Politically speaking, this is the best and worst of times to be Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Let’s start with best: Midway through his first term, the Sunshine State governor’s local and national trajectory aligns with a SpaceX rocket launched from Florida’s Space Coast — with enough energy to reach 2024 apogee without a crash and burn.
Hailing from the nation’s third most populous state – one expected to increase its Electoral College votes from 29 to 31 after redistricting — DeSantis is currently among America’s most high-profile governors. And he’s popular too. According to a recent statewide poll of likely voters, DeSantis has a healthy 64% job approval rating and 24% disapproval. Unusual for a Republican, DeSantis garners high marks from 62% of Hispanics and 40% of African American voters while being applauded by 68% of whites in an ethnically diverse state — one that reflects a national electorate that was 33% non-white in 2020.
Florida Republicans are especially bullish on DeSantis, giving him an 85% job approval rating. He also earns an eye-popping 60% among independents and a respectful 46% from Democrats. In today’s highly polarized climate, swing-state approval ratings don’t get any better.
With his no-nonsense attitude and “Don’t Mess With Florida” leadership style, DeSantis appears to have weathered Hurricane COVID. This week it was reported that the seven-day average for new cases has been steadily declining there since Jan. 8. Although Democrats and the mainstream media have singled him out for constant criticism and vilification throughout the pandemic and other issues, his long-haul success has injected him into the national conversation about higher office — and a place in the 2024 betting odds.
Check out PredictIt, the popular betting site with “trading” on who will win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. At this writing, DeSantis ranks second with 12-cents. But he lags well behind the 33-cent position held by the former/possibly future president. That potential and formidable candidate – golf-loving, orange-tanned, angry, and with scores to settle – happens to be a recent full-time Palm Beach resident to whom the governor is indebted for his own current title. Which brings us to the “worst time” to be young Ron DeSantis.
A myriad of Donald Trump-related obstacles await this smart, ambitious up-and-comer, a Florida native who envisions breathing the rarefied Oval Office air by 2025 at age 46. (And then there’s the potential challenge posed by his equally ambitious fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio.) But first, let’s establish why DeSantis has the bandwidth to attempt to conquer MAGA World and topple its king. How about a resume that checks every box for a traditional presidential candidate?
Take a look: DeSantis is a Yale and Harvard Law School graduate. A U.S. Navy officer who served on active duty in Iraq as a legal adviser to the SEALs. He earned a Bronze Star and a few other medals and currently holds the rank of lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve.
DeSantis has never lost an election, including a Republican congressional primary (2012), three congressional races (2012-2016), one gubernatorial primary, and one gubernatorial campaign.
At the same time, DeSantis is not a warm and fuzzy kind of guy who feels your pain. Some say he is detached and does not connect well with voters on the trail. If not for Trump’s zealous endorsements and DeSantis’ seemingly continuous Fox News presence, the outcome in his poorly managed and messaged 2018 races would likely have been different. As it was, DeSantis barely defeated Andrew Gillum, his Democratic gubernatorial opponent, by less than a hair’s breadth, 49.59% to 49.19%.
All you need to know about how much DeSantis owes his 2018 victories to Donald Trump is to watch this over-the-top Trump-love TV spot. The ad is guaranteed to haunt DeSantis should he make his national break from Trump and, after that, perhaps for the rest of his career. The truth is that DeSantis and Trump used each other in 2018 because Trump desperately wanted an uber-loyal Republican governor to deliver the state’s electoral votes for his 2020 reelection. Mission accomplished on both fronts since Trump won Florida by 3.3 percentage points, up from 1.2 points in 2016.
That said, DeSantis will be up for reelection in what promises to be an expensive, ruthless and nasty 2022 campaign, which will resemble a national race because the outcome is of national consequence.
Democrats want to crush and eliminate DeSantis as a 2024 contender, but as yet they have no major player to deploy against him. Perhaps Nikki Fried, the state’s agriculture commissioner and highest elected Democratic officeholder, can succeed in raising her profile. Otherwise, DeSantis looks like he will easily win reelection. (Then, again, this is the state where anything can — and often does — happen.)
But how much does the former/future president really want to support DeSantis knowing that a decisive 2022 victory sets up the governor to be his leading 2024 primary challenger? More reason why the DeSantis/Trump power play/dance will be enthralling to watch. If DeSantis wins reelection without Trump in the presidential running, he catapults into the 2024 primaries as a young, two-term governor from a large, influential state that has never had a native son in the White House. DeSantis would be MAGA World-ready to carry the conservative battle flag against those “socialist” Democrats. And with proper campaign management, he has the chops to be successful. Never forget that Trump won 74 million votes, and a large percentage would transfer to DeSantis, the Trump acolyte. (Watch that 2018 TV spot!)
However, that means Trump must step aside, but only losers do that. DeSantis’ worst nightmare could be seeking the nomination after the former president sets himself up as the presumptive nominee over the next three years.
The governor would argue that he is a more viable national candidate. In his (assumed) 2022 reelection, he could point to how he won independents, suburban women, and voters of color — especially Hispanics, who would be about 15% of the national electorate in 2024. (They were 13% in 2020.)
Like it or not, Trump and DeSantis are tied together for 2022 and 2024. Unofficially, the kickoff for the Republicans to take back Washington begins Friday at CPAC – in Florida, of course! DeSantis is the first speaker, and Trump closes the gathering (more like a Trump rally) on Sunday. Is there some “first and last” symbolism there?
All we know for sure is that Trump is a fighter, and DeSantis is an intellectual Ivy League warrior who served as the legal adviser to SEAL Team One in Fallujah, Iraq. Expect an epic battle, starting now.
Myra Adams is a media producer and writer with numerous national credits. She served on the McCain Ad Council during the GOP nominee’s 2008 campaign and on the 2004 Bush campaign creative team. She can be reached at MyraAdams01@gmail.com or @MyraKAdams on Twitter. Related Topics: Florida, Election 2024, CPAC, Ron DeSantis, Politics