The War on Terror turned DeSantis Florida into a vigilante antiwar warrior. Will he be able to win in 2024?

When Ron DeSantis took his first steps in the professional world in 2001, he probably didn’t see himself on the path leading to a showdown with the hotel magnate he would become host of in three years. learner on network television.

But, in many ways, Mr. DeSantis’ role in the national spotlight seemed almost predetermined, even all those years ago when he was little more than a junior Navy officer bound for his first assignment. The 44-year-old Yale-educated DeSantis now finds himself the face of a growing faction in the Republican Party that seems as eager to move on from its party’s past as it is to do battle with America’s new cultural norms — the direct past of development GOP recriminations that saw its credibility eroded by the Bush administration’s failure to prove any of the claims that led the US into war with Iraq.

Born in 1978 to Ronald and Karen DeSantis, the man who would become Florida’s current governor was one of the first Republican leaders to emerge in Washington, whose politics were primarily influenced by the war on terrorism. A graduate of Yale and later Harvard Law School, Mr. DeSantis was drafted into the Navy three years after the 9/11 attacks, when America was beginning to come to terms with the fact that military deployment in the Middle East Wasn’t to be a short excursion.

Young DeSantis was immediately thrust right into the middle of that reality: Two short years after his commission, he found himself assigned to legal observation duties at America’s infamous Guantanamo Bay military prison, where both al-Qaeda fighters were being held. Also involved in the fight as well. Those with no proven ties to terrorist groups have endured some of America’s most extreme methods of interrogation and incarceration.

In his memoir, Mr. DeSantis wrote about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Courage to be free: “A recruiter told me that the assumption was that the Iraq campaign would be over relatively quickly, and that the Army would need [attorneys] To prosecute in military commissions of terrorists jailed at Guantanamo Bay.

“That’s not what happened, but it seemed plausible at the time,” he lamented.

His duties at the prison are shrouded in the secrecy that has hung over the facility for decades; Recently, it was the source of a dispute between the governor and a former detainee at the prison who told Independent Mr. DeSantis was present for the episode where prison officials force-fed prisoners, which the United Nations condemns. The governor has denied this claim.

DeSantis, then a congressman from Florida, speaks at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in June 2018

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Mr. DeSantis’ time at Guantanamo was the beginning of his contribution to America’s two decades of war in the Middle East. Despite not having a rank that would mean he would see combat, Mr DeSantis was part of a troop surge in Iraq in 2007, which saw the country remain somewhat stagnant for several years, at least until the rise of the Islamic State. He will serve as legal adviser to a commander in Fallujah, one of the sites of fierce fighting between US-coalition forces and rebel militia groups, some of whom were armed and backed by Iran.

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Finally discharged in 2010, Mr. DeSantis’ path to elected office seemed almost expected; A Yale- and Harvard-trained lawyer with credibility stemming from his military service reads like a dream candidate on paper for either party, and for a GOP still reeling from a crushing defeat by Barack Obama two years ago. Congressman Ron DeSantis. A no-brainer. He easily won a seven-way primary for the congressional seat representing the state’s 6th district, earning a more than 15 percent margin of victory over his nearest rival, and as part of the GOP’s midterm coup in both houses. Joined the House of Representatives. Congress that year

The Floridian freshman wasted no time establishing a name for himself in the lower chamber. He was a founding member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, a group that saw the height of its relevance during the Obama years, earning the label of detractors from Democrats and true believers from his party’s base. He took a hard-right stance on issues such as immigration reform, healthcare, and gun control, becoming a noted foe of liberal organizations supporting such causes, and gave voters a modest preview of the culture warrior who would later appear in his governor’s mansion. emerged after the election.

His service continued through the Obama years into the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency; During that short 12 months, he distinguished himself as a GOP loyalist once again by supporting legislation that would have thwarted the Trump campaign and the Justice Department’s now-controversial Russia investigation headed by Robert Mueller. .

As 2018 rolled around, Florida’s Republican Party faced a question: Will the state continue its slide to the right, a process begun under Rick Scott, who sought a Senate seat as his second term expired? Or will Florida Democrats prove that the Sunshine State was still a purple battleground, despite their failures to forge more meaningful inroads with the state’s Latino population?

DeSantis defeated then-Democratic rising star Andrew Gillum in 2018 – more convincing victories would follow

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A hard-fought campaign ended in a nightmare scenario for Florida’s Democratic Party. Mr. DeSantis and the Florida GOP would turn their 0.4 percent margin of victory over Andrew Gillum, one of the Democratic Party’s most popular rising stars at the time, into a mandate for a right-wing agenda to pass into law. The state was condemned by national anti-racism and LGBT+ rights groups as an attempt to push back into America’s racist past. Mr. Gillam, meanwhile, felt trapped personally and professionally; Two years after his defeat, he would find himself at the center of a scandal involving crystal meth and photographs of the former gubernatorial candidate unconscious in a pool of vomit on the bathroom floor of a hotel room.

