DeSantis Launches 2024 Run for President

Florida governor joins expanding GOP field of candidates, pledges to lead 'great American comeback' if elected
By Dan M. Berger
Dan M. Berger
Dan M. Berger
Dan M. Berger mostly covers issues around Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for The Epoch Times. He also closely followed the 2022 midterm elections. He is a veteran of print newspapers in Florida and upstate New York and now lives in the Atlanta area.
May 24, 2023Updated: May 26, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he’s entered the 2024 presidential race in a video posted to Twitter on May 24.

“I’m Ron DeSantis. And I’m running for president to lead our great American comeback,” DeSantis, 44, says in the short campaign launch video posted to Twitter minutes ahead of his Twitter Spaces conversation with one of the world’s richest men, Elon Musk.

“Our border is a disaster, crime infests our cities, federal government makes it harder for families to make ends meet, and the president flounders. But decline is a choice. Success is attainable, and freedom is worth fighting for,” the Navy veteran says in the video.

“We need the courage to lead and the strength to win.”

Hours earlier, the governor filed paperwork confirming his 2024 bid.

DeSantis decisively won gubernatorial reelection in Florida last year. In campaign funds and polling numbers, he’s the most potent challenger to former President Donald Trump, who has dominated the expanding GOP primary field since announcing his candidacy in November last year.

The other Republican contenders include former U.N. Ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, business mogul Vivek Ramaswamy, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Former Vice President Mike Pence is considering a run.

The choice of the announcement format is novel and representative of DeSantis’s peculiar relationship with the media. The governor has largely walled off establishment outlets in favor of Fox News, while Musk has positioned Twitter as the alternative to the establishment news media.

Trump, DeSantis
(Left) Former President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a 2024 election campaign event in Columbia, S.C., on Jan. 28, 2023. (Right) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to guests at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas on Nov. 19, 2022. (Logan Cyrus, Scott Olson/Getty Images)

DeSantis scored well in polling late in 2022, but slipped early this year as Trump attacked him relentlessly in social media posts and television ads.

Trump got a boost following his indictment in New York as Republicans rallied around him. He racked up endorsements from 11 Florida Congress members, more than half of the state’s Republican delegation.

DeSantis was perceived as stumbling in remarks about the Ukraine–Russia war, prompting many to ask if his candidacy was over before it had even started.

While the governor didn’t formally campaign this spring, he embarked on a book tour that amounted to much the same thing.

DeSantis, in recent days, has been buoyed by a steady flow of endorsements that include the top two Republicans in Florida’s Legislature, 99 of 113 GOP lawmakers, plus 51 in New Hampshire, and 37 in Iowa.

“This election is not about the past, it’s about the future—who can lift us up?” Georgia Rep. Rich McCormick, a Republican who endorsed DeSantis on May 23, said in a statement released by DeSantis’s Never Back Down Political Action Committee. “Who can inspire a nation? Who can lead us forward? That’s Gov. Ron DeSantis—a bold conservative, a man of character and conviction, a champion of our values.”

Trump responded to news of the announcement in a series of characteristic messages on his Truth Social media platform. The former president said that DeSantis had backed a nationwide sales tax, sought to “OBLITERATE” Social Security, and voted to “BADLY WOUND” Medicare.

“Also, he desperately needs a personality transplant and, to the best of my knowledge, they are not medically available yet. A disloyal person!” Trump wrote.

The DeSantis camp didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Rich McCormick, Republican candidate to represent Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, debates Democrat Bob Christian (not shown) at the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young General Election Debate Series held at the studios of Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta on Oct. 16, 2022. (© Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press Wire)

Speculation about his impending announcement grew as Bryan Griffin, his governor’s office spokesman, moved to DeSantis’s political operation around May 15. His political staff severed ties with the Florida Republican Party and moved into their own quarters.

The endorsements began—risky perhaps for the endorsers, going against a former president seen as the favorite and as someone politicians wouldn’t likely want to cross unless they were certain DeSantis planned to run.

The announcement is the latest development in DeSantis’s remarkable rise to political prominence.

After he left the military in 2010, he ran for Congress in 2012, winning in his Orlando-area district, and became a founding member of the Freedom Caucus on Capitol Hill. He served three terms in Congress before what was considered a long-shot bid for governor in 2018.

Buoyed by an endorsement from Trump, he won the governor’s mansion by just over 32,000 votes, or 0.4 percentage points, over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

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Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum speaks during a CNN debate against Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, on Oct. 21, 2018. (Chris O’Meara/AP Photo)

DeSantis often mentions how he won with only 50 percent of the vote, but received 100 percent of the executive power. While many in his position would have governed cautiously, DeSantis made bold strokes from the beginning.

