TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Ron DeSantis’ presidential hopes needed a boost after months of falling polls and a barrage of attacks from Donald Trump.
Enter the Florida Legislature.
The vast Republican majority in both the Florida House and Senate handed the Florida governor a long list of culture war-focused victories that are the kind of policies that helped propel DeSantis through the Republican ecosystem and to the national stage.
For much of that rise, though, there was one big difference: He wasn’t facing direct attacks from Trump, the clear front-runner in early 2024 for the Republican nomination and de facto leader of the GOP.
Those attacks have tarnished DeSantis’s political reputation among conservatives and arguably put him in the weakest position he’s been in since taking office, just weeks before what most expect is an early presidential launch. of June.
But his followers predict that the script is about to change. A Republican legislature that greets DeSantis with equal parts support and fear awarded him big victories in Tallahassee that will now turn into a high-profile victory lap in Florida. in the weeks leading up to the expected launch. A near-daily dose of DeSantis in his element, fans hope, will help him regain his footing.
«The ‘bad month of DeSantis’ is much more of a Trump campaign twist that some reporters have repeated than the reality on the ground in the states that matter,» Alex Stroman, former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, said. who met in person with the governor at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s annual Amos Tuck dinner last month. «DeSantis had great visits to New Hampshire and South Carolina, great crowds and did what he had to do to show his personality.»
DeSantis himself seemed emboldened Friday afternoon when he met with reporters shortly after lawmakers completed the 2023 legislative session, which handed DeSantis nearly every item on his wish list.
For months, DeSantis has scoffed at questions about his political aspirations. And while he didn’t respond directly to them Friday, he for the first time ever greeted them with overt annoyance and even signaled that something might be coming up.
“I think they started asking me about this years ago. But I was in my first term as governor and we were doing good things,” she said. “I think a lot of the stuff we were doing put me on the map because I got criticized for it, especially during Covid.”
«Whatever happens in the future, look people, we’ll get to that relatively soon,» he added later. «You either have to hold on or shut up.»
DeSantis won his 2022 re-election bid by a nearly 20-point margin, amplifying him nationally and further solidifying his political tenure in the state. In response, Republican majorities have handed him victories this year, including banning children from adult drag shows; an expansion of the state’s death penalty; a long-sought provision aimed at weakening Democratic-leaning public unions; a ban on colleges and universities from spending money on diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives; the prohibition of abortion after six weeks of pregnancy; legislation that no longer requires gun owners to have a permit when carrying a concealed firearm; and a handful of bills that jump-started DeSantis’ year-long fight with Disney.
DeSantis championed each proposal to varying degrees, each falling easily under the overarching mantra that has defined his political persona: «Florida is where the awakening goes to die.»
“This is the kind of thing that not only Republican base voters will respond to, but it’s the kind of thing that Republicans should have taken care of long ago,” said Republican state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, who stands between DeSantis. ‘ Major Legislative Supporters. «If ever there was a portfolio of successes and victories to take the next step, this is it.»
Still, as DeSantis prepares to take a victory lap, there’s no question he has work to do if he hopes to close the gap on Trump. For most of 2022, DeSantis was neck-and-neck with the former president in public polls. But after Trump formally announced that he would run again for the White House, he began regularly going after DeSantis, whom he had previously endorsed, and opened up a significant double-digit lead in most early polls.
«What impulse?» said Taylor Budowich, who runs the pro-Trump super PAC MAGA, Inc. “The floor has fallen under Ron DeSantis’s shadow campaign, his poll numbers have plummeted further with each passing week, donors are jumping ship every day, and his political committee is burning cash like a thief with a stolen credit card.”
DeSantis has yet to launch a presidential campaign, but a super PAC called Never Back Down has so far served as an attack dog for him and has run ads touting his potential career. He has raised tens of millions of dollars to encourage DeSantis to enter the race, but has yet to report publicly, so it’s unclear exactly how much the group has raised. On top of that, a statewide political committee known as the Friends of Ron DeSantis has over $85 million in the bank, likely to be transferred to an outside super PAC in the coming weeks.
DeSantis’ support for the six-week abortion ban, and his broader culture warfare approach, had some Republican leaders saying they were reconsidering supporting DeSantis financially, but his team is confident they have, overall, stopped the bleeding. with current and potential donors. .
“I think it can be said that, for the most part, they have eased concerns and are moving full steam ahead,” said a Republican consultant. «There are some holdouts or converts, but it’s safe to say that a lack of money won’t be a concern for DeSantis.»
Supporters are also ignoring DeSantis’ huge early endorsement lead, which includes the former president racking up 11 endorsements from Florida’s legislative delegation and more than 50 endorsements from Congress overall. It’s early days, DeSantis supporters argue, with few voters paying attention, and even less concerned about endorsements from sometimes obscure members of Congress.
Rep. Laurel Lee, R-Fla., who so far is Florida’s only sponsor of DeSantis in Congress, said the governor «has led the way in conservative politics, economic growth and the fight for Florida families.» «, and that once he officially runs for president, «his record and message will resonate with Republican primary voters across the country.»
“Gov. DeSantis is playing the long game. He has methodically built a proven conservative record that, combined with his ability not just to win elections but to demoralize and destroy the left, will make him president of Republican voters in stark contrast in the primaries,” said , a Republican media strategist from Miami that I don’t work in national races.
«At this stage,» he quipped, «no one outside of The Swamp cares about Rep. Beavis McButtersworth’s endorsement.»