DeSantis stokes culture wars as 2024 profile grows

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) is leaning towards the culture wars as he makes a bid in 2024.

Florida’s governor and rising GOP star on Thursday suspended an elected state attorney in the Tampa-area who had signed a pledge not to prosecute those seeking or granting abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision over Roe v. Wade , the groundbreaking case, that protected the right to abortion.

It’s just the latest item on a growing list of moves designed to win over the Republican Party’s conservative base, amid speculation that DeSantis could pursue a White House bid in the coming years.

“He is sending the message to Republican voters and the American people that he is a leader, and he is willing to make very difficult decisions that many other elected officials are not, and he is willing to fire people who people think are untouchable. , and that’s crucial for someone who’s going to run for president in 2024,” said Terry Schilling, the president of the conservative grassroots organization, the American Principles Project.

The DeSantis office billed Thursday’s announcement that State Attorney Andrew Warren, a rising star in Florida Democratic circles, has been officially suspended. But for many, the episode was just DeSantis’ latest attempt to court a growing national conservative base — something he’s been doing with increasing vigor in recent years.

Thomas Kennedy, a Florida Democratic National Committee member and a staunch critic of DeSantis, described the governor’s announcement as a “political stunt,” noting how his press secretary Christina Pushaw teased the announcement the night before as the “liberal media meltdown of the year”. .”

“The proof is in their words. You literally had his spokesperson calling it the liberal meltdown of the year,” Kennedy said. “They were looking for a response, they got their response. Everything they’re doing is a stunt, and it’s targeting Republican voters in early primary states.”

It was a familiar tactic for DeSantis, whose name has skyrocketed to the top of the list of potential GOP presidential candidates over the past two years. In that time, he has defied public health officials’ advice on the COVID-19 pandemic, cracked down on public protests, banned the teaching of so-called critical race theory in public schools, and picked a high-profile battle with Walt Disney World, one of the top tourist draws. of the state.

And for many conservatives, including Schilling, that combative approach to politics and business is exactly what makes DeSantis appealing.

“In reality, we’re reaching a point in time where you can’t really separate politics from doing the right thing,” Schilling said. “Ron DeSantis took on Disney because he cried out loud. This is a man who is willing to take on powerful interests if it means protecting the people he represents.”

Even during his first bid for governor in 2018, DeSantis attracted attention for his controversial, out-of-control campaign style. One of the ads showed DeSantis telling his young daughter to “build the wall” while playing with toy blocks. At another point in the campaign, he faced criticism after warning Floridians not to blow this up by voting for his Democratic rival Andrew Gillum, who is black.

Since then, DeSantis has made a name for himself as a hard-working culture warrior willing to push the boundaries of his authority to advance his vision of conservatism. While that strategy has made him a much-hated villain by Democrats, it has won him the praise of many Republicans who have come to watch him closely as the successor to former President Trump.

“Ron DeSantis is a masterclass in speaking with the grassroots; how you oppose Democrats in a way that seems, I think to many Republicans, to be entirely reason-based,” said one Republican donor. “He’s not doing these incoherent rants like Donald Trump did. He’s methodical and that’s why he comes as fast as he is.”

And indeed, the political rise of DeSantis seems very real. Not only has he emerged as one of—if not the most—powerful governors in Florida’s recent history, but he’s established himself as one of the most influential Republicans in the country at a time when the GOP in Washington went without. power comes in.

DeSantis has raised more than $100 million for his election campaign while meeting influential Republican officials and donors far from his home state. Earlier this year, for example, he met with top Trump donors in South Carolina, sparking speculation that he may be considering a bid for the White House.

He is also one of the few potential Republican presidential candidates to have refused to rule out a 2024 campaign if Trump decides to make another bid for the White House. And in the event Trump doesn’t re-enter, early polls suggest DeSantis would be a firm favorite to win the GOP nomination.

A Harvard CAPS-Harris poll released this week found that without Trump on the ballot, DeSantis would lead his closest rival, former Vice President Mike Pence, by a margin of 15 points.

“I think voters will have a hard time choosing between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis because they’re so similar in what they offer,” Schilling said. “I don’t think there’s a DeSantis without Donald Trump opening that huge door for him and showing him what you can really do through the political lens and at the same time I’m so impressed with Ron DeSantis. He has been staged in a way that no other governor has.”

In the meantime, however, DeSantis is brushing aside questions about his future political ambitions, saying only that he is focused on winning a second term in the governor’s mansion in November. His chances, at least for now, seem solid: He’s raised a lot more money than any of his future Democratic rivals — Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) race shows DeSantis well ahead of both of his potential opponents.

Of course, things could change before Election Day. But DeSantis’ relative comfort with his reelection has given him the opportunity to lay the groundwork for his political future, Kennedy said.

“He’s calculating,” Kennedy said. “The Democrats are confused in his perspective and so he sees no reason for him to compromise.”

“He thinks he can win Florida,” Kennedy added. “And at the same time, he’s trying to position himself as the new Republican leader; the new Donald Trump.”

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