DemDaily: DeSantis Declares

May 25, 2023

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced his long-anticipated bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination last night, officially kicking the contest, now seventeen months away, into high gear.

The ultra-conservative politician, considered the main threat to frontrunner former President Donald Trump, proclaimed the news on Twitter Spaces with Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of the social media site. Billed as a “groundbreaking” event, technical issues crashed the live stream for the first 25 minutes of the 6pm ET announcement, losing 85% of the initial 650,000 people who had tuned in to Twitter.

The episode was indicative of a candidate who, on a number of fronts, is not viewed as ready for prime time.

A March 12, 2023 CNN poll saw DeSantis leading Trump by 2% among Republican presidential primary voters. The same pollster, on May 20, 2023, found DeSantis trailing Trump by 27% among Republicans nationwide.

Background
A Jacksonville native, DeSantis graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School, where he was commissioned as an officer in the US Navy. Upon graduation, he joined the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) and was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2006, where he oversaw the treatment of detainees. In 2007, he was deployed to Iraq to advise SEAL Team One before joining the US Department of Justice as a Special Assistant US attorney for the Middle District of Florida from 2008 to 2010.

DeSantis was elected to represent Florida's Gainesville-based 6th Congressional District in 2012 and won reelection with 62.5% of the vote in 2014 and again in 2016 with 58.6%.

A conservative who helped found the House Freedom Caucus, DeSantis was elected the nation's youngest governor at 42 in 2018, narrowly defeating Democrat Andrew Gillum by 0.4%

Long considered the country's largest bellwether state, Florida has trended Republican over the last decade, delivering Trump a 49.02% to Hillary Clinton's 47.82% in 2016, and a 3.36% win over Joe Biden in 2020.

DeSantis was reelected in 2022 by a landslide, defeating former Governor and Congressman Charlie Crist (D) 59.4% to 40%.

Agenda
Boosted by firm control of his state legislature, DeSantis has wielded an authoritarian agenda, establishing his hard-right credentials within the Republican Party.

In his first term as governor, he drew national attention for his opposition to government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, publicly impugning the science behind federal mandates and attacking school districts who defied his executive order banning masks in classrooms.

He has pursued divisive, culture war-focused policies, including signing a six-week abortion ban and targeting the teaching of LGBTQ+ and race issues in public schools. His "Parental Rights in Education Act," commonly referred to as the "Don't Say Gay" law, bans classroom instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation, while his "Stop WOKE Act" allows parents to sue school districts that teach critical race theory. He has also signed legislation banning transgender girls and women from competing in school athletics.

Opposition to the "Don't Say Gay" bill by the Walt Disney Co., one of the state's largest employers, has resulted in a high-profile power struggle with the iconic company. In April 2022 DeSantis revoked Walt Disney World's self-governing status in Orlando, setting off a court battle that has drawn heavy criticism from pro-business Republicans.

Since his 2022 reelection, DeSantis has doubled down on his trademark inflammatory rhetoric. Decrying the "woke" "prounoun Olympics" of the left, he signed a raft of sweeping anti-LGBTQ legislation last week, labeled the "slate of hate" by LGBTQ advocates.

The laws target gender-affirming care for minors, restrict pronoun use for trans children and school employees, penalize businesses that put on drag shows with minors in attendance, and forbid use of bathrooms different from one's assigned gender.

Eyes on the White House
In preparation for his presidential bid, DeSantis published a campaign-oriented memoir, The Courage to Be Free: Florida's Blueprint for America's Revival, in February, launching a nationwide book tour to mixed reviews.

DeSantis, nevertheless, starts his campaign with more money in an outside group than any Republican primary candidate in history. Over $80 million is expected to be transferred from his state account to his super PAC, which has reportedly already raised $40 million.

DeSantis will hit the campaign trail next week, traveling to the early GOP presidential voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Update on the Field: DeSantis is the seventh candidate to enter the 2024 GOP presidential field, after Trump, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, former South Carolina Governor and fomer UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, author and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and conservative talk show host Larry Elder.

Related
DemDaily: The Expanding GOP Field. Tim Scott Enters Race 5/22/23
DemDaily: Biden: No One Left Behind 5/4/23
DemDaily: Biden Back In The Fight 4/25/23
DemDaily: GOP Files First Fundraising Numbers 4/18/23
DemDaily: Indictment Divides Expanding GOP Field 4/3/23
DemDaily: CPAC Kowtows to Trump 3/6/23
DemDaily: Red State, Blue State 2/27/23
DemDaily: The Contenders. The GOP Field Takes Shape 2/21/23

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Sources: The Guardian, AP, New York Times, Reuters

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