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Issue #111: Donald Trump made Ron DeSantis Governor
DeSantis vs Trump is on
Today, May 24th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to announce he will be running for President. The ambition of the Governor is not a secret, as even before his 2022 re-election, he clearly had his eyes on the Presidency.
Donald Trump jumping into the race upended DeSantis’ plans. While he very well could have been the frontrunner in a Trump-free primary, the presence of the former President has overshadowed DeSantis and all other candidates.
DeSantis has also suffered under a barrage of degrading attacks from Trump. Like he did with so many people in 2016, Trump has managed to already make DeSantis look feeble and week via bullying. This really should not be a shocker. After all, a narcissist like Trump cannot stand anyone else getting the limelight. The rumblings of Trump fury at DeSantis began well before 2022, as the former President saw the Governor rise in support with GOP activists and voters. Trump will never let another Republican upstage him.
But I imagine Trump felt personally affronted by DeSantis clearly angling to run for President. After all, DeSantis owes his entire Gubernatorial career to Trump.
Lets take a trip down memory lane.
Ron DeSantis' “Meh” Congressional Tenure
Ron DeSantis entered the broad national narrative in 2017 during the Florida Gubernatorial contest. However, DeSantis spent several years before this as a Florida Congressman.
Before his 2012 run, DeSantis was a Navy JAG officer. He has recently been accused of torturing people while stationed at Guantanamo Bay - apparently smiling/laughing during force feedings.
ALLEDGEDLY. Just saying that according to one inmate, DeSantis, and I am quoting from this article, was
“smiling and laughing with other officers as I screamed in pain” (during a forced feeding)
And when asked about these accusations, DeSantis blew a gasket at reporters.
Soooo…. you know……. that’s out there
Oh also he was conservative “author”. In 2011, he published some right-wing rant that capitalized on the Tea Party movement. You can find it on Amazon.
DeSantis, who had his eyes on Congress, worked to build his name ID and raise solid cash by latching onto the Tea Party Movement.
In the 2012 Primary for the 6th Congressional district, DeSantis secured a solid win with 39% of the vote. His closest opponent was State Rep Fred Costello, who won the area he represented in the legislature, but little elsewhere.
DeSantis’ key to victory was broad and even wins across all of the counties, while other candidates largely relied on regional blocks of support. This primary is honestly his most impressive, as a first time candidate he beat an established politician in the area. However, no doubt DeSantis was able to capitalize on his “outsider” image in the Tea Party wave, which saw many Republican primaries around this time being won by anti-establishment Republicans.
DeSantis had no issue in the general election, as the 6th would be a steady GOP seat for all candidates. By this point Volusia had been moving away from Democrats, flipping from Obama in 2008 to Romney in 2012. The rest of the district was even redder.
Aborted Senate Run
In 2015, Marco Rubio decided not to run for re-election in the Senate and instead run for President. This set up a CROWDED Republican primary to fill his seat. DeSantis opted to enter the race against several others.
However, things changed after Donald Trump crushed Rubio in the Florida primary in March of 2016.
Despite having some good media cycles, Rubio was never able to get past Trump. Florida was his last stand, and his loss there ended his campaign. In the end, he only dominated in his base of Miami-Dade. Suburban apathy to Trump was on display, but the split field allowed him to win counties like Leon with small pluralities.
Originally Rubio said he would not re-enter the Senate Primary, which wouldn’t be held till that August. However, after heavy pressure for DC Republicans, worried that Democrat Patrick Murphy could flip the seat while multiple Republicans were struggling to gain any traction, Rubio agreed to re-enter the race.
Before this, DeSantis was polling nearly even with Congressman David Jolly and Lt Governor Carlos López-Cantera, with all under 15% support on average. Undecideds were massive for the entire primary before Rubio returned. DeSantis had Tea Party support in the primary, including the Club for Growth. However, he had gained little traction and it really seemed the primary would just be a regional base fight. Rubio re-entering the race caused all but one candidate to drop out.
DeSantis opted to run for Congress again. Most candidates who had lined up for his seat deferred to him, with only Costello of the 2012 race, remaining. Ron easily won the primary and general. However, he already had his eyes on another office.
Trump makes DeSantis Governor
After the 2016 Senate debacle, DeSantis had his eyes on the 2018 Governor’s race. It was well known in Florida that Adam Putnam, the State’s Agriculture Commissioner, was going to run for Governor. Putnam had been a member of Congress before running for AC in the 2010 midterm. This was a deliberate plan to serve eight years there and then make the play for Governor. He had his plans perfectly laid out.
What he did not count on, however, was Donald Trump skyrocketing to the top of Republican circles. In the 2018 midterms, President Trump’s endorsement carried massive weight in the Republican Primaries. When he endorsed Brian Kemp in Georgia in 2018, he shot past his opponent in the runoff. That endorsement strength has withered in recent years. Then, however, it meant a great deal.
