Often touted as Donald Trump’s main contender, Ron DeSantis has been identified as “presidential” since the last election cycle. Behind him stand a successful tenure as Florida’s governor, a glowing list of endorsements, and an efficient fundraising machinery.
But before he can be truly presidential, he must surpass the first test: the Republican primaries. The first race will be held in February 2024, less than 10 months away. As part of our ongoing effort to get to know the possible players, here’s a quick brief on Ron DeSantis, his experience, and the qualities he may bring to the presidential race.
Who is Ron DeSantis?
Young, decorated, and personable, Ron DeSantis is a proud native Floridian. He grew up in Dunedin, near Tampa, and later attended Yale University and Harvard Law School. In addition, he served in the Navy and reached the rank of Lieutenant before being honorably discharged in 2010.
As a lawyer, Ron DeSantis served as a legal advisor to SEAL Team One. Much of his work during this period is redacted and remains classified – but we know he worked closely with high-ranking officials during the early millennium’s War on Terror. Then, he served as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Florida.
After proving his mettle in the Law, he was deemed ready for the next big step – a career in politics.
DeSantis’ Political Career – A Lesson in Showmanship
Ron DeSantis's first electoral triumph came in 2012 after he was elected for Florida’s 6th Congressional District. His early term helped him earn recognition as one of the “young faces” in the Freedom Caucus, where he supported libertarian ideals, freedom of business, and protections against governmental overreach.
During this time, he remained an outspoken critic of President Obama, especially concerning immigration and healthcare.
Then came his governorship. He was first elected as Governor of Florida in 2018, following a very close election against Democrat Andrew Gillum. During this time, he also enjoyed frequent public appearances with Donald Trump, who publicly endorsed his candidacy.
During the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, DeSantis publicly set out to keep Florida “free from fear” and “open for business.” His direct statements and public appearances may have put him at odds with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but they also cemented him as a reliable libertarian leader. He facilitated prompt school openings, and while he supported vaccination efforts, he also stood firmly against any vaccine mandates.
His largest claim to fame? So far, a series of laws meant to protect parental rights when it comes to children’s education. His “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as well as his ban on CRT, have propelled DeSantis to the top of the headlines – which is exactly where he needs to be if he wants to raise any higher.
As a result, he remained popular within his State and enjoyed a landslide win in 2022. However, the same race also saw “the beginning of the end” for his friendship with Donald Trump.
DeSantis’ Strategy for 2024
Following the events of January 6th, and the ongoing accusations against Donald Trump, many old-school Republican leaders began looking for a new figure to rally behind. So far, over 15 Republican Senators and nearly 50 House Representatives have endorsed DeSantis’ possible candidacy.
With powerful friends comes the chance to recruit the best team. It should be no surprise then that his office is so well-funded: according to Yahoo News, the Friends of Ron DeSantis SuperPAC has over $225 million at its disposal, more than even Donald Trump himself.
And yet, the widespread support has not garnered an official announcement yet. There’s no doubt that he would make a strong contender in the Republican primaries, but as of May 2023, he has steered clear from any binding announcements.
This hasn’t stopped Trump from treating him as a rival, for all intents and purposes. From frequent jibes at rallies to the occasional mean nickname, it is clear that Trump feels DeSantis is worth targeting.
But will it be enough to spur DeSantis into a nomination? Or will it be just one extra arena in which the GOP’s internal divisions are playing out? We still have a few months to decide.
Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.
Image Credit: Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)