Profile

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

Frontrunner for Republican candidacy lays out his credentials at conservative conference

The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, has fuelled rumours that he is planning to run for president after a high-profile speech in which he savaged Joe Biden and his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The right-wing Republican, “who is both an ally and possible rival to Donald Trump”, delivered the attack at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the largest annual gathering of grassroots conservatives in the US, The Guardian reported.

The event was held in Orlando, in his home state, but “the broad and national sweep of his address, which did not mention Trump by name, was consistent with eyeing a potential White House run in 2024 or 2028”, the paper said.

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”, said 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 said. 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 reported.

CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod suggested 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 saw 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 “cast himself as the leader of the resistance” against Joe Biden’s pandemic strategy, the CNN pundit added.

At CPAC this week, DeSantis attacked Biden’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci. “From the very beginning, we refused to let this state descend into some type of Faucian dystopia where people’s freedoms are curtailed and their livelihoods are destroyed,” he said.

“Florida has defeated Faucism. Freedom has prevailed in the sunshine state. I really believe had Florida not led the way, this country could look like Canada or Australia.”

His management of the pandemic “cost him much of his non-Republican support”, said 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”.

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 reported. But his star is undoubtedly rising - and that “has got conservative donors excited”, The Economist added.

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 said.

While Pence is “jeered”, the paper continued, 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.

During his CPAC address, “the crowd cheered and applauded DeSantis”, The Guardian said, reserving their boos for Biden. “I can tell you there’s one fellow that just hates Florida: his name is Joe Biden,” DeSantis said.

Conservative political commentator Karol Markowicz has claimed 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 said. “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.”

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

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

Recommended

Quiz of The Week: 18 - 24 June
Ed Davey and Richard Foord
Quizzes and puzzles

Quiz of The Week: 18 - 24 June

The 6 January hearings: a reckoning for Donald Trump?
The US Capitol
The latest on . . .

The 6 January hearings: a reckoning for Donald Trump?

The Mediterranean cities preparing for a tsunami
A tsunami in 2011 in Japan
Fact file

The Mediterranean cities preparing for a tsunami

‘Air rage’
Today's newspaper front pages
Today’s newspapers

‘Air rage’

Popular articles

Are we heading for World War Three?
Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the frontline in Zolote, Ukraine
In Depth

Are we heading for World War Three?

When is the next UK general election?
A sign directs voters to a polling station
In Depth

When is the next UK general election?

The Mediterranean cities preparing for a tsunami
A tsunami in 2011 in Japan
Fact file

The Mediterranean cities preparing for a tsunami

The Week Footer Banner