Ron DeSantis Has a Path, but He Also Has Hurdles

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Despite last night’s somewhat problematic launch, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is officially Presidential Candidate Ron DeSantis.

The move was a double-edged sword. His critics, looking for any reason to attack him, called it a debacle. His supporters point to the fact that well over half a million people logged in to listen to him announce – enough to literally break Twitter Spaces. Perhaps being in full control of one’s launch is the right way to go, after all, but you cannot deny that there was a huge interest in DeSantis getting into the race, a fact his campaign is definitely going to point out.


DeSantis very clearly has a path. He’s both a culture warrior and the chief executive of one of the most important states when it comes to presidential elections – one he flipped from purple to red. He’s got a record as a legislator and as a governor, and it’s one most conservative politicians would be envious of. The Wall Street Journal editorial board lays as much out this morning.

Republicans are at least getting a better choice as a variety of candidates enter the presidential race. They all have their merits and deserve a hearing as the campaign unfolds. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis joined the fray on Wednesday and, judging by the polls and his financial backing to date, he is the biggest threat to Mr. Trump.

The 44-year-old has an impressive resume: son of middle-class parents, Yale baseball captain, Harvard law school, Navy veteran including a tour in Iraq, and a three-term Member of Congress. But he has made his mark politically with his record as the two-term Governor of booming Florida.

His legislative record is as impressive as you’ll find, including near-universal school choice, $3.3 billion for Everglades restoration, tort and insurance reform, paycheck protection for workers in public unions, tax cuts, insisting on free speech in higher education and resisting woke ideology.

His greatest achievement was his handling of the pandemic. After the initial panic and shutdowns driven by President Trump and Anthony Fauci in Washington, Mr. DeSantis did his own homework on Covid health risks and the costs of economic and school lockdowns.


That’s a pretty solid near-endorsement, much like one he received from them last week. There is every reason for a conservative to want to support him, but there is a looming figure in the distance – former president Donald Trump.

DeSantis has a big task ahead of him. He’s fully capable of going the distance, no question about it. But there are challenges, some real, some simply perceived (or perhaps, more accurately, wish-casted) by opponents. But DeSantis will have to face each one head-on in a race in which only the fittest survive.

Culture Warrior or Substantive Governor?

The biggest challenge will be the perception that DeSantis is too focused on being a culture warrior and doing so for political purposes at the expense of racial and gender identities.

But one thing he will have to do going forward is be able to emphasize that political record beyond that. He has done so at events in several key primary states already, but now it’s a matter of focusing on that message and maximizing its impact. Most people who are super tuned in know his record, but it’s a matter of getting it in front of the folks who aren’t. That’s where the DeSantis team’s planning seems to have come in already, as his PAC, Never Back Down, appears to be handling most of the operations in the opening leg of the race. But DeSantis’ campaign itself will soon be able to do a lot, as his fundraising is clearly going to be a strong suit. He raised $1 million in the first hour of his campaign being announced. He can afford to get his message out there.


Others can’t.

More moderate Republicans are nervous that there isn’t much substance behind the culture warrior stuff. They’re either ignorant of his record or ignoring it. He’ll have to win them over.

Taking on Trump

No doubt about it, taking on Donald Trump will be the biggest challenge. He’s not really addressed Trump too much directly, but that will soon have to change. The question here is how DeSantis can tackle Trump without getting in the mud with Trump.

DeSantis will likely focus, at least in part, on tying Trump to Anthony Fauci. He has focused heavily on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which opens up a path to attack Trump – all those things people hated about the government’s handling of COVID began under Trump, and it’s his biggest weakness from the right.

He can also focus on his kept promises, though this attack is a bit more challenging. He can argue that he kept the promises he made to voters, and he would be right in that. But it is easier for Trump to defend the broken promises of his administration (lack of a wall, etc.) by claiming that the “Deep State” and the “Establishment” stood against him – and the Durham Report is a valuable shield in that regard.

And the polls do have Trump in the lead, fairly substantially. It’s not that he can’t overcome that – in fact, I expect him to even the score pretty quickly – but it’s how to make sure it’s more than just a post-announcement boost. How do you maintain that bump?

2024 Has Begun

Regardless, it’s clear that the 2024 primary has begun in earnest. This is the match-up everyone seems to have been waiting for. It will effect the current and potential field, and it will change the future of the country.

Welcome to the race, Governor DeSantis.


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