Taking on Trump, DeSantis launches presidential run
After a landslide reelection last year, Florida governor seeks to wrestle GOP’s top mantle from former president
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a rising star in the Republican Party and former Donald Trump acolyte, announced his campaign for president of the United States on Wednesday during a plagued Twitter Spaces event.
After nearly a half-hour of technical difficulties, DeSantis made the declaration during a conversation with Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of the social media giant and a supporter of the conservative governor. Just hours earlier, DeSantis officially filed the paperwork to run for office.
“American decline is not inevitable, it is a choice,” said DeSantis, 44. “And we should choose a new direction, a path that will lead to American revitalization. I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback.”
The new candidate then launched into a familiar stump speech attacking President Joe Biden’s “open border,” the “medical communism” of COVID-19 vaccine mandates and “the woke mob.”
“We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track,” DeSantis said.
Then, the event turned into a question-and-answer session between the governor, Musk and venture capitalist David Sacks, who has donated to DeSantis in the past.
After praising the new direction Musk has taken Twitter, DeSantis spent several minutes attacking lockdowns and school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic before switching to his feud with Disney.
"Florida stands for the protection of children we believe jamming gender ideology in elementary school is wrong,” DeSantis said. “Disney obviously supported injecting gender ideology in elementary school.”
Other DeSantis supporters, including U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky and podcaster Steve Deace, asked the new candidate about closing the border and banning Bitcoin.
“You have every right to do Bitcoin,” DeSantis exclaimed at one point. “I do not have an itch to have to control everything people may be doing in this space. And the current regime has it out for Bitcoin and in another four years, they will kill it.”
The beginning of the audio chat was beset with problems, cutting in and out, dissonant echoes and a several minutes of dead air. At one point, Sacks said the amount of people, about half a million, was “melting the servers.” After an extended silence, Musk said they were allocating more server space, then the audio cut out again for several minutes.
“We’re just trying, trying to get it going because it’s, there’s just so many people,” Musk said before the feed ended. “It’s unfortunate. I’ve never seen this before.”
Fifteen minutes in, Biden, capitalized on the moment by tweeting, “This link works,” and a site collecting donations for his reelection.
After nearly 30 minutes, the event started in a new Twitter Space link with half the number of attendees.
DeSantis joins a growing GOP field, including Trump, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, South Carolina U.S. Senator Tim Scott and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. Former Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to enter the race soon.
DeSantis’ intention to run for the nation’s top office was one of the worst-kept secrets in Florida politics.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor became increasingly critical of lockdowns, mask requirements and vaccine mandates, and sparred publicly with President Joe Biden.
By 2021, as the response to the pandemic began to lose favor among the populace, the governor was touted as a possible contender in the 2024 presidential campaign.
When questioned about possible presidential aspirations, DeSantis always demurred and pointed to the 2022 gubernatorial race. But during the last two legislative sessions, he pushed Florida lawmakers to pass a 6-week abortion ban, end so-called “sanctuary cities” and enact “anti-woke” policies – all major talking points among the nation’s Republicans.
During last year’s gubernatorial campaign, DeSantis frequently attacked Biden’s national policies more than his opponent, former Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist. During the contest’s only debate, Crist asked DeSantis if he would serve a full term and not run in the 2024 presidential election. DeSantis refused to answer.
The buzz around a presidential candidacy intensified in November when DeSantis trounced Crist for a second term as governor. Suddenly, DeSantis began appearing all over conservative news outlets. Add in the release of a book – “The Courage to Be Free” – and trips to Iowa earlier this year and political pundits all but guaranteed DeSantis would fight for the 2024 Republican nomination for president.
But DeSantis faces one major problem in receiving his party’s nod: Trump.
Despite earlier support from Trump, the former president has taken to attacking DeSantis in stump speeches highlighting his own bid to take back the presidency. In typical Trump fashion, the former president has branded the governor as “Ron DeSanctimonious.” Hypothetical polls taken before DeSantis’ announcement have him trailing Trump, sometimes by more than 30 points.
DeSantis supporters, on the other hand, see the Florida governor as the perfect alternative to Trump. He supports many of the same policies as the former president and frequently spars with the media, but without much of the political theater or gaffes that follow Trump.
DeSantis also has an impressive resume. He graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School before joining the Navy. He served at the terrorist detention center in Guantanamo Bay before being deployed to Iraq as a legal adviser to SEAL Team One. He received several honors, including the Bronze Star Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
In 2012, DeSantis ran for the U.S. House of Representatives to represent the 6th Congressional District of Florida, and won handedly. Voters elected him two more times. In 2018, he ran for governor and squeaked out a win, beating his Democratic opponent, former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, by less than half a percentage point.
During the beginning of his first term, DeSantis seemed to act like a moderate Republican.
He appointed three conservative judges to the Florida Supreme Court in his first two weeks of office and pushed for voting restrictions much to the delight of fellow Republicans.
Yet he also received praise from environmentalists for authorizing billions in funding for Everglades restoration and wildlife corridors, and from teachers for approving across-the-board raises.
But as the response to the Covid-19 pandemic began to polarize the nation, DeSantis’ rhetoric veered further to the right.
He condemned the Biden’s administration’s border policies, going as far as flying dozens of asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard last fall. He also criticized transgender athletes and the teaching of critical race theory. Last year, DeSantis signed a law prohibiting public school teachers from lessons revolving around sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade – the infamous “Don’t Say Gay" bill.
That bill led to a public feud with Disney after the corporate giant criticized the law and vowed to end political contributions.
In this year’s legislative session, Florida lawmakers largely rubberstamped the governor’s wish list that included tougher immigration restrictions and restricting teacher and public sector unions.
Meanwhile, DeSantis and his super PAC, Never Back Down, has quietly accumulated more than $110 million, according to Politico. The governor plans to rack up more donors in the coming days, including at a meeting at the Four Seasons in Miami after his announcement.
Before his announcement, Trump allies quickly pounced on DeSantis.
“This is one of the most out-of-touch campaign launches in modern history,” said super PAC MAGA Inc. spokesperson Karoline Leavitt in a statement. “The only thing less relatable than a niche campaign launch on Twitter is DeSantis’ after party at the uber elite Four Seasons resort in Miami.”
Trump himself took to his social media platform, Truth Social, claiming he is the sole reason DeSantis became governor due to his endorsement.
“I gave it to Ron and the race was over,” Trump wrote. “In one day, he went from losing badly to winning by a lot. With LARGE TRUMP RALLIES, he WON THE GENERAL ELECTION in an upset. DISLOYAL!!!”
Democrats also began taking aim at DeSantis on Wednesday.
“Ron DeSantis wants to ‘make America Florida’ by banning abortion, putting the gun lobby over public safety and prioritizing political stunts at the expense of working families,” the Democratic National Committee tweeted before his announcement.
Nikki Fried, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party tweeted, “Ron Dion and Elon. Just two charismatic, relatable dudes who nobody hates at all, podcasting.”