate than the general population. Yet, there is no doubt that the conservative electorate demands an articulation of deeper principles like Robinson offered on the history of his own political party. There is a need to reteach basic truths that have been decimated by cultural wars and political agendas. Voters are waiting and many of the old rules of experience and endless money, while still important, won’t clear the path toward victory.

Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor.