It’s one of Washington’s worst kept secrets and on Wednesday it finally became official: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis joined the field of Republican presidential candidates challenging Donald Trump for the 2024 nomination. But will DeSantis, who has positioned himself as a more electable version of Trump, be able to convince the GOP?
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has all the elite credentials of a prototypical US presidential candidate, from graduating with honors from Yale and Harvard Law School to earning a bronze star for meritorious military service. And Trump – who announced his presidential bid last November – must have sensed the danger.
For months now, the former president has tried to pre-empt a potential DeSantis presidential bid by trying to undermine him with verbal attacks. Amid reports that the Florida governor is hours away from announcing his candidacy, Trump launched a new round of attacks Wednesday, calling DeSantis ” disloyal”.
“He was, and is, a disciple of the horrible RINO (Republican in name only) Paul Ryan, and others too numerous to mention,” Trump wrote.
“Besides, he really needs a personality switch and, as far as I know, they’re not medically available yet. A disloyal man!”
But DeSantis is gearing up for a fight. In the weeks leading up to the announcement he toured the United States, particularly visiting states that held early nomination contests, including Iowa and New Hampshire.
But perhaps more importantly, he is waiting for the Florida Legislature to hand him a series of policy victories to give him conservative credibility. – including a six-week abortion ban, making it easier for Floridians to carry concealed weapons, and eliminating funding for diversity programs at public universities.
In late April, he also made his first trip abroad since 2019 to meet with Japan’s prime minister, a move The New York Times labeled an effort to “put his credentials on the foreign policy” before a run at the White House. DeSantis faced a lot of criticism from fellow Republicans after calling Russia’s war in Ukraine a “territorial dispute”. The outrage forced DeSantis to immediately retract the comment.
While in Japan, the Republican hopeful said he hoped the United States would stand by Japan “every step of the way” as it faces rising challenges from North Korea and China.
Walk a fine line
To win the Republican race, however, DeSantis will have to walk a fine line, as Trump still wields influence as a kingmaker.
DeSantis, for example, deftly dodged the question of whether he believed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump but also embraced some of the more extreme ideas expressed by election detractors. In a November 6, 2020, interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel — three days after the presidential vote and one day before it was called for Joe Biden — DeSantis suggested that state legislatures could i -override the consequences by naming pro-Trump voters regardless of the outcome of the vote.
But DeSantis also needs to maintain enough distance from Trump to appeal to voters who have turned their backs on him.
He can count on support from many of the Republican Party’s “Never Trumpers” — some of whom have since voted for Democrats — giving him a broader national appeal.
During his tenure as governor of Florida, the 44-year-old also adopted many of the far-right’s “culture war” arguments, being completely anti-mask during the Covid-19 pandemic and banning schools in teaching critical race theory (CRT) – the idea that racial inequality is systemic and thus intrinsic to, for example, the US criminal justice system – even though CRT has no official place in the school curriculum.
He is behind the push to ban math textbooks in his state that are considered too “woke” and a controversial law in Florida that limits the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools nicknamed “Don ‘t Say Gay” bill.
DeSantis is currently in a bitter fight with Walt Disney Co over the company’s criticism of the law and has filed a federal lawsuit accusing DeSantis of arming the state government to punish its operations.
And even before the US Supreme Court acted to overturn Roe v Wade, DeSantis weighed in on the abortion debate by signing legislation banning the procedure after 15 weeks — and has since signed a bill banning them after six weeks.
In September of last year, DeSantis was criticized for moving unsuspecting migrants to Democratic states in an expensive — and for many critics, cruel — political stunt designed to play on the anti-immigration right. wing. DeSantis faces a subsequent investigation by the Treasury Department into whether he misused federal pandemic relief funds to fly two planeloads of Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
DeSantis embraces Trump’s combative style and many of his policies, but also has striking differences. DeSantis has publicly expressed concern about the growing U.S. deficit, which began ballooning while Trump was in office. Although both men downplayed the effects of global warming, DeSantis supported legislation to prevent sea level rise and protect the Everglades.
Trump, for his part, criticized DeSantis’ abortion ban as “very bad”.
DeSantis also supported tougher sanctions on Russia while Trump said Ukraine should look at a deal with Vladimir Putin.
The fact that DeSantis is waiting to throw his hat in the ring, however, lends Trump more time to publicly attack him — which may have cost him national polls.
In a May 24 poll released by CNN, Trump still leads with 53 percent of Republican-leaning and Republican-leaning voters, while DeSantis gets less than half that, or 26 percent.
From Harvard to Gitmo
When DeSantis was sworn in as governor in 2019 he was, at age 40, Florida’s youngest governor in a century. His official biographies often describe him as a “native Floridian with blue-collar roots” who went on to follow a top-flight trajectory from Yale University to Harvard Law School (he ended up have honors from both).
DeSantis graduated from the Naval Justice School in 2005 and was assigned the following year to serve as a military attorney at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where his responsibilities included ensuring that detainees were treated according to the law, according to a story in the Tampa Bay Times. He served as legal counsel to the SEAL commander in charge of a special operations force in Fallujah during the 2007 “surge” of US troops in Iraq.
Following his active duty service, DeSantis was an assistant US attorney for the Middle District of Florida.
A former guest columnist for right-leaning periodicals such as the National Review and the Washington Times, DeSantis sought to detail how former US president Barack Obama departed from America’s founding principles. in his 2011 book, “Dreams from Our Founding Fathers: First Principles in the Age of Obama”.
DeSantis was first elected to Congress in 2012 as a representative for Florida’s Sixth District. In his first term he founded the Freedom Caucus, a group of hard-right conservative lawmakers. He also became a frequent guest on Fox News and gained the support of the Tea Party, a fiercely anti-Obama right-wing movement, before winning re-election in 2016.
By the time Trump became president in 2017, DeSantis was one of his most vocal supporters. And he had Trump’s support when he announced he would run for governor of Florida, winning the position the following year.
But the similarity between the two men, which was once a source of companionship, soon changed.
Several US media outlets cited sources in Trump’s circle as saying he was not happy with DeSantis’ rise. The Washington Post reported that Trump called the governor “ungrateful”, telling advisers: “I made him.”
And in what was widely seen as a snub in the middle of last year, Trump announced he would speak at a rally in Miami for Senator Marco Rubio the weekend before Election Day but did not mention the Florida crowds respond in support of DeSantis.
DeSantis, for his part, has endorsed a Colorado Republican Senate candidate who says he will “actively” campaign against Trump if he runs again in 2024.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, Reuters)