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Ron DeSantis: the governor tipped as ‘Trump 2.0’ presidential candidate

Controversial Florida politician offers Republicans a ‘more efficient style of Trumpism’

While Donald Trump is reportedly plotting a return to the political stage after being ousted from the White House, a younger new version of the ex-president is already waiting in the wings to replace him. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is “second only to Trump in popularity among Republicans”, The Economist says. Some 40% of GOP voters say they would back DeSantis if Trump does not run for re-election in 2024 - and that possibility is looking increasingly likely as a criminal investigation into the former US leader’s business dealings threatens to scupper his political plans. 

So who is DeSantis and why are pundits tipping him as the Trump 2.0? 

Ron’s rise

DeSantis is currently the governor of Florida after having represented the state’s sixth congressional district in the House of Representatives between 2013 and 2018. Prior to entering politics, he served in the US Navy and graduated from Harvard Law School.

DeSantis achieved national fame earlier this year after his comments to reporters about big technology companies censoring conservative figures went viral. DeSantis told a press conference in February that “you can whiz on my leg, but don’t tell me it’s raining” - a phrase now printed on a range of pro-Republican merchandise.

But unlike Trump, the former lawmaker “owes his rise not only to his record of sticking it to the liberal media”, but also to “his knack of being vindicated almost whenever he has done so”, says The Economist.

The rising political star ran for the Florida governorship back in 2018 with a campaign that was “so sycophantically pro-Trump that he became a figure of fun for the national media”, the paper continues. Yet DeSantis stormed to victory after winning the then president’s endorsement.

“Instead of becoming the divisive, ineffective governor he was predicted to be”, however, DeSantis then “swung amenably to the centre”, increasing teachers’ salaries, campaigning to protect the Everglades and supporting for the use of medical marijuana.

All the same, his management of the Covid-19 pandemic has cost him support, with a group of Florida parents launching a lawsuit against him over his efforts to “prevent schools from introducing mask mandates when children return to the classroom in September”, The Telegraph reports.

The legal challenges comes amid a “surge in coronavirus cases in the state and across America”, the paper adds, with daily new infections hitting 100,000 - “the highest level in six months”.

CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod suggests that a standard governor “would recognise the threat and think it your duty to work day and night to ensure that every single resident who is eligible gets the vaccinations that can save their lives”.

But according to Axelrod, DeSantis instead sees an “opportunity” to appeal to “the noisy right” that have backed his “showy defiance” over anti-Covid measures such as “resisting shutdowns, mask mandates and other public health measures”. Indeed, the governor is “casting himself as the leader of the resistance” against Joe Biden’s pandemic strategy, the CNN pundit adds.

Addressing a press conference last week, DeSantis said: “If Joe Biden suggests that if you don’t do locked down policies, then you should, quote, ‘Get out of the way.’ Well, let me tell you this: If you’re coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I'm standing in your way.”

His management of the pandemic has “cost him much of his non-Republican support”, notes The Economist. But DeSantis “did a better job of protecting care homes than several of his media-beloved Democratic counterparts”, and “it must be acknowledged that, again bucking his critics, he got most of the big calls right”, says the paper.

Other challenges facing DeSantis include “lingering fallout over the deadly Surfside condo collapse and fears over other buildings that could be crumbling” in Miami, the Daily Beast reports. But his star is undoubtedly rising - and that “has got conservative donors excited”, The Economist adds.

Fresh face

DeSantis’ presidential hopes centre on the fact that many Republican donors “loathe” Trump but “fear that their preferred alternatives”, including ex-vice president Mike Pence, “could not retain the former president’s diehard followers”, The Economist says.

While Pence is “jeered”, the paper continues, DeSantis “is being cheered raucously at right-wing populist gatherings” - suggesting that he is “the first alternative” to Trump who could hold together the former president’s support base.

Conservative political commentator Karol Markowicz claims that Team Biden is all too aware of DeSantis’ growing popularity. The New York Post columnist argues that attacks on his handling of the pandemic are “all about kneecapping a successful GOP governor”.

DeSantis has become a “target because he won’t bend the knee and continue to implement measures that have failed everywhere else”, Markowicz writes, adding: “The White House is now picking a fight with him precisely because he was successful in opening his state and getting the rest of the country to follow.”

Regardless of whether the White House is gunning for the Florida governor, DeSantis is also experiencing “GOP pushback” as Florida’s “Covid troubles worsen”, writes MSNBC commentator Steve Benen.

“Even some in his party have decided not to endorse the governor's recklessness,” Benen points out. Republican Senator Bill Cassidy told CNN last week that “I do disagree with DeSantis”.

“IWhen it comes to local conditions, if my hospital is full, and my vaccination rate is low and infection rate is going crazy, we should allow local officials to make those decisions best for their community,” Cassidy said. 

But despite such criticisms from within his own party, DeSantis “sees more gold in the battle with the healthcare bureaucrats and experts he says are lording over the citizenry”, suggests CNN’s Axelrod. And “previewing a battle between himself and Biden? That's a chance he could not pass up.”

DeSantis is “an astute politician” who is “plainly intelligent” and boasts a “string of unheralded successes” based on a “more efficient style of Trumpism”, says The Economist.

“The governor is an able politician and so far a winning one,” the paper concludes. “But his rise does not augur an improved version of Trump populism so much as its triumph.”

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