On the CNN GOP debate stage, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis outshined former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on education reform and school choice. He’s an effective warrior on these fronts, with proven results. Florida ranks No. 1 in public education quality, according to US News & World Report, while South Carolina limps in at No. 42. Conservative powerhouse Heritage Foundation ranks Florida No. 1 on education freedom, while South Carolina ranks 16th.

DeSantis’ faltering polling after his promising start indicates that he should have burnished his state education credentials more during his presidential campaign rather than saber-rattling so loudly against Disney in the culture wars.

Education is a stronger way for DeSantis to illustrate leadership that Donald Trump legally couldn’t execute as president at the federal level (although Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos certainly made impressive strides).

But DeSantis spent more time trying to mimic Trump’s brashness — an impossible task — rather than standing tall on his policy strength. As cable host Bill Maher put it, GOP primary voters wouldn’t select DeSantis playing the role of Trump’s “tribute band” when they could select the original band itself.

When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper whether DeSantis wanted “to implement Florida’s education policies nationwide,” DeSantis gave a compelling, nuanced answer, saying it depends: He said that school choice should be incentivized nationally through scholarships and tax credits. But DeSantis also rightly rejected a national curriculum and called for eliminating the federal Department of Education to “get that weight off the backs of the state and local governments,” though I’m not sure abolishing the Education Department and disbursing its duties to other agencies is feasible. DeSantis was additionally right in pointing out that the outsized power of teachers’ unions must be broken.

DeSantis has provided a blueprint for improving education, and it stood out against Haley’s much weaker record. But he needed to sell that blueprint better throughout his campaign, not just in the waning days before the Iowa caucuses.