Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis with his wife Casey DeSantis speak with supporters during an evening wake party at the Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, on November 8, 2022.
Giorgio Vieira | AFP | Getty Images
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis officially filed the paperwork on Wednesday to launch his 2024 presidential campaign, putting the Republican nominee on a collision course with former President Donald Trump in the race for the GOP nomination.
DeSantis is expected to personally announce his run during a Twitter Spaces conversation with Elon Musk at 6 pm ET on Wednesday.
The long-awaited move marks the culmination of years of unrest surrounding DeSantis, 44, whose resistance to Covid-era lockdown rules and willingness to engage in polarizing cultural struggles has quickly made him a Republican darling.
It also makes DeSantis’s simmering rivalry with Trump official, burying their once close relationship as some in the GOP seek to replace the former president as their party’s standard bearer.
Trump has already pummeled the governor with relentless attacks for months. Trump and his allies have attacked DeSantis’ record, his political skills and even his personality, while amplifying negative reports about the governor. A pro-Trump PAC even cut an ad depicting an anecdote about DeSantis eating pudding with his fingers, which the governor denied.
See more information: DeSantis Brings History of Business Battles to Presidential Campaign
Trump’s aggression may have paid off. Polls of the potential primary camp have shown that DeSantis, once a close competitor to Trump, has consistently lost ground for months, even as the governor has visited key battlegrounds and racked up political victories with the GOP-controlled legislature.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday highlighted the governor’s downfall: Republican voters and GOP supporters chose Trump over DeSantis by a margin of more than two to one, 56% to 25%, in a clash of the hypothetical primary field. That result showed Trump extending his gains and DeSantis losing ground in an earlier Quinnipiac poll in late March.
A long-awaited campaign
The move was not a surprise: DeSantis has been seen as a 2024 presidential candidate, even before the end of the 2020 election cycle. While he has kept his mouth shut about his presidential ambitions, the governor in recent months has published a political memoir, hosted events for donors and conservative groups, embarked on a multi-state speaking tour, and released campaign-style videos touting his accomplishments in Florida.
In the meantime, his allies have been hard at work putting together a well-funded political operation that functioned as a de facto campaign for the governor’s imminent presidential candidacy.
The super PAC Never Back Down, founded by former Trump administration official Ken Cuccinelli, has already raised tens of millions of dollars by encouraging DeSantis to run for president. A person familiar with the group’s activities confirmed to CNBC that it expects to work with an overall operating budget of at least $200 million.
That number, first reported by The New York Times, could include more than $80 million that DeSantis allies are expected to try to wrest from the governor’s former state political committee — a controversial transfer that has divided campaign finance experts.
A lawyer trained at Yale and Harvard, DeSantis was elected to the U.S. House in 2012 and became a charter member of the conservative Freedom Caucus before resigning to run for governor of Florida in 2018.
Trump endorsed DeSantis in that gubernatorial primary, giving DeSantis a boost in the polls and prompting him to cut an ad featuring his family adopting a number of Trump’s political slogans and catchphrases. DeSantis’ closeness to Trump went beyond just his rhetoric, with critics noting that the governor’s body language and hand gestures seemed mirror Sometimes Trump’s.
DeSantis handily won the primary and narrowly defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum in the general election.
As governor, DeSantis’ populist rhetoric and focus on controversial social issues quickly earned him a national reputation.
During the coronavirus pandemic, DeSantis has pushed faster than other states to lift public health-related lockdown measures, arguing that the closures have hurt Florida’s economy. These and other changes coincided with an influx of new residents into the state, but drew the ire of health experts and local officials. officials, especially as Covid cases subsequently spiked.
DeSantis also sparked controversy when he joined GOP efforts to protest President Joe Biden’s border policies by flying planeloads of migrants to the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, his support for a controversial bill limiting discussion of sex and gender in public schools, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, has turned into an ongoing fight with disney that lasted well over a year.
Disney, one of Florida’s biggest employers, publicly opposed the bill, joining critics who argued its vague language could lead to targeting and marginalization of LGBTQ teachers and children. DeSantis and his allies responded to criticism of Disney by targeting Walt Disney World’s long-standing special tax district and promising to end the “corporate realm”. Disney has since sued DeSantis and others in federal court, accusing the governor of orchestrating a political retaliation campaign against the company.
In a state where the population is growing but Democratic registration is down, DeSantis’ resistance to Covid safety rules and his perceived left-wing political foes has paid off handsomely. He defeated his Democratic opponent, former Representative Charlie Crist, in the 2022 Florida gubernatorial election, winning by over 20 percentage points.
This time, he did it with virtually no help from Trump.
Polls consistently show that Trump and DeSantis are by far the two most competitive names in the potential Republican primary field, although recent polls show that Trump is pulling away from the pack.
With DeSantis’ profile on the rise, Trump’s view of the governor has soured. Shortly after the November election, Trump lamented “Ron DeSanctimonious”, one of several weird nicknames for DeSantis, along with “Ron DeSanctus” and, supposedly, “Meatball Ron”.
Trump has been marred by his loss to Biden, the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 Capitol riot, and the underperformance of many of his handpicked candidates in the midterm elections. Yet despite those bruises — and his growing legal troubles, including his indictment in a Manhattan bribery case and being found liable for sexual abuse and defamation in another case — Trump is the current GOP pick for 2024.