Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Enters 2024 Presidential Race as Trump’s Top Rival, But Trails in Polls

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has officially announced his entry into the 2024 presidential race and is now Donald Trump’s top rival in the GOP field.[0] This gives “Never Trump” Republicans and old-school conservatives a tough choice: back DeSantis as someone who can save the GOP from Trump or oppose him as a slightly less toxic version of the same poison.[0] However, DeSantis is currently trailing Trump in primary surveys by more than 30 points, according to a Thursday polling average from FiveThirtyEight.[1]

DeSantis has accused Trump of “running to the left” in his first direct attack on his Republican rival.[2] On abortion, DeSantis defended Florida’s newly enacted six-week abortion ban against Trump criticism that it was “too harsh” and that DeSantis didn’t know what he was doing.[2] Last month, DeSantis signed an abortion ban that is considered one of the toughest in the nation. Despite a survey conducted a year ago revealing that 67% of Florida’s population (including a majority of Republicans) believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, the governor went ahead with the decision in the middle of the night.[3]

Throughout Trump’s four years in office, DeSantis served almost two years in Congress and two years as a closely aligned governor.[4] However, the Florida Republican has never before levied such direct and public criticism of the man he now hopes to supplant as the leader of the GOP.[4] The sharpening of attacks against Trump comes after months of subtle digs at the former president’s stint in the White House.[4]

For a while now, Republican mega-donors have viewed DeSantis as the ideal presidential candidate, as they fear that nominating Donald Trump for a third time in 2024 would bring about catastrophic consequences for the party.[5] But it’s been an open question whether the Florida governor, who certainly isn’t known for his charm, will be able to connect with the broader American public.[5] There are indications that DeSantis is aware of the need to take action, as evidenced by his recent visit to Iowa for Republican fundraising events and an impromptu visit to a BBQ restaurant.[5]

In his latest book, “The Courage to Be Free,” DeSantis described his extraordinary use of state power as deliberate and tactical.[4] He resolved to utilize every fragment of it.[6] “One of my first orders of business after getting elected was to have my transition team amass an exhaustive list of all the constitutional, statutory, and customary powers of the governor,” he writes in The Courage to Be Free.[6] “I wanted to be sure that I was using every lever available to advance our priorities.”[6] Aides who were present at the time have confirmed this report, recounting how DeSantis voraciously consumed a voluminous binder of data.[6]

DeSantis has also targeted businesses who dare defy him, most notably Disney.[7] His war on the entertainment giant started after the company spoke out in March 2022 against an act, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics, that prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten through high school per its recent expansion.[7] It has since ballooned into a bare-knuckled confrontation of competing lawsuits, which include Disney’s claims that DeSantis has violated the company’s First Amendment rights.[7]

Despite DeSantis’ criticisms of Trump, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to gain the support of the broader Republican base. Trump still looms large over the party, and many GOP voters remain loyal to him. Nevertheless, DeSantis’ entry into the race adds another layer of complexity to the already crowded and contentious field of Republican candidates.

0. “DeSantis is not giving sane conservatives reason to join his bandwagon” Newsday, 25 May. 2023, https://www.newsday.com/opinion/columnists/cathy-young/ron-desantis-donald-trump-2024-election-i0un1yec

1. “DeSantis accuses Trump of ‘running to the left’” The Hill, 26 May. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/4022266-desantis-accuses-trump-of-running-to-the-left/

2. “DeSantis takes on Trump directly now that he’s a candidate: ‘I don’t know what happened to Donald Trump’” Fortune, 27 May. 2023, https://fortune.com/2023/05/27/desantis-attacks-trump-presidential-candidate-gop/

3. “Why Ron DeSantis hasn’t even scratched the surface of the harm he’s capable of” MSNBC, 24 May. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/msnbc-opinion/ron-desantis-2024-presidential-election-twitter-announcement-rcna84911

4. “DeSantis is going after Trump like never before” CNN, 26 May. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/05/25/politics/desantis-trump-strategy/index.html

5. “Who Was Ron DeSantis’s Presidential Campaign Announcement For?” Vanity Fair, 25 May. 2023, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2023/05/who-was-ron-desantis-presidential-campaign-announcement-for

6. “What Ron DeSantis’ Florida Agenda Could Mean for America | Time” TIME, 18 May. 2023, https://time.com/6280707/ron-desantis-time-cover

7. “Opinion: Why DeSantis is just as dangerous as Trump – or more” CNN, 25 May. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/05/25/opinions/desantis-announcement-trump-2024-gop-nomination-warren-eisen/index.html

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