Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is beginning to assert himself as the pandemic fades to memory. He has clashed with the cruise industry, which wants to mandate vaccines for passengers. He will soon sign a ban on transgender male athletes from competing as women. He has taken the lead nationwide in making it legal for states to import drugs from Canada, even getting the Biden administration on his side.
His leadership during the pandemic has won grudging praise from the news media and applause on the right. He recently said that states that kept their kids out of school during lockdowns “destroyed their future.” Perhaps a bit of hyperbole since no one knows the effects of extended teleclass instruction. But it’s something a lot of parents would agree with.
The Florida governor’s law against social media companies banning politicians is extremely popular on the right. Whether it’s constitutional or not doesn’t matter because DeSantis can portray himself as fighting big tech, which has sued the state over the law.
DeSantis has been busy raising his profile and establishing his pro-Trump bona fides. And his efforts are being reflected in the polls. DeSantis is emerging as the top 2024 Republican contender if Trump doesn’t run.
The GOP side is more muddled, but a poll from GOP firm Echelon Insights released Friday has DeSantis leading at 22%, with former Vice President Mike Pence trailing at 14%, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at 9% and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley at 5%.
The early-May Trafalger poll had DeSantis leading with an even larger 35% to Cruz’s 15% and Pence’s 10%, but the McLaughlin poll had Pence edging him out by one point, 19% to 18%, with Donald Trump Jr. at 13%.
Trump, who will be 78 in 2024, would blow away any potential rivals were he to run. A Politico/Morning Consult poll in mid-May put Trump’s support at 48%, with Pence at 13% and DeSantis at 8%.
Democrats have no illusions about DeSantis’s future plans. The governor is running for re-election this year and will use his campaign as a platform to establish his claim on the 2024 nomination.
“This isn’t just one race — this is two races in one, given how Ron DeSantis is trying to use a reelection win as a slingshot to then be the odds on favorite” for the nomination in 2024, said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster in Miami. “If they manage to prevent him from getting reelected, they almost certainly eliminate any possibility of him running for president.”
Going up against DeSantis is an uphill climb for the Democrats. Their leading candidate is former Republican governor and current Democratic House member Charlie Crist, who trails DeSantis by 10 points as of earlier this month. It shows the total disarray of the Democratic Party in Florida that their best hope is a former Republican. No other potential Democrat rival comes within 15 points of DeSantis.
About the only effective line of attack for Crist is the argument that DeSantis isn’t running for governor, he’s running for reelection.
Both sides will try to nationalize the race, partly to draw support from big-money donors from outside the state. For DeSantis, it’s also about raising his national profile.
That of course, probably will become a line of attack for Crist and Fried, who accuse DeSantis of being more interested in pursuing his political ambitions than in tackling the concerns of Floridians.
“Just like our former president, he always takes credit but never takes responsibility,” Crist said when he announced his bid for governor. In a video hinting at her possible entry into the race, Fried called DeSantis an “authoritarian dictator.”
Florida Democrats haven’t been shut out of all statewide offices since the Civil War. It looks like 2022 could change that.