Ron DeSantis wouldn’t be Governor of Florida without Donald Trump.
The then president’s endorsement in 2018 turned a young congressman into the runaway winner of a Republican primary starring a much more experienced establishment favorite, Adam Putnam. Not quite three years later, many party members see DeSantis as the best person to carry on Trump’s legacy as a national standard-bearer in 2024.
It has been a rapid rise and even faster shift in political fortunes, given DeSantis’ reputation at the start of the coronavirus crisis. He has been ridiculed and criticized for rejecting mask warrants and reopening businesses. His approach has been compared, unfavorably, to other governors of both parties, including the now besieged Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. The popularity of DeSantis in Florida has collapsed.
But Florida has, since the start of the pandemic, experienced fewer coronavirus cases and deaths per capita than many states, many of which have instituted more restrictive measures. And the DeSantis poll figures rebound a year before his re-election. A Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy poll last month found him with a 53% job approval rating.
“I think he’s the frontrunner to be the next president,” if Trump doesn’t run again, said Joe Gruters, Florida state senator and state Republican Party chairman.
Such statements cannot be considered parochial in a state where two other Republicans make sense. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, fuel the ambitions of the White House. Nationally, the situation is equally encouraging for DeSantis.
At last month’s conservative political action conference for die-hard GOP campaigners, he finished second to Trump in a straw presidential poll and first in one in which the former president was kicked out. A recent poll by Tony Fabrizio, Trump’s chief pollster in 2016 and 2020, showed DeSantis and several others vying for second place in an area led by the former president and showed the governor to be tied with l former Vice President Mike Pence as the second choice among Trump supporters. . Rubio and Scott both ranked near the bottom.
“When you look under the hood of these numbers, DeSantis garners a lot of support from Trump voters in Trump’s absence,” Fabrizio said. “As the media beat him up as the anti-Cuomo and DeSantis fought back, voters liked it. They associate this type of demolition and speak out with President Trump. He inherits much of it.”
Allies say DeSantis, who did not respond to requests for comment, is relishing a confrontational relationship with a press they say has made him a Republican martyr, precisely the type who can position himself as heir to the Trump mantle. Those working in or around its political orbit insist that it focuses on 2022 first but recognize the temptations of 2024.
“Ron DeSantis has quickly become the most recognizable Republican governor in the country, and I think that bodes well for his re-election and what he wants to do after that,” said Brad Herold, DeSantis’ 2018 campaign manager.
Donors outside of Florida are eager to step into the ground floor, said Nick Iarossi, Tallahassee lobbyist and DeSantis fundraiser.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” said Iarossi, “and you normally don’t have prominent donors from other states looking up and saying, ‘Hey, how do I meet this guy? How can I support it? I think he will be president someday, and I want to get to know him now. I want to support him for his 2022 election to make sure he wins if we need him in 2024. “”
DeSantis’ call isn’t just for the die-hard Trump guys. His approval rate for jobs in the Mason-Dixon poll was 59% among independents.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor whose slight conservatism collapsed under Trumpism in the 2016 presidential primaries, rarely comments on politics these days. But in response to emailed questions about the future of DeSantis, Bush praised it.
“I’m not in business anymore,” Bush replied, “but I’m a Ron DeSantis fan.”
Not everyone is, of course. Only 15% of Democrats in the Mason-Dixon poll approved DeSantis’ performance. A Democratic group, Ron Be Gone, recently launched to push against his candidacy for re-election and prevent him from becoming a serious candidate for 2024.
At 42, DeSantis, an Ivy League-trained naval lawyer and Iraq War veteran, is the country’s youngest governor, serving more than two terms in his House seat in the region of Jacksonville and was set to run for the Senate in 2016 until Rubio disappeared as a presidential candidate and sought re-election. But even admirers describe DeSantis as a political loner. His victory in 2018 was based more on the Trump endorsement he had auditioned for via appearances on Fox News and not the chicken glove that candidates usually have to run for. He has many followers, but few close advisers other than his wife Casey.
“To run for the state election, he invested in this cable news profile,” said Matt Caldwell, a Republican who lost a close race for the post of state agriculture commissioner in 2018. “His relationship is different. If we go to a State Party meeting, I go to people with whom I have personally volunteered and knocked on doors over the past decades. “
DeSantis’ big primary victory and the handling of the pandemic have won the support of party supporters, Caldwell added. This week, the governor summoned a group of professionals in science and medicine, including Dr. Scott Atlas, Trump’s former pandemic adviser, who shares his opposition to warrants and lockdowns. Democrats plan to put Covid-19 at the center of next year’s gubernatorial race. They point to its vaccine distribution program, which critics say has favored wealthy donors. They also note over 32,000 coronavirus deaths and characterize DeSantis as someone who is coldly obsessed with the benchmarking data that makes Florida look better than other states.
“His arrogance and total detachment from the pain and suffering of our communities is very revealing of someone who is in this position to advance his political ambitions, and this is evident as they are already discussing 2024”, a said Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a former congressman from South Florida and one of the leaders of the Ron Be Gone effort.
DeSantis supporters say they are sensitive to the death toll, but believe DeSantis made the right tough choices to keep the economy running.
“With all due respect to those who have fallen ill or who have died or who know someone who has passed away, I think we were able to weather the storm without destroying businesses and people’s economic lives,” said said Nelson Diaz, Republican lobbyist and former Miami-Dade County GOP chairman.
The Mason-Dixon poll found that DeSantis had substantial advances over two Democrats who might come forward to challenge him: Rep. Charlie Crist, the former governor who was a Republican, and Nikki Fried, the agriculture and services commissioner. for the consumption of the States. And DeSantis is pushing for stricter postal voting rules ahead of his run for a second term, a fight that could still endear him to supporters of a former president who falsely claims the last election was stolen from him. Some Republicans who are friends with DeSantis have ditched the caution they usually preach in a state known for close elections and project confidence into 2022.
“I think this is perhaps one of the easiest governors’ re-elections we’ve seen in Florida in a long time,” said Blaise Ingoglia, a state representative and former state party chairman.
“What people generally like is standing up for what you believe in,” Ingoglia added. “Be a fighter, right? And that’s why Ron DeSantis has endeared himself to Donald Trump’s base, a base that I predict is not going to go away.”
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