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Yes, Ron DeSantis Could Beat Donald Trump in a Primary War

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis. Image Credit: Fox News Interview Screenshot.

Ron DeSantis is surging in popularity. Some polls even have the Florida governor outranking former President Donald Trump. If Trump opts out of the 2024 campaign, DeSantis could become the clear-cut frontrunner. Even if Trump does run, DeSantis has the potential to unseat the real estate mogul as the GOP’s standard-bearer. “Half of G.O.P. Voters Ready to Leave Trump Behind, Poll Finds,” a New York Times headline blared in July. 

A Deeply Conservative Campaign Platform

“Far from consolidating his support, the former president appears weakened in his party, especially with younger and college-educated Republicans,” the Times article reported. “Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is the most popular alternative.”   

Given DeSantis’s growing prominence, his biography and his past decisions seem especially relevant. DeSantis’s past offers insights into the governor’s appeal – and into the kinds of stances a DeSantis presidential administration might take. Having covered DeSantis’s early biography, including his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, let’s take a look at his gubernatorial record.

Initially, DeSantis had intended to leave the House for the U.S. Senate. That is a common move, and in DeSantis’s case, he meant to fill the void that Marco Rubio left when he ran for the 2016 presidency. DeSantis ultimately withdrew from the Senate race, however, and waited until 2018 to run for the governorship that term-limited incumbent Rick Scott was vacating. Trump endorsed DeSantis for governor – a move he may now regret, given DeSantis’s threat to Trump’s primacy in the Republican party. DeSantis embraced Trump’s support, which makes sense – Trump was an unrivaled kingmaker at the time. DeSantis made his alignment with Trump a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign, running an ad where he dressed one of his small children in a MAGA jumper and boasted that he had taught his children to say “build the wall” and “Make America Great Again.” 

DeSantis hinged his gubernatorial ambitions on a deeply conservative platform. He advocated for open-carry firearm legislation; to make Florida businesses use the DHS E-Verify program to confirm the legal citizenship of all employees; to impose a statewide ban on sanctuary city protections; to support a constitutional amendment that would require a supermajority vote to increase taxes; to disallow able-bodied, childless adults from receiving Medicaid; and to oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana. 

The platform worked – just barely. DeSantis won a race that required a recount, after the initial count indicated a margin of 0.4% between the two candidates. He took office in January 2019.  

Capitalizing on the Moment

As governor, Ron DeSantis has been reliably conservative. In early 2021, he supported a “crack down” on Big Tech, which coincided with convervative fears that Silicon Valley was censoring conservative voices. Conservatives did have a point: President Trump had just been removed from Twitter, Apple banned the Parler app, and Silicon Valley had helped fund the Biden campaign. DeSantis moved with savvy to capitalize on the moment.

The Florida governor also sought to capitalize on concerns about China’s rise. In 2021, DeSantis proposed legislation to impose stricter requirements on Florida universities collaborating with Chinese academics and universities. He vowed to address China’s economic espionage efforts. Again, the move was savvy, capitalizing on a moment in which China was maligned, and capitalizing on some legitimate concerns: Chinese spies had focused their espionage efforts on U.S. universities

DeSantis really made a name for himself among conservatives during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he refused to declare a state of emergency in Florida and refused to issue a statewide facemask mandate. Initially, DeSantis’s COVID recalcitrance hurt his popularity – but as the pandemic became increasingly politicized, his stubbornness came to seem politically clairvoyant. His popularity began to improve, and he became something of an icon on the right for his COVID stances. 

Ron DeSantis

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis speaking with attendees at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Image by Gage Skidmore.

Ron DeSantis further cemented his reputation among conservatives in early 2022, when he signed the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill into law. The law states that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The law was, of course, highly controversial, with liberals accusing DeSantis and Florida voters of rampant homophobia, and conservatives rushing to defend the governor. In all, the “Don’t Say Gay” controversy, like the COVID-19 controversy, has further heightened DeSantis’s national profile, while further endearing him to Republicans. DeSantis’s gubernatorial track record demonstrates his ability to leverage controversy into political success and leaves him poised to win the White House.  

 Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. GhostTomahawk

    August 22, 2022 at 5:36 pm

    It’s a good problem to have. Conservative people have 2 candidates that are equally better than everyone the democrats have in their stable. You know it’s bad when Joe Biden is all you got and he’s completely terrible and utterly incompetent in every way imaginable.

  2. Jacksonian Libertarian

    August 22, 2022 at 6:25 pm

    A Trump/DeSantis Dream Ticket would give Republicans a 12 year hold on the Presidency.

  3. H.R. Holm

    August 23, 2022 at 12:40 am

    Governor DeSantis would indeed be probably the best candidate, but it would be unfortunate if he did not have two full terms as governor under his belt first, which will not be the case if he competes for the 2024 Presidential nomination. Right now it would probably be best if Mr. Trump does not vie for a second term. Despite the success of his presidency (until Covid), and with so many influentual people thrown against him then and now, he is currently to a considerable extent a spent force, and the continued lightning-rod controversy that still dogs him makes him even more so as time goes on. Democrats will do everything they can to finally shoot him down politically, and that would certainly include trying to insure him a JFK fate either before or after any reelection. They just cannot tolerate the serious prospect of his nomination/reelection, despite the iffyness of its success, because in any next-time second term he will have learned how to better foil them, if only by hopefully surrounding himself with more dependable—and effective—loyalists. That is the bottom-line prospect Democrats cannot bear to contemplate, and hence risk. Trouble is, Republicans have no one else in view right now with that erstwhile Trump political heft and voter connection/loyalty to go up against the Democrat-deep state power apparatus. The Republican mayor of Miami might make a good dark-horse alternate possibility, but would he want it? Trump backing for any (other) Republican presidential nominee will likely be essential to win, but may have to be put in play largely behind the scenes, because will any other Republican want to be framed as a mere Trump puppet or clone?

  4. Thomas

    August 23, 2022 at 9:14 am

    It will be interesting to see how things move forward in the Primary’s. DeSantis certainly checks more boxes in political experience. He has a much better biography for “successful” executive political leadership. he served in the military as a JAG officer. I would say he could provide steadier leadership in the White House. Trump did a good job sifting all the filth to the surface. I would argue that DeSantis is more capable in actually being effectual in meaningful change.

  5. Libertarian in Kommiefornia

    August 23, 2022 at 11:49 pm

    We need 49 more Governors like DeSantis. Trump would lose to him, Trump is still pushing the toxic jab. He owes too many people from his earlier days the people with the really big money!

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