DeSantis spent much of 2017 working to cultivate a Trump relationship in order to secure an endorsement. Before any endorsement came, he was trailing Putnam - through undecideds were still sky high. However, in December of 2017, Trump endorsed DeSantis for Governor. Immediately after, DeSantis spiked in support, catching up with Putnam
The endorsement instantly made the primary a real fight between Putnam and DeSantis. Much of the spring of 2018 was a tie, but in the summer, as DeSantis began to highlight the endorsement in TV ads, his polling lead began to expand. Pollsters from the time pointed out that DeSantis lead by 31 points with those who knew about Trump’s endorsement. For those who hadn’t, Putnam led by 23 points. As the primary went on, and Ron ran these ads sucking up to Trump, the polling gap widened.
When the August primary came around, DeSantis would easily defeat Adam Putnam, taking 56% of the vote.
Putnam’s best areas were the Polk/farm county base he hailed from, and the Tallahassee media market. DeSantis crushed him everywhere else - especially along the coastal communities - which are much less “old Florida.”
Once DeSantis was the nominee, facing off against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, he almost screwed the entire election up. He made a racist comment days after and his awkward style showed clearer in the general election spotlight. His campaign team was not strong, and Gillum began to open a notable polling lead. DeSantis was forced to shake his campaign team up, bringing on Susie Wiles to right the ship. Wiles is a very powerful GOP operative in Florida. She was part of Rick Scott’s 2010 storming onto the Florida political scene and was credited for securing Florida for Trump in 2016.
While the DeSantis team got its operations in order, the Gillum campaign suffered from negative headlines regarding ethics from his mayoral tenure.
On election night, despite many still pegging Gillum as the favorite, DeSantis narrowly won the Governor’s office.
Thanks to Trump’s primary backing and his introduction of Wiles to the DeSantis camp, DeSantis was Governor.
He betrayed Trump almost instantly.
DeSantis’s first term as Governor is like an administration with a split personality. The first year of DeSantis as Governor was almost like a call back to Charlie Crist - the era of moderate GOP Governors. DeSantis pushed environmental protections, wanted to offer pay raises, and led a cabinet meeting to pardon the Groveland Four.
Cracks between Trump and DeSantis formed quickly. DeSantis’ lack of trust in outsiders became clear as he feuded with Wiles and Florida GOP Chair Joe Gruters, a Trump ally. DeSantis also pushed for Wiles to be ousted from the Republican operations in Florida, also accusing her of being loyal to the President over him.
As COVID began, DeSantis started by supporting business closures, masks, and supported the vaccine push. However, as far-right opposition to things like health and life grew in fervor, DeSantis saw a better opportunity for the future in the “RE-OPEN AMERICAN” side. This is when far-right Ron became very evident. The Governor embraced racist rhetoric and sold out environmental movements. None of the 2019 Ron (clearly the fake Ron) remained.
In 2020, Trump would win Florida by 3%, improving with Hispanic voters drastically from his 2016 run, while shedding suburban support.
You can see here who did better, Trump in 2020 or DeSantis in 2018. The suburban apathy for Trump stands out here well. That said Ron running harder right hasn’t helped him with that group these days.
Trump has radically improved his standing with Hispanic voters too, a major weakness for him in the 2016 primary.
Despite his Florida win, Trump lost the Presidency. Now, in a normal political environment, the losing candidate would bow out and go into retirement. Of course we know that did not happen with Trump, who insisted he won the election and still does to this day.
He also tried to stage a coup to remain in power.
For DeSantis, it would have been easier if Trump had been re-elected. He’d have been easily positioned to run in the open primary in 2024. However, Trump from day 1 of his post-presidency was clearly going to run in 2024. I don’t know who convinced themselves he wouldn’t - but that man’s ego made 2024 a guarantee as far as I saw it.
The Clash Begins
DeSantis could have tried to mend fences with Trump and hold off till 2028. However, that is clearly not going to happen. Relations between the two soured well before the 2020 election. Both men are narcissists who cannot stand not being the center of power and importance. The difference is Trump is much more personable, while DeSantis is a malfunctioning robot. He is basically Dennis from Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Now we are destined for these two to clash on a national stage. Right now Trump has made a fool of DeSantis, berating him and mocking him, all the while DeSantis’ support drops in the polls.
DeSantis initially had a a boost in polls thanks to his massive 2022 re-election, which I have covered multiple times on here so I’ll spare repeats. Go read my archives for countless stories about the MASSIVE AND UNPRECEDENTED turnout gap between the two parties that year - a big fueler of the landslide.
DeSantis’ landslide win is highlighted by his allies, but has worn off with many other voters at this point. I imagine the DeSantis camp will work to remind voters in the coming months, no doubt pushing an “electability” argument. We will see if that works though when so many GOP voters feel Trump was simply robbed of his re-election.
Can DeSantis turn things around? I doubt it. But hey who knows. That said, Trump actually has one good point (likely the only good point he’s ever had in his life) - Ron DeSantis OWES his statewide career to Trump and his allies. That debt has been paid with backstabbing.
Don’t get me wrong, I hope they destroy each-other on a national stage. But seriously Ron, kind of a dick move considering without Donald, you’d just be some anonymous congressman.
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