Officially: DeSantis is in a fierce battle with Trump
He will campaign on two fronts: persuading Republicans that Trump’s baggage will weigh him down in the general election, while castigating Democratic President Joe Biden as a weak executive beholden to the left.
DeSantis, in laying out the stakes of the contest, described a country in crisis – gripped by what he described as a far-left hellscape where children have been “indoctrinated” into “critical race theory” and gender dysphoria, where Americans have been stripped of basic freedoms during the pandemic and where Democratic leaders have allowed crime to run rampant in big cities.
“We have a responsibility to preserve what the father of our country called the ‘sacred fire of freedom,'” DeSantis said during a recent appearance in Marathon County, Wisconsin, referring to the end of the Civil War, the Allied invasion of Normandy and the fall of the Berlin Wall. “It is the torch that we must carry. In Florida, it’s a torch that we carry.
DeSantis frequently echoes Britain’s wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, in promising to “never, ever surrender to the woke mob” – almost equating his political opponents with Nazis.
For Republican primary voters, the sensible 44-year-old governor promised the high-end electoral success that has eluded the Republican Party since Trump’s victory in 2016.
DeSantis, who sailed for a second term in a battleground state last year even as Republicans nationwide underperformed, will instantly become the leading alternative to Trump in what promises to be a grueling battle for the Republican nomination. The Florida politician enters the primary with a huge financial advantage, and while he’s still second to Trump in public opinion polls, he’s still far ahead of the rest of the GOP field.
On paper, he’s an ideal candidate for the GOP: Having grown up middle-class in Dunedin, Fla., DeSantis earned his undergraduate degree at Yale — where he was baseball team captain — and went on to graduated from Harvard Law School. He served alongside the Navy Seals while deployed to Iraq, worked as a federal prosecutor, and was an early member of the Tea Party.
But he has been criticized by donors and others for waiting too long to enter the race and for his sometimes gruff demeanor.
In private meetings at his official residence in Tallahassee lately, DeSantis has told donors and fundraisers he can outplay Trump in key states like Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, according to a person briefed on the news. diners who granted anonymity to share details of the private talks.
Still, DeSantis faces a huge challenge to Trump — one that looks even more daunting now than it did several months ago, when DeSantis was closing in on Trump in the polls.
Trump is bringing a loyal following of Republican voters and party activists to the race — an enviable base that DeSantis has courted with a conservative record buoyed this year by a malleable state legislature that has pushed most of his agenda forward. . Under his leadership, Florida banned abortions after six weeks and allowed the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit.
In recognition of the relentless attacks he’s already resisting from Trump, DeSantis portrays himself to Americans as strong-willed and enduring — a message that Super PAC backing him, “Never Back Down,” has emphasized in ads.
DeSantis’ challenge to Trump follows an arc that saw the former congressman catapulted into the governor’s mansion with the former president’s direct help in the 2018 election, where he narrowly defeated Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum. During his first year as governor, he spent time focusing on increasing teacher pay and environmental programs in an effort to broaden his appeal to moderate voters. But everything changed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
DeSantis initially accepted calls for lockdowns and other measures, but quickly became the public face of resistance to federal health officials over mask mandates and vaccine mandates. Florida’s economy has rebounded faster and faster than other states, though critics have argued its stances are damaging. But his stances propelled him as a new conservative star who only grew when he got into battles over race and gender identity. Meanwhile, the Republican Party under his leadership finally caught on – and eclipsed Democrats in party registration – as a wave of people moved from other states to Florida.
After Trump lost re-election, DeSantis turned his attention to Biden and often blamed him for immigration as well as Covid-19. DeSantis also aimed to fight his way through the former president and his supporters. He declined to say whether or not he believed the 2020 election was rigged as falsely alleged by Trump, but at the same time DeSantis pushed through a series of changes to state election laws to fend off calls from some Trump supporters for a full forensic audit. .
In recent months, DeSantis has continued to mount a balancing act where he dismisses criticism of Trump without confronting him directly.
DeSantis indirectly defended the ex-president when a New York prosecutor charged him in an alleged secret money scheme involving a porn star. He’s ignored many of Trump’s world jabs at ‘pudding fingers’ and ‘Meatball Ron’, and in recent months has repeated some of Trump’s MAGA rallying cries – calling for a wall along the southern border , taking an isolationist stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. and engage in a protracted fight with Disney.