Can Ron DeSantis Beat Donald Trump? These Florida political veterans aren’t so sure

hEe is a ubiquitous presence in conservative media with a reputation as an anti-Semitism crusader who has used a compliant state legislature to make Florida a mecca for Trump-era Republicanism.

But if Ron DeSantis wants to be president, he’ll have to defeat Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and Florida’s leading politicians aren’t so sure either of those things will ever happen.

The second-term Florida governor, who for months has rumbled through the traditional primary battleground states of Iowa and New Hampshire, maintaining his manifesto-cum-memoir courage to be free The once twice impeached former president was seen as an insurmountable obstacle to his dream of reclaiming his place in the White House.

But since Mr. Trump found himself on the wrong end of an indictment from a New York grand jury, the Florida governor has seen his standing in the polls plummet, while his fellow Floridians soar to a commanding lead among GOP primary voters.

Nevertheless, Mr. DeSantis is set to launch a presidential campaign for a presidential primary that is supported by a good portion of his party and carries a formidable war chest carried over from his successful re-election last year.

He gained that support — and a national profile — through his outright rejection of any and all restrictions or mandates to win the hearts and minds of some former Trump boosters to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, and he did some has placed its core support between The GOP deadpans by using an obedient state legislative majority to enforce a laundry list of conservative priorities and fighting the resulting culture war to raise its profile even more.

A Republican media strategist working on Mr Trump’s 2020 campaign, Giancarlo Sopo, told Independent He believes Mr. DeSantis is the “obvious choice” to lead the GOP in next year’s election as he describes the role of Florida governor as “the most difficult this country has taken since Ronald Reagan.” bold conservative agenda” and Mr. DeSantis’ “unparalleled ability to demoralize and defeat the left”.

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Yet Mr. Sopo’s confidence in Mr. DeSantis’ abilities was not shared by many veterans of the Florida GOP Independent,

None of the Florida-based operatives would speak on the record for fear of alienating the governor, who has earned a reputation for vindictiveness during his five years in Tallahassee.

But the consensus opinion among GOP political strategists, many of whom have had a hand in the national campaigns of past years, was that the governor’s reputation as a liberal-triggered prizefighter is a carefully constructed facade — a recent invention. which is a construct. A coterie of belligerent press aides and sympathetic media outlets.

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Mr. DeSantis’s reinvention as a wake-up-struggle legend standing on the fringes of the Sunshine State could not be more unlike what he himself has done during the five years he spent in Washington representing Florida’s 6th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. How to operate

The future governor won his first House election in 2012, just two years after the Tea Party movement that arose after Barack Obama’s inauguration, helping the GOP wrest control of the chamber from the Democratic caucus led by Nancy Pelosi.

As he geared up to run in that election, Mr. DeSantis found a way to capitalize on anti-Obama sentiment within the GOP by calling his first book. dreams of our founding fathers — a title that established it as a response to Mr. Obama’s best-selling memoir, my father’s dreams,

DeSantis faces a tough fight for the GOP nomination against former ally Donald Trump

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

After being sworn into Congress in January 2013, he quickly became one of the most conservative members of a conservative House Republican conference. After winning a second term in the 2014 midterms, he became a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of far-right Republicans that became a thorn in the side of then-House Speaker John Boehner, elected Ohio Republican . To resign rather than suffer the humiliation of being forced to make more than one deal with Mr. Obama.

The Florida Republican compiled as conservative a voting record as any member of the House GOP, but despite arriving on the scene at a time when his brand of hard-right conservatism was becoming more and more trendy In the House, he has never been as well-known as some of his more conservative colleagues, such as Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Mark Meadows (R-NC) or Justin Amash (R-MI).

One possible reason for this – his reputation as an awkward loner – already appears to be hindering his chances against Mr Trump.

A former House GOP colleague, former Representative David Trott of Michigan told political man Earlier this month Mr. DeSantis never attempted to start a conversation with her during the two years they sat next to each other on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I was new to Congress, and didn’t introduce myself or even say hello,” she recalled in an email to the outlet. playbook newsletter.

In a subsequent phone interview, Mr Trott also called the Florida governor an “a*****e” and said he did not think Mr DeSantis “cares about the people”.

Another House aide who spoke anonymously to NBC News said he had “no friends” in Congress and was “not a backslapping politician”.

