Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has filed paperwork for his long-anticipated bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, offering himself up to GOP voters as an uncompromisingly conservative, yet still electable, alternative to former President Trump as the party grapples with recent electoral disappointments.
DeSantis, who filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, had been floated for years as a prospective presidential candidate, but his ambitions began to take on a more concrete form over the past several months. He already has the backing of a well-funded super PAC, Never Back Down, as well as a vast war chest that can be transferred to a federal entity, though not directly to a campaign.
In launching a White House bid, the Florida governor is hoping to sell himself to Republican voters as a low-drama, winning substitute for Trump, a one-time political ally who has attacked DeSantis relentlessly in recent months over his presidential aspirations.
Early polling in the nascent GOP presidential primary has shown DeSantis as the clearest threat to Trump’s hopes of reclaiming the White House, though he’s still running well behind the former president in most surveys. At the same time, his support has stagnated somewhat in recent weeks following a series of political setbacks and questions among some top Republicans about whether he has what it takes to compete on a national stage.
Still, after three lackluster federal election cycles in a row for Republicans, DeSantis has captured the attention of many in the party who are ready to move on from Trump and his penchant for political drama.
DeSantis is no less conservative or conflict-driven than Trump. His campaign announcement came on the heels of a whirlwind state legislative session that saw Florida lawmakers approve a laundry list of DeSantis’s most polarizing policy priorities, including a six-week abortion ban and a measure to allow Floridians to carry firearms without a permit.
DeSantis’s political rise has been rapid. When he first sought the governor’s mansion in 2018, he was a relatively unknown congressman who few expected to capture the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination. It was Trump’s endorsement that put him over the top and propelled him to a 20-point victory over his primary opponent, former state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
DeSantis ultimately won the general election that year by less than half a percentage point.
Over the next four years, DeSantis transformed himself into a champion of the right, waging political wars against everything from COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions to so-called “wokeness” — a broad term that the governor regularly uses to describe perceived liberal or progressive social attitudes.
While that has made him a bogeyman among Democrats, it has endeared him to conservatives and helped reshape Florida’s political landscape.
The one-time swing state has now taken on a shade of red. DeSantis won a 19-point victory in his 2022 reelection bid, flipping Democratic strongholds like Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties in the process. Republicans now hold supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature and for the first time since Reconstruction there’s not a single Democrat in statewide elected office.
But for all of DeSantis’s political strengths, there are still some clear challenges. Despite his rising star status among Republicans, much of the GOP’s conservative voter base remains deeply loyal to Trump. At the same time, the former president has racked up a long list of endorsements from elected officials — a list that includes at least half of Florida’s Republican congressional delegation.
Trump isn’t DeSantis’s only competition for the GOP nomination. Several other candidates have already entered the race, including former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
Even if he’s able to break Trump’s hold on the Republican Party in 2024, the general election could also prove challenging for DeSantis, with even some Republicans questioning his hardline stance on issues like abortion – an issue that Democrats have used to rally their base with great success since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.