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After successfully defeating a popular black Democrat who appealed widely to Florida’s diverse left-leaning voter base and a sea of ​​independent voters, the governor was replaced by the aging, white centrist Democrat (who was formerly a Republican), Charlie Crist. Had a little trouble seeing the challenge of. , in 2022. Now, Florida is a solidly red state, with the GOP making further gains nationally in 2022 under the governor in an otherwise bad year for his party.

Overall, it looked like Mr. DeSantis compiled a resume that checked every box for GOP voters, and more importantly, the party establishment as well. Veteran conservative political operative Rick Wilson said Mr DeSantis’s CV seemed attractive to many people before actually getting in touch with the man himself: “When you saw the [from] Five miles away, he was a swing-state governor who had been very successful in the legislature.

DeSantis and Trump in happier times in 2018. Florida governor may play on his relative youth unlike former Pres.

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All of this brings us to 2024, where Mr. DeSantis is seen as the only (currently) credible challenger to Donald Trump in the Republican primary contest. And while the two men do not differ significantly on policy — if anything, Mr. DeSantis has leaned into the same pool of far-right conservatives that Mr. Trump relied on in 2016 — there are other differences between the two. cannot be ignored. The governor is more than 30 years Mr. Trump’s junior, married with three young children, and has therefore set up his potential rival for the same contest that Republicans have been stoking on the left with questions about Joe Biden’s age. have tried. He also has a record of recent electoral success, setting himself up for a unique battle with Mr. Trump over election fraud and his ability to sweep Democrats in the general election.

But one question remains: will any of this be enough? The governor is currently drowning in the polls, unable to respond effectively to the onslaught of attacks coming from the former president’s team. in a survey from wall street journal, the former president has cut a 14-point deficit he recorded in December to a 13-point lead. Currently, his campaign for the presidency is going the way of Mr. Trump’s main 2016 rivals, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — or worse, “low energy” pockets like the last Florida governor to enter national politics. Bush.

There is also concern that Mr. DeSantis’ efforts to ingratiate himself with the Trump-aligned GOP base in Florida will harm him in front of a national audience. His battle with Disney, which had once been a source of headlines that excited conservatives over the company’s acceptance of LGBT Americans, developed into a long and costly legal battle that resulted in the company canceling a major investment in downtown Orlando. done.

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“His battle with Disney, which previously looked like a major battle against weirdos, now looks like an Ahab-style vendetta,” Mr. Wilson said.

The problems came out most clearly after Mr. DeSantis’ DC swing earlier this year. Following his trip to drum up support for his own run, several GOP lawmakers, including Byron Donalds of Florida, have come out in support of Mr Trump’s 2024 bid.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, theorized that Mr. DeSantis’ popularity could also be his biggest obstacle in 2024: Voters see him as a natural aberration of Trumpism for the states, rather than as a development of the movement on a national platform. lets see. ,

,[T]To the extent that GOP voters are eyeing DeSantis, it’s more as a continuation of Trumpism, rather than a desire to move away from Trump,” Murray said.

So the question is who is the stronger candidate? DeSantis’ appeal was to be seen as the strongest challenger to Biden, whether you’re a Republican who likes Trump or not,” he continued. “The irony is that the more Trump comes under legal fire, the His supporters feel that he is a candidate. That leaves little room for DeSantis, and to the extent that he’s been in the news lately, it hasn’t made him particularly effective.

Mr. Wilson, a native Floridian, made another comparison in an interview. Ron DeSantis, to him, is the GOP’s Hillary Clinton: the candidate who on paper looks more qualified for the job, but in person comes across as awkward, unconvincing, even manufactured.

DeSantis laughs with voters at Iowa GOP reception in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

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“There’s a lot of similarity now. If you look at it, it’s between Ron DeSantis this year and Hillary Clinton in 2016,” Mr. Wilson explained.

founding the Democratic Party in 2016, he continued, “Hillary wanted [to win], She was secure, transactional, she had all the coding of a meritocracy. Great lawyer, all that stuff. It looked great on paper.

“There are a lot of similarities, the awkward laughs, the discomfort with people in crowded, chaotic, unplanned environments. It all adds up to someone in my mind that, again, politics may be different, but both perform wonderfully. is less than.

His interactions with the media have fueled those criticisms. Repeated questions about his poll numbers have drawn unhelpful responses from the governor, who in some cases appears flustered and unable to respond.

With primary debates set to begin this year, DeSantis’ future in the Republican Party is uncertain. Worse for him and his supporters in the Republican Party establishment, it may come down to a decade-long pedigree carefully crafted through the beginning of the 21st century, and more than he has been able to prove. That’s one quality they have that really GOP voters. Want to see: Brutality, and the ability to fight his enemies in a Trumpian way perfected by the man he hopes to defeat.

It is for this reason that Mr. Wilson, who heads the anti-Trump conservative Lincoln Project, predicts that Mr. DeSantis will ultimately fail in his bid to break the former president’s grip on the GOP.

“I think we’ve learned over time that there is no substitute for Trump among the Trump base,” he said. “Why would you buy Diet Trump when you can have the original Trump’s full-fat, caffeinated, all-sugar?”

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