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DeSantis launches 2024 White House bid

May 24, 2023
File photo of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
File photo of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

MIAMI — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has filed paperwork confirming that he will run for US president in 2024.

DeSantis will publicly launch his bid for the White House in an online appearance with Twitter's Elon Musk at 18:00 eastern time (22:00 GMT) Wednesday night.

The 44-year-old is former president Donald Trump's chief rival for the Republican Party nomination.

DeSantis, a Harvard law graduate and former US naval officer, has waged a war on what he calls "woke ideology"

Other Republican candidates include former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy

The much-anticipated face-off is finally here. DeSantis is styling himself as a Trump-style conservative without the Trump baggage.

His pitch is that he has a record of achievement on conservative priorities and values that he can point to as Florida governor — a contrast to the four years of the Trump presidency that had few legislative victories.

During his time in office, he’s enacted high-profile conservative laws to loosen gun-ownership laws, restrict sex and gender identity education in schools, tighten voting rules and limit abortions.

His willingness to take on big corporations that he views as advancing a liberal agenda suggests that he views hot-button cultural issues as of greater concern to Republican voters than advancing more traditional pro-business Republican policies.

It’s a gamble, illustrated most dramatically by his feud with the Disney Company. That year-long fight began when Disney criticized a Florida law restricting what teachers could discuss in classrooms about sexuality and gender identity, following protests about the law from Disney employees.

“He is Mr Culture Warrior in the extreme,” said Myra Adams, a Florida based columnist and political strategist who worked on Republican presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008.

“He was always considered conservative, but this was a choice that he made because he thought this would get him Trump voters.”

DeSantis is also making the case that he is a winner, undefeated in races for Congress and governor.

“We must reject the culture of losing that has impacted our party in recent years,” DeSantis said during his Iowa visit two weeks ago. “The time for excuses is over.”

To take the Republican nomination, however, he will have to convince some less-enthusiastic Trump supporters that he is a better version of Trumpism than the original.

That could be a fine line to walk, given that there will be other candidates also trying to be the non-Trump choice. DeSantis, however, has one big advantage - lots of money.

At the end of last month, the Florida governor had $88 million (£71 million) in a fund, Friends of Ron DeSantis, that was raised for his Florida re-election campaign and can be transferred to his presidential bid.

He also reportedly has around $30 million controlled by an independent committee that his allies can use to support his campaign.

Trump, by contrast, reported a combined $18.8 million in fundraising over the first three months of 2023, with $13m in his main campaign account. Other Republican presidential candidates have even less cash on hand.

The Florida governor has also been working to build a campaign ground game, courting local officials and power brokers in key early voting states in the Republican nomination contest. On that recent trip to Iowa, he announced endorsements from more than three dozen state legislators - greater than any other candidate by far.

All in all, it makes DeSantis a very formidable candidate - at least on paper. But campaigns are not waged on paper, they’re conducted in front of living voters and under the harsh glare of a national media spotlight.

And after appearing to be an unstoppable force in the days after his impressive re-election victory, the Florida governor has seemingly wilted.

Polls last year showed DeSantis running neck-and-neck, or even leading, Trump. They now have Trump with more than 50% in many surveys, while DeSantis trails by double digits. Even if DeSantis consolidated all the non-Trump voters, he would trail still Trump in the RealClearPolitics aggregate of polls.

A common theme among those choosing the former president over the current governor is that DeSantis was too cold and unwilling to engage in personal politics.

An international trip meant to show DeSantis could hold his own on the global stage received lackluster reviews. Some high-profile potential donors have been unimpressed.

“So many donors that are so [annoyed] because they paid a lot of money to be in a room with DeSantis, and he didn’t give them the time of day,” Adams said. “He’s robotic, and he doesn’t have an easy-going personality.”

The on-paper juggernaut could be looking more like a paper tiger.

“He should be the next generation,” Adams continues. “He should be the younger, smarter, more nimble Trump. But the numbers just don’t speak well for how he’s going to overcome Trump.”

Numbers can change, of course. There still is the possibility that circumstances could improve or the former president might stumble under the weight of accumulated legal issues.

Once the dust settles, DeSantis could end up the Republican nominee — and find himself with a host of new challenges as he takes on Joe Biden and the Democrats.

While his backing of hardcore conservative social policies — his “Mr Culture Warrior” persona — has won him support among Republicans, some positions, particularly on abortion, could hurt his ability to appeal to moderate voters.

That, however, is a next year problem. The Florida governor has plenty of challenges just in the months ahead. — BBC


May 24, 2023
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