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“He was not a friendly guy. He was a personal-agenda-driven man,” said one legislator. “I used to be with him at the gym every morning and could hardly say hello to him. It didn’t seem like he Loved being here.

Mr. DeSantis’ perceived dislike of the lower chamber became apparent after just two terms when he briefly stood as a candidate for the Senate seat held by Senator Marco Rubio, who was then running for president in the 2016 primary. Were.

When Mr. Rubio lost the Republican primary for the presidency to Mr. Trump, Mr. DeSantis remained on the ballot for his House seat and easily won a third term.

But after a short period of aggressively working to gain Mr. Trump’s favor Criticism Following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the then-president rewarded DeSantis’ loyalty with an endorsement when he ran in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial primary.

After winning the GOP nomination, Mr. DeSantis narrowly defeated his Democratic opponent, former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, by less than a percentage point at the Florida governor’s mansion.

DeSantis, his wife Casey and their children on stage after speaking to supporters at an election night party after winning re-election last year in Tampa, Florida

(Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Their ascent in Florida coincided with massive inward migration to Florida, a state with no income tax. At the same time, a steady drumbeat of GOP messaging that casts even the most moderate Democrats as “socialists” has helped push Latino voters — many of whom were immigrants from countries with de facto socialist governments — toward Republicans. To start voting for.

With those winds at his back – and a new prominence in right-wing media thanks to his disapproval of public health measures like Covid vaccines and masks – Mr DeSantis projects a slightly lower 20 points in 2022, even Historically won re-election by flipping Democratic. Areas such as Miami-Dade County.

His victory on the midterm election ticket coincided with a historic Democratic defeat at the state level, leaving Florida Democrats in a vulnerable minority position in the state legislature and leaving the party without a single representative among elected officials statewide.

But when Mr. DeSantis left Washington after winning the governor’s mansion in 2018, he did so with few friends other than Mr. Trump, whose support among Florida’s delegation has been so strong that earlier this year the Florida governor’s office was voted off. The much-publicized visit to the Capitol has come to an end. Several Florida congressmen walked out of a meeting with him to announce that they were once again endorsing the former president.

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One of those members was Representative Byron Donalds, a second-term congressman who represents the Sunshine State’s 19th District.

Mr. Donalds, who has been a close ally of Florida’s governor in the past, said in a statement that he was supporting the twice-impeached former president over his own state’s governor.

He said, “At this time in our nation’s history, there is only one leader who can seize the moment and provide what we need – to get us back on track, provide strength and resolve, and make America great again.” To make great.”

She previously praised Mr. DeSantis for doing a “tremendous job” during a recent appearance on right-wing commentator Megyn Kelly’s satellite radio show, but added that Mr. Trump’s prior experience gives him “muscle memory” that That would provide an advantage in next year’s battle with President Biden — and in a second term.

“Donald Trump has been through these fights. He knows where these landmines are and so he can come in and be effective.

That trip and the subsequent loss of support among his own congressional delegation was an early sign that the factors that propelled Mr. DeSantis to the right’s new celebrity were far beyond his awkwardness and apparent aversion to social ties. There may not be enough to do. And those same factors – his disapproval of anti-Covid measures, his support for fighting the culture war, book bans, restrictions on gender-affirming care and opposition to the teaching of black history – could make him toxic on the national stage.

As a result, Democrats hope that a White House run will make her appear as little more than a delicate flower that will wither under the warm lights of a presidential campaign.

Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL), an outspoken critic of DeSantis who harassed him at an event years ago, told Independent That he’s liking the idea of ​​a Trump-DeSantis primary fight.

He added that he would enjoy “arguably the two worst guys in politics going at each other” and admitted that so far the sparring between the two has provided “some entertainment”. But he also said there is a danger of giving Mr. DeSantis or Mr. Trump a chance to get into the White House.

“The unfortunate part is that, you know, the effect is real,” he said. “It’s important and I’m going to be one of those guys banging the drum for people to know how terrible they both are, but especially DeSantis.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who briefly served with Mr. DeSantis in the House of Representatives, said she took no pleasure in watching Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis fight.

“There is nothing pleasant about Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump,” she said. Independent, “The havoc she has wreaked on us in our state has been devastating to education, to health care, to women’s reproductive decisions.”

Ms Wasserman Schultz said she expected Mr DeSantis’ run to be the beginning of the end for his political career.

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