Within weeks of his inauguration, he suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel largely for his response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. He also signed an executive order calling for an end to the controversial Common Core education curriculum in Florida.

He also appointed three new justices to the state Supreme Court, shifting its majority to conservative from liberal.

DeSantis’s handling of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic boosted his national profile. While he took longer than most governors to shut the state down—not doing so until April 1—he reversed course in June.

“We’re not shutting down,” he said. “We’re going to go forward. We’re going to continue to protect the most vulnerable.”

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People visit Clearwater Beach after Gov. Ron DeSantis opened Florida’s beaches on May 4, 2020. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

While the rest of the nation socially distanced, he reopened the state’s signature beaches. While the rest of the country masked up, he resisted mandates to do the same in Florida. Businesses started reopening in June. All 67 of the state’s public school districts were open for in-person learning by October 2020.

While Florida saw some surge in cases due to its more open approach, its age-adjusted fatality rate, as of October 2021 was average for the nation, ranked 24th. Its life expectancy, dropping 1.5 years according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics in 2020, was less than the national average of 1.8 years.

DeSantis has faced criticism from every quarter—the federal government, Democrats more or less unanimously, and even some Republicans. But polls showed Floridians liked what they saw. His approval ratings were as high as 64 percent by February 2021, a year after the pandemic started.

For years a deeply divided battleground state—the one upon which the controversial Bush–Gore election of 2000 hinged, the home of the infamous “hanging chads”—voters returned him to office in November over former U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist by a nearly 10-point margin.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis celebrates his reelection with his wife, Casey, and their children at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Fla., on Nov. 8, 2022. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

The state’s low crime and unemployment rates, its universities now ranked as the best public system in the nation for its quality and cost, its having no income tax, and other states’ poor performance during the pandemic have all contributed to steady population growth in the state.

DeSantis hammers these points at his frequent press conferences and in his book, “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival,” published in February.

One immigrant to the state is Trump himself, who, while president, switched his official residency to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach in November 2019 from New York. Trump cited New York’s high taxes and his poor treatment by the city and state leaders in posts on Twitter.

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An aerial view of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. (Steve Helber/AP Photo)

DeSantis’s real signature issue, though, has been his war against “wokeness”: left-leaning policies advanced through government bureaucracies and increasingly through corporations doing the government’s will and often seeking to control popular thoughts, attitudes, and speech.

COVID-19, with its at-home video schooling, showed more parents what actually went on in their children’s classes in Florida and across the country. Many couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

Countless initiatives led by DeSantis represent the most concerted state-level pushback against the woke agenda. Other Republican-led states echo many of the policies, but few have made it the daily priority that DeSantis has.

The governor’s war against wokeness includes his war with Walt Disney Co. and the litany of bills he’s signed into law that have addressed culture-war issues such as women’s sports, transgenderism, drag shows, critical race theory, and parental rights, among others.

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In this March 12, 2020, file photo, a crowd is shown along Main Street USA in front of Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

“What this really is, is an attempt by elites to impose ideology through business institutions and financial institutions in our economy, writ large,” DeSantis said, while speaking of environmental and social governance policies on May 2 in Jacksonville. “So they have a vision. This vision is not a vision that usually can win elections around that process. And they want to use economic power to impose this agenda on our society. And we think in Florida, that is not going to fly here.”

DeSantis, who was born in Jacksonville in 1978, grew up in Dunedin, a Tampa Bay suburb north of Clearwater. His father installed Nielsen TV boxes, and his mother was a nurse. He played baseball, and his Dunedin Little League team went to the Little League World Series in 1991. He graduated from Yale University, where he was captain of the baseball team, in 2001, and Harvard Law School in 2005.

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A 1991 baseball card for the Dunedin National Allstars Little League team shows 12-year-old pitcher “D.” DeSantis. (The Epoch Times)

While at Harvard, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he served as a legal adviser to SEAL Team One and was later stationed at Guantanamo. He deployed to Iraq in 2007 and served as legal adviser to the SEAL commander in Fallujah.

Returning to the United States, he served as a special assistant U.S. attorney in Florida’s Middle District while still on active duty as a Navy officer. He was elected to Congress in 2012 and served three terms until resigning in 2018 to run for governor.

DeSantis married the former Casey Black, a TV news reporter, in 2009 in a ceremony at Disney World. They have three children, ages 6, 5, and 3. Casey DeSantis is seen as his closest adviser, bringing her communications expertise, and has been a public advocate on issues such as cancer treatment and children’s resilience.

DeSantis mentions his children, and their ages, as a frequent public reminder that issues involving children, such as schools, crime, and health care, have personal as well as political value for him and his wife.

Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.