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Is Ron DeSantis a Paper Tiger?

Ron DeSantis
Governor Ron DeSantis speaking with attendees at the 2021 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida.

The conventional wisdom has held for nearly a year at this point: if Donald Trump isn’t the Republican nominee for president in 2024, it will probably be Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Such speculation only grew when DeSantis was decisively re-elected as governor in November after he had won a much narrower victory four years earlier. 

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Now that the calendar has flipped to 2023, the speculation has only grown heavier, even though Ron DeSantis has not said he’s running for president.

 Most polls have shown Trump leading in a theoretical head-to-head matchup, but it remains extremely early, and Trump still has a massive advantage regarding name recognition. 

Ron DeSantis: Peaking Too Early? 

The Hill, this week, looked at what it means that DeSantis is the early frontrunner.

It wanted that having that status isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially considering that another Florida governor, Jeb Bush, was the frontrunner heading into the 2016 campaign. 

“People flame out. It’s too early to know who’s actually going to be in contention, but he’s certainly had a successful election and he’s a strong candidate from a big, important state, so you can’t discount him,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told The Hill. 

The conventional wisdom indicates that if the Republican electorate is ready to move on from Trump after two straight elections in which the was GOP nominee, DeSantis seems the most qualified alternative.

Don’t Get Too Excited

He has conservative bona fides, he’s been easily re-elected, he’s a prodigious fundraiser, and he has embraced the type of culture war politics that are of the moment on the right. 

The best case, for Republicans, is that DeSantis could pursue a political program similar to Trumpism, while also avoiding the more negative parts of the Donald Trump experience, from the impulsiveness to the tendency to do things that trigger criminal investigations and special counsels. 

However, there are other reasons to be skeptical about DeSantis’ chances to become the next president.

The first is Trump.

Despite all of the many reasons to believe the ex-president is past his prime — as well as the possibility that he could be indicted at some point before the 2024 voting start — Trump still commands a strong following in the Republican base. 

If he runs against his fellow Florida resident, Trump will likely go negative and personal on him, with Trump likely also even more motivated by his having endorsed DeSantis for governor in 2018 and expecting loyalty in return.  

It’s unclear if Ron DeSantis is prepared to repel such attacks in a way that no one in the 2016 GOP race could manage.

And in the event that DeSantis emerges victorious in a 2024 primary contest, it’s unlikely that Trump will stand on the sidelines; it’s more likely that he’d do everything he can to undermine DeSantis or any other candidate who manages to defeat him. 

There are also questions about Ron DeSantis as a general election candidate, even beyond the possibility of Trump sniping at him daily.

DeSantis’ brand of scorched-earth culture war politics may be popular in red states, but it has less of a track record nationally. In the 2022 midterms, that type of politics was roundly rejected in most swing states. Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who appeared with DeSantis at a rally and expressed his wish to make his state “the Florida of the north,” was defeated soundly. 

The GOP may have hoped that running against critical race theory, drag queen story hours, and transgenderism would go down as winning wedge issues for them, leading to a red wave or tsunami in 2022, but that didn’t happen. In fact, anti-LGBTQ sentiment — with which DeSantis, with his “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida is closely associated— has proven a political loser for Republicans in the country at large, and especially in swing states. 

In addition, DeSantis’ “STOP WOKE ACT,” which mandates that certain subjects are off-limits for teaching, has raised questions about academic freedom, free speech, and general illiberalism. Even as it makes conservative voters’ hearts sing, this raises both political and constitutional questions about DeSantis’ presidential chances. 

Mark Leibovich, the ace political reporter and author of “This Town,” wrote a piece in late November from The Atlantic arguing that there might be less to Ron DeSantis than meets the eye. For one thing, he doesn’t have nearly the personality, charisma, or political touch of the previous Republican standard bearer. 

