DeSantis enters Republican primaries as ‘Trump without drama’ Republicans see him as an important leader of the culture war in the country.

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Ron DeSantis in Florida, where he is governor
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  • Rose Verbrugh

    editor Bureau Washington

Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, announced on Twitter tonight that he wants to become the Republican candidate in the US presidential election. He is seen as the biggest Republican challenger to Donald Trump. But then he has to sell his conservative policy outside Florida.

Media speculated for months about DeSantis’ possible candidacy. In a unique way, he announced his participation last night, namely during a digital event via Twitter, in which he spoke with Elon Musk, the owner of the platform.

That launch on Twitter was difficult, and was cut short after 20 minutes:

DeSantis in fits and starts on Twitter about his candidacy

“DeSantis is a creation of Donald Trump,” says political consultant Mac Stipanovic. From Tallahassee, the capital of Florida, he followed DeSantis’ advance. “If Trump hadn’t written positive tweets about him, DeSantis would never have become governor,” he says.

The fact that DeSantis is now running against Trump does not go down well with the former president. Trump calls the governor “Ron DeSanctimonious,” suggesting that DeSantis is sanctimonious.

DeSantis (44) was born in Jacksonville and attended Yale and Harvard before becoming politically active in 2012. He became governor of Florida in 2019. His popularity grew due to his contrarian corona policy. He also introduced conservative legislation on abortion, immigration and LGBTI rights.

While Florida used to be a typical swing state, one that fluctuates between Democratic and Republican rule, DeSantis transformed it into a breeding ground for right-wing conservative ideas. “Florida has become increasingly conservative in recent years, and very attractive to Republicans,” says Stipanovich.

During the outbreak of the corona crisis in 2020, Florida, unlike many other states, did not go into complete lockdown. DeSantis soon reopened business and education. Florida became the fastest growing state in America during corona time. DeSantis’ political career took off. In the midterm elections in 2022, the governor was re-elected with almost sixty percent of the vote, a strikingly high result compared to the national election result.

Leader in the culture war

According to Stipanovich, DeSantis is pursuing a variation on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” policy. “Whoever votes for DeSantis votes for Trumpism, without all the drama of Trump himself.” Trump is embroiled in a series of lawsuits, and DeSantis hopes to take advantage of that. He portrays himself as a family man with conservative values. “DeSantis is still with his first wife and he hasn’t gone bankrupt five times in the past, you can’t say that about Trump,” Stipanovich said. Trump manages to maintain the confidence of many Republicans, as 53 percent indicate that they will vote for him, according to the latest poll. DeSantis follows with 20 percent.

Republicans see DeSantis as an important leader in their culture war. Last year, he introduced the “Parental Rights Education Law,” which his opponents dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The law states that education about sexual orientation or gender should be the responsibility of the parents, not the school. Employees at Disney, one of the largest employers in the state of Florida, reacted furiously to the law. Bob Chapek, the Disney executive at the time, was openly critical. DeSantis then stripped Disney of “self-government” over its own property. The judge has yet to rule on the dispute between the parties.

‘Lack of personality’

The Florida state legislature passed a new anti-abortion law in April, making Florida one of the states with the most restrictions on abortion. In September last year, DeSantis put a group of Venezuelan migrants on a plane to Martha’s Vineyard, an island where many Democrats have a vacation home, as a protest against President Biden’s immigration policy. That earned him a lot of criticism, but also a lot of praise from the Republican supporters.

DeSantis is now trying whether this policy also works outside Florida, but according to Stipanovich lacks charisma. “He clearly lacks personality, flexibility and empathy,” says Stipanovich. And that does not guarantee its national success. Stipanovich: “In swing states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, people have less strict views on issues such as abortion and immigration. There, a tough task awaits him.”

He is not the only Republican challenger to Donald Trump. On Monday, Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, announced his candidacy. Other Republicans also announced their participation. In June 2024, the National Republican Convention in Wisconsin will decide who can run against Biden.

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