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Trump looks on as Ron DeSantis speaks during a Florida Homecoming rally for the then-US president in 2019. Alamy Stock Photo
White House

'Anti-woke' Florida governor Ron DeSantis prepares US presidential bid but can he top Trump?

DeSantis will go toe-to-toe with Trump to be the Republican nominee, but there was a time when relations were much more harmonious between the two.

FLORIDA REPUBLICAN RON DeSantis is set to become the latest person to officially enter the US presidential race.

According to reports, the Florida governor will announce the news in a Twitter Spaces event with Twitter owner Elon Musk.

Twitter Spaces allows people to have live audio conversations on the social media app.

DeSantis, long seen as Donald Trump’s leading rival for the Republican nomination, will reveal his plans in conversation with Musk, according to The Associated Press.

Musk, speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Summit event in London yesterday, seemed to confirm the news, saying DeSantis would be making “quite an announcement’ on Twitter the next day.

“The first time something like this is happening on social media”, with real time questions and answers, he said.

Musk added that he is not endorsing any particular candidate at this time.

“Big if true…” DeSantis’ wife, Casey, posted yesterday on Twitter, linking to a Fox News story on the announcement and adding a smiley face.

DeSantis will now go toe-to-toe with Trump to be the nominee, but there was a time when relations were much more harmonious between the two.

‘Trumpism without the chaos’

DeSantis is young, scandal-free, and a darling of conservatives for his embrace of an “anti-woke” agenda that has fuelled his rise within the Republican Party.

Yet Florida governor Ron DeSantis has failed to lay a glove on Donald Trump in the race to challenge Democratic incumbent Joe Biden for the White House in 2024.

As he prepares himself for an 18-month campaign against his one-time cheerleader Donald Trump, DeSantis, aged 44, is offering Republicans a version of Trumpism without the chaos that often accompanies the twice-impeached former president.

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, on 14 September, 1978 to a middle-class family with Italian roots, DeSantis went to Yale University, before attending Harvard Law School.

He practiced law in the US Navy and entered politics in 2012, winning a seat in the House of Representatives before his narrow election as governor in 2018.

Underscoring his alignment with Trump, DeSantis released a fawning campaign ad in which he is seen with his daughter, building a wall of toy blocks in reference to the then-president’s plans for a border wall with Mexico.

Polling far behind Trump

But the relationship soured with the governor’s comfortable re-election last year in what was until recently viewed as a swing state.

Trump, rattled by a potential rival, began attacking the upstart daily, calling him “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

Doubts over Trump’s electability continue to mount following his indictment on felony financial charges, a finding of liability in a civil sexual assault case and criminal probes into alleged election interference and mishandling of government documents.

Yet the momentum is going decidedly against DeSantis.

He has failed to capitalise, making missteps that have raised red flags over his own readiness, as Trump opens up an average polling lead of close to 40 points.

Disney v. DeSantis

DeSantis appears almost daily in American media to lock horns in the cultural wars against “woke” politicians, businesses and professors he accuses of forcing their progressive ideology on Americans.

His most headline-grabbing initiatives have included allowing Floridians to carry concealed guns without a permit, imposing one of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws and banning classroom discussion of sexuality and gender identity.

A bitter feud with Florida’s biggest private employer Disney over its politics has bewildered champions of free market capitalism, while the six-week abortion ban has moderates worried that he is out of touch with public opinion.

Last week, Disney cancelled plans for a new employee campus in central Florida in the latest ripple effect from its feud with DeSantis.

The entertainment giant cited “considerable changes” since the original announcement, “including new leadership and changing business conditions,” said a memo from parks chairman Josh D’Amaro.

The project, first announced in July 2021, was expected to relocate 2,000 jobs from California to Lake Nona, which is about 30 kilometres east of the huge Disney World complex in Orlando.

The staff was to have included workers in digital technology, finance and product development, with an average wage of $120,000, Orlando business groups said at the time of the announcement.

The origin of the fight has been Disney’s criticism of a DeSantis-backed law banning school lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In February, DeSantis removed Disney’s control of its special self-governing district, which allowed the city-sized park to run its own zoning and infrastructure projects, exempt from state regulations.

In April, Disney sued DeSantis, characterizing the Florida governor’s actions as a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” that violates the company’s right to free speech.

Can he top Trump?

Despite this, analysts are warning against counting DeSantis out just yet.

They point to his popularity among the suburban women who see Trump as toxic and to the governor’s status as a winner – something Trump has not been able to claim since his 2020 defeat to Biden.

“You have basically three people at this point that are credible in this whole thing – Biden, Trump and me,” DeSantis said on an 18 May call to donors, according to The New York Times.

“Of those three, two have a chance to get elected president – Biden and me.”

Though DeSantis’s biggest plus is perhaps his fundraising.

He is said to have a campaign war chest of up to $110 million (€102.3m), giving him deeper pockets than Trump’s campaign or any other potential rival.

However, name recognition is worth more at the ballot box than money in the bank and Trump – one of the world’s most famous faces – does not have to spend a fortune introducing himself to Americans.

© AFP 2023 and with additional reporting from Diarmuid Pepper

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