“The question is whether DeSantis’s presidential hopes will perish as he starts getting out more on the Iowa–New Hampshire dating apps. People who know him better and have watched him longer are skeptical of his ability to take on the former president. DeSantis, they say, is no thoroughbred political athlete. He can be awkward and plodding. And Trump tends to eviscerate guys like that,” Leibovich wrote. “No shortage of alleged heavyweights have entered previous primary races only to reveal themselves as decidedly not ready for prime time, or even late-night C-SPAN.”

He’s not the only one who has said that. 

“DeSantis has ZERO charisma. He’s weird with people. He’s cruel. He’s driven by a huge authoritarian impulse. He can’t think on his feet. He has a glass jaw. And he’s super easily offended,” former Rep. Joe Walsh, an arch-conservative-turned-Trump critic who briefly ran for president in 2020, tweeted back in November

“I may be in the minority here but I think DeSantis will not succeed on a national level. Too toxic. Too brittle. Too much of a martinet. Florida is not like the rest of America. Even Red America. Protracted scrutiny will hurt him. So will a vindictive Trump,” journalist David Rothkopf tweeted around the same time. 

And besides, despite his landslide re-election, DeSantis was nearly defeated in 2018 by Democrat Andrew Gillum, who not long after was felled by a bizarre scandal involving meth and male prostitutes, and last year was the subject of a 21-count federal indictment that included charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, and making false statements. 

An MSNBC op-ed after the election noted that while DeSantis won by a lot in Florida in 2022, “DeSantisism” lost many other places. 

“His war on wokeness, attacks on liberals, and divisive culture war politics played well in Florida, but elsewhere it landed with a resounding thud,” Michael A. Cohen wrote. “Even as he faced a re-election fight, DeSantis found time to travel the country and campaign with Republican politicians cut from the same cloth. He attended rallies with Kari Lake and Blake Masters in Arizona, Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Lee Zeldin in New York, Mark Ronchetti and Rep. Yvette Herrell in New Mexico, Derek Schmidt in Kansas, and J.D. Vance in Ohio. The first seven all lost, and while Vance emerged victorious, he ran nearly 10 points behind his Ohio Republican ticket mate, Gov. Mike DeWine (who did not campaign with DeSantis).”

Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.



  1. GhostTomahawk

    January 9, 2023 at 1:17 pm

    Guess what you’re not pouring into the equation?

    How God awful Democrat candidates are. How good awful 2023 is going to be for the US economy. No one is going to buy “the economy is complicated” when it’s in full recession this year and next.

    You are right about one thing. Blue state voters are stupid. They’ll vote blue because they’re low IQ people regardless of what college they attended. Which is part of the problem. Which is why they can be hoodwinked with social justice propaganda their states and elected leaders use as camouflage for their criminality they perpetrate in the people name.

    DeSantis isn’t brittle. He’s part of the new GOP. This isn’t gpas establishment kleptocracy anymore. This isn’t Mitch McConnells GOP. It’s MINE. Generation X is taking the GOP from the boomers. Get good with it.

  2. RICK (nmi) CHAVEZ

    January 9, 2023 at 1:22 pm

    Ron Desantis talks as though he is the individual to lead the MAGA crowd by calling everything “WOKE” thinking that he will increase support for his presidential ambitions. That may work in Florida, but for people looking towards the future of our country, by 2024, he will still be a MAGA chieftan and may push away fellow Republican candidates like Pence, but he has no understanding of world events, climate control, kindness, and compassion, and once the McCarthy Republicans with Jordan, Gaetz, Thompson-Greene, and Boebert begin their ringling brothers circus, with congress and Desantis failing to give us solutions to solve the border other than sending busloads of immigrants north, Americans and conservative Republicans will see more dysfunctional government. Republicans should be trying to work with Democrats to build a better country instead of cow towing to every far-right group and the NRA. Every corporation in the United States is run by both Republicans and Democrats focused on making their companies (IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, 3M, Ford, GM) examples of how congress should work. MAGA is not how to build an American century.

  3. Scott_fs

    January 9, 2023 at 2:19 pm

    1945 used to be a good site for military news.
    Now it’s just another shill for the Democrat party. Not interested in political nonsense.

    I like The Drive much, much better. They actually report on military news, esp. Ukraine.

