It had long been speculated that the Florida governor would join the fray against former President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination. After he formally filed the required FEC paperwork Wednesday, according to an Associated Press story, DeSantis is expected to make an announcement this evening on social media during a Twitter Spaces event with Elon Musk.
DeSantis has been hailed as a conservative leader for his attacks on "woke" culture – whether it's flying migrants to Martha's Vineyard or taking on Disney for its social positions, particularly its opposition to the Florida law that governs discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
The 44-year-old governor enters a crowded Republican presidential field as the GOP decides who to run against Democratic President Joe Biden. Aside from Trump, DeSantis is also facing off against Tim Scott, a sitting U.S. senator from South Carolina; conservative commentator Larry Elder; entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy; Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor and Trump's ambassador to the United Nations; and Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas.
Others considering a run but yet to formally announce are: Trump's former vice president, Mike Pence; and as many as three Republican governors: Chris Sununu (New Hampshire), Glenn Youngkin (Virginia), and Kristi Noem (South Dakota).
The Florida 'blueprint'
During an interview last week on American Family Radio, former Trump campaign advisor Steve Cortes praised DeSantis and his record as governor of the Sunshine State.
"… Almost the archetype swing state for many decades was Florida, and he has turned it ruby red. You know how? Through incredibly competent, conservative governance," said Cortes. "After very narrowly winning that office in 2018, he was rewarded by the people of Florida with an almost 20% runaway landslide victory four years later.
"To me, that is the blueprint. That is the blueprint for both how to govern effectively from the right and how to win elections massively, how to reach constituencies who you didn't previously win over," Cortes told show host Jenna Ellis.
DeSantis' press office this week announced that Florida, at 2.6%, has the lowest unemployment rate of the 10 largest states and also experienced record tourism in the first quarter of 2023.
Not everyone praises DeSantis
At the same time, DeSantis critics – both nationally and inside his own state – argue that his focus on the "Culture War" has weakened the state of Florida in other ways. For example, he's been criticized for Florida's average teacher pay and per-student funding, his record on health care, and supposed favoring of the wealthy.
An opinion piece from TIME magazine in late March touched all the bases for those who might oppose DeSantis.
On top of that, any candidate who seeks to rein in spending and place limits on gender discussion and expression – which can also be seen as recruitment and grooming – is likely to face media scrutiny.
But Cortes contends there are other reasons the mainstream media are hoping Trump will emerge as the GOP nominee.
"The leftist media largely is leaving Trump alone and very much going after Ron DeSantis," he notes, "and I think there are two reasons for that. Number 1, Trump is great for clicks and eyeballs, right? Because there's always a lot of craziness and chaos surrounding him. Number 2, they don't believe he can win the general election – and I happen to agree with them," Cortes said.
DeSantis has been presented as the conservative candidate without the baggage of indictments, jury trial verdicts now under appeal, name-calling and general nastiness.
Poll numbers have Trump way out in front, so much so that he's suggested he may not participate in debates. But DeSantis, even while unannounced, has been the steady #2 in the polls – and the gap separating the two is expected to narrow now that he's officially in the race.
The absence of the wall could be a distinction
Voters looking for a distinction between Trump and DeSantis should look past promises to delivery, Cortes said.
"[Trump's] signature promise of 2016 was to build a wall, which he did not do despite the fact that he had a Republican Congress for the first two years," he pointed out. "If we had a wall in place right now, Joe Biden's recklessness – and it is total recklessness – at the border would not be as dangerous for this country if we in fact had the big, beautiful wall that we were promised."
The border wall was a Trump campaign promise repeated often, and its absence – according to Cortes – will be an easy point for DeSantis to attack. "Those of us who have great regard for President Trump, we need to be honest about those kinds of misses," he added.
Now in DeSantis' corner, Cortes sees a candidate who he says has done a better job of following through on what he says. "It's an absolutely methodical delivery and implementation of the agenda," he argued.
"When I compare those records; and when I look at the baggage that President Trump brings to the race, particularly for independents and moderates; then I compare that to this young man with a sterling resume – that choice becomes somewhat clear," Cortes said.
Many have described America as a center-right country, though that opinion has certainly been contested. But Cortes insists the country craves an electable conservative at a time when Republicans are struggling to win elections.
"We [conservatives] have to take a realistic and honest look at recent election losses, particularly the cycles of 2018, 2020 – and then 2022, at least relative to expectations," he concluded. "… As a consequence [of those losses], this country, which is a center-right country – polling and evidence shows us that – is not being governed that way. It's being governed as if it's a far leftist radical place like the entire country is Berkeley, California, because we are losing what are eminently winnable elections," he said.