‘All hats, no cattle’: Ron DeSantis, the ‘anti-awakening’ Florida governor running for president | Ron DeSantis

The Florida Governor’s official website invites visitors to “Meet Governor DeSantis.” But anyone who clicks that option is greeted with the message, “Governor Ron DeSantis Biography – Coming Soon,” along with his picture and a large white space.

Fans of DeSantis project onto this blank page the ideal of a strong CEO, an “anti-reawakening” warrior, and a consistent winner of the election. His critics are filling the void with warnings that the Florida governor represents “Trump 2.0”, “Trump with a brain” and “Trump without the circus”.

Six months ago, DeSantis was being hailed as the future of a Republican Party tired of former US President Donald Trump’s losing streak. He had proposed plans to beat the Democrats in the election and to export a right-wing agenda nationwide: “Make America Florida.”

But after filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, DeSantis still has everything to prove about his readiness for the final stage.

Florida political insiders suggest he’s undercooked and will fail the ‘sympathy test’ – which candidate would you rather have a beer with?

“I say DeSantis was an overrated political action for a year and a half,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist who has been on more than 30 political campaigns in the state.

“This guy is all hat and no cattle. He lacks that natural verbal and political grace you need to win a victory over Trump, who is a powerful performer on stage.

DeSantis has youth on his side. He was born 44 years ago in Jacksonville, Florida, and grew up in Dunedin, a suburb of Tampa, but writes in his book, The Courage to Be Free, that his upbringing reflected his parents’ Midwestern working class background: me God fearing, hardworking and loving America.

In a biographical detail as American as apple pie and sure to resonate in the heart of the country, young DeSantis lived and breathed baseball. His team in Dunedin reached the Little League World Series in 1991. He captained the varsity baseball team as an undergraduate at Yale University; his Yale jersey hangs in his Florida Capitol office in Tallahassee.

Florida Republican Party Chairman Christian Ziegler said, “Even to this day, he knows the facts about baseball when people talk about it. It was interesting to be in a stadium with him: someone started talking about baseball and he immediately stopped any conversation he was having and started telling stories about various players.

“He is very passionate about sports and can also have great conversations with people around sports.”

After Yale, DeSantis taught at Darlington School, a private boarding school in Rome, Georgia, during the 2001-02 school year. A former student told the New York Times that he taught Civil War history in a way that felt like an attempt to justify slavery.

Then, while at Harvard Law School, DeSantis was commissioned in the Navy and, upon graduation, joined the Judge Advocate General Corps as a barrister. He was assigned to the Guantánamo Bay military prison camp in Cuba, where he oversaw the treatment of detainees. Later, he was deployed to Iraq to advise a team of Navy Seals.

In 2020, DeSantis married Casey Black, a television journalist, at Disney World (which he now admits is “a little ironic,” given his subsequent feud with the entertainment company). The couple have three children: Madison, Mason and Mamie. Casey, 42, remains his closest adviser.

Ron DeSantis, his wife, Casey, and their children on stage after winning his re-election race in Tampa, Florida on November 8, 2022. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

DeSantis briefly worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Florida before winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 2012. In Congress, he helped create the far-right Freedom Caucus focused on “small government” and the ruthless opposition to then-President Barack Obama.

After a short-lived bid to become a senator, he ran for governor in 2018. He was endorsed by then-President Trump, whom he praised during the campaign trail and in a television commercial, and ultimately won by a tight margin. Trump has since taken credit for DeSantis’ victory and accused his fellow Republican of being disloyal for challenging him for the White House.

The new governor did not take the narrowness of his victory as a hint that he should seek consensus; instead, he centralized power in the governor’s mansion, adopted a pugnacious CEO style, and declared that he wanted to get “all the meat off the bone.”

He shaped legislation, punished critics, fought with reporters, and filled state courts, offices, and councils with allies. Fans say his no-nonsense style blew up Florida. Opponents say he has authoritative impulses and a mile-wide average streak.

The turning point in DeSantis’ political career was the coronavirus pandemic. He opposed many of the policies advocated by the federal government to prevent the spread of Covid. He resisted mask and vaccine mandates and was determined to keep Florida businesses and tourist destinations open through most of the pandemic.

His defenders argue that his approach was data-driven and rooted in science because he had primarily been a politics buff up to that point. But the media backlash helped him find his mini-Trump voice: an antagonist of “liberal elites” and Fox News darling but without the rough edges. He was more disciplined and intentional.

Ziegler said: “During Covid he started doing press conferences and the press started pushing him away. And then he started hitting them back – and then, all of a sudden, the audience jumped on it, and they loved that they had a fighter in there for them. I think he took note of that.

Ron DeSantis at Hard Rock stadium on March 30, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Florida during the Covid outbreak.
Ron DeSantis at Hard Rock stadium on March 30, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Florida during the Covid outbreak. Photograph: Wilfredo Lee/AP

DeSantis’ political signature is his foray into America’s culture wars, summed up in his proclamation, “Florida is where the revival will die!” He has led the Republican fightback against what he sees as extreme progressive policies favored by educators and corporations. It has placed limits on how race, gender identity and sexuality can be taught in schools, forcing some teachers to remove books from their libraries. He banned transgender athletes from playing women’s and women’s sports.

Ziegler thinks DeSantis’ status as a father of young children helps explain his desire to fight for parental rights. “He’s a guy who always loves being with his kids and his family. Either he works as a governor or he goes to his kids’ T-ball games and Little League. You don’t hear that. You don’t don’t see that. Frankly, I think he should broadcast that more.

Last year, DeSantis won reelection by nearly 20 percentage points in Florida, a former battleground. He has since signed laws banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, easing restrictions on the carrying of concealed firearms, and ending the state’s unanimous jury requirement for sentencing cases. dead.

But his battle with the Walt Disney Company over his Florida theme park has baffled some donors. His mixed messages about continued U.S. support for Ukraine and his reluctance to respond to Trump’s attacks have also called into question his political savvy. He was even mocked over a report that he ate chocolate pudding dessert not with a spoon but with three fingers.

Now, as Trump leads him in the polls, other Republican candidates are smelling blood.

DeSantis will be under pressure to make a compelling case for why he wants to be president. For some, his motivations for entering politics remain nebulous. Ron Klein, a former Democratic congressman from Florida who chairs the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said, “I’ve never heard the typical thing that I know I presented, and many other people present, on why you did this in the first place. .

“What was that single problem that got you there? What happened in your childhood or something your parents did or an influence around you that had you? I have never heard that or seen that. I don’t recall a personal conduct story as to why he was running for office or why he wanted to be governor of Florida.

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