  4. Rick

    January 9, 2023 at 2:20 pm

    If it weren’t for culture wars, attacking Disney for disagreeing with his attacks on the LGBTQ community and trying to reinvent education he would be unknown. Florida is filled with bigots and racists. That along with his poor interpersonal skills is unlikely to play well on the national scene. His attacks on transgendered kids is pitiful. Additionally, his national plea and reward of $5000 for cops with questionable backgrounds won’t endear those who are concerned with police violence. He is not the man to lead in a balanced way.

  5. Bruce Batista

    January 9, 2023 at 3:01 pm

    Yes, the man who just won the governorship of the third largest state in the union (and growing) by 20 points is a total loser.

  6. Bruce Batista

    January 9, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    Now please regale us with opinion pieces on how culture warrior and large state governor Ronald Reagan cannot possibly win in 1980.

  7. Marty Johnson Heade

    January 9, 2023 at 3:49 pm

    So many ignorant people on here. “Florida isn’t like the rest of the country!” they mumble incoherently. Florida is EXACTLY like much of the rest of the country. We have people flooding here from all over the country. Ron’s first election he only won by < 0.05 % of the votes. And he was running against a black socialist bisexual. The people of Florida saw first hand how great of a governor Ron is for ALL the people, that is why he won in a landslide this past election. Dems fear him, that's why all the leftist rags sic their partisan scribes on him. They tell lies about him and his agenda, and those illiterates who only read those lies about him come to hate him too. Gee, I wonder why. We already see DeSantis 2024 signs down here. He's no Jeb! That's why the left hates him.

  8. LETO

    January 9, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    The author of this article seems to forget that the GOP won the popular vote by 4%. So what DeSantis is selling is being bought.

    It is possible scarring the younger voters about potential lost of abortion after 3 months and losing school loan payoffs (which would be taxable) plus ballot harvesting were the only reasons the Democrats did not get pummeled.

    Finally DeSantis has a record of handling the pandemic better than the blue states.

  9. Kevin Hall

    January 9, 2023 at 4:49 pm

    The Desantis record is in stone. He shows how it’s done. Just like Reagan.
    It’s just attack time for the Libs now. Trumps marginalized, now the Lib Commies here go after Desantis. Very predictable.
    The person above is right, stay in your lane. Military News please.

  10. El Gato

    January 9, 2023 at 6:42 pm

    Hey Rick, quit shilling for the rich climate control crowd. They are about control, but its not climate. While they live in their big mansions,jet about the world in private jets, spewing TONS of carbon into the atmosphere, they extol useful idiots like you to put down someone like Desantis who is actually bring useful change to the country, and nailing child-groomers and their supporters hides to the wall. Oh, this comment is for you also Steve

  11. Michele Worthington

    January 9, 2023 at 7:14 pm

    I live in Fl, and I am disappointed and disgusted by what DeSantis is shoving down our throats. He has a my way or the highway approach and is a smiling bigot who doesn’t like anything or anyone different then his narrow minded personal opinion. He is hamstring education in Florida as well as causing mental anguish to a population of already marginalized people. I pray that the writer is correct that he flashes and burns early.

  12. Rick

    January 9, 2023 at 10:29 pm


    You were just whimpering about our kids future paying the debt in another story. Do you find it hypocritical that the national debt will bury kids, yet there won’t be an inhabitable world for them? Bright, really bright.

  13. Johnny Ray

    January 10, 2023 at 9:25 am

    DeSantis is the man to beat in ’24. Period. There is no other competition on either side. Dems got nothin’, Reps got nothin’. Trump is washed up and punch drunk sounding more loony tunes every time he opens his BS spewing mouth.

    BTW, I won’t vote DeSantis. Got reasons. But, I am quite sure the rest of the country, at least the majority, most definitely will.

  14. Comrade Rasputin

    January 10, 2023 at 2:34 pm

    Ron would be an excellent choice as a VP for the 2024 election cycle with follow-up Big Guy in 2028-32 elections.

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