The Political Fortunes of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis: A Downturn and the Challenges Ahead

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has experienced a downturn in his political fortunes after a successful 2022 reelection campaign, which has put him far behind former President Donald Trump in the polls. DeSantis has failed on foreign policy and has been outmaneuvered by Disney, while Trump has effectively undercut DeSantis’ MAGA bonafides with attacks on the governor’s support for Paul Ryan-era entitlement reforms while a member of Congress.[0] This downturn in DeSantis’ fortunes also reveals the extent to which the Florida governor and other Republicans have badly misjudged Trump’s own rise. He shows the clear desire to imitate the ex-president’s pugilistic style and to replicate his penchant for picking big culture-war fights.[1] But Trump won in 2016 in large part for two reasons that DeSantis and any Republican, for that matter, will struggle to replicate.[1]

One was that Trump was able to moderate on some positions during the campaign without taking a lot of blowback, most notably on the matters of Social Security and Medicare; he actually kept himself at a distance from some of the GOP’s most reactionary and unpopular positions.[1] It’s probable that going in the direction of DeSantis and others on abortion by supporting the gutting of Roe v. Wade, which Trump primarily caused, is a misstep.[1] But more importantly, DeSantis doesn’t understand that Trump’s recklessness, the very thing to which the Florida governor is trying to present himself as an alternative, is the very key to the former president’s popularity.[1] To numerous voters, it emphasized the reality that Trump was not a politician, as opposed to DeSantis, and that his governance style would differ from the usual Republican approach.[1] Once in office, he largely didn’t deviate from party doctrine, but a glimmer of that authenticity remains—DeSantis has none of it.[1]

Despite these challenges, DeSantis remains a formidable political force.[2] His recent travels have attracted scores of Republicans intrigued by the governor’s track record of conservative victories in Florida.[2] Despite not officially joining the campaign trail, surveys consistently indicate that he is the frontrunner to impede Trump’s bid for a third nomination.[2] His mere existence has significantly aided the fundraising efforts of regional Republican organizations; his recent visit to New Hampshire resulted in the state GOP generating almost quadruple the amount of any previous fundraiser in its history.[2]

However, as he steps out onto the national stage, DeSantis has hit a rough stretch, facing questions about his political strategy, policy stances, and personal touch.[2] Some allies have privately expressed concern about his contentious agenda, waffling on Ukraine, and reserved response to Trump’s relentless assaults on his record.[2] As he finds his footing, a few important contributors have indicated their intention to withhold their donations.[2] The murmurs reached a crescendo this week when Trump unveiled a series of endorsements from DeSantis’ home state just as the Florida governor traveled to DC to build support for his not-yet-announced campaign.[2]

Donors, activists, and other supporters are increasingly voicing worries that DeSantis has made unforced errors or embraced extreme positions that could hurt him in a general election, including the abortion ban he signed last week.[3] He’s had to clarify comments on Ukraine that prompted some criticism in the party.[3] Some Republicans perceive him to be distant when it comes to personal interactions.[3] Trump has consistently criticized DeSantis and increased his advantage over the governor in nationwide surveys, while gathering a series of significant endorsements in Florida and other areas.[3]

In recent weeks, the inherent challenges of DeSantis’s efforts to appeal to different wings of his party have come into sharper focus.[3] Donors and other Republican officials balked at his written statement dismissing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” unimportant to American interests, a phrase he walked away from in a subsequent interview.[3] Langone and other major contributors have publicly expressed their opposition to Governor DeSantis’ recently signed statewide ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Despite not highlighting the ban in recent speeches across the country, DeSantis quietly approved the legislation.[3]

0. “Over Before It Began?” The Cook Political Report, 20 Apr. 2023,

1. “Ron DeSantis Is Having an Epic Disaster of a Week” The New Republic, 19 Apr. 2023,

2. “DeSantis allies prepare for financial show of force as Florida governor seeks to overcome early stumbles” CNN, 20 Apr. 2023,

3. “DeSantis 2024 presidential momentum cools with Trump dominating polls” The Washington Post, 20 Apr. 2023,

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