WASHINGTON — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday — a diminished figure in his party after a steady fall in polls in recent months, but still the top rival to former President Trump.
The governor filed his intentions with the Federal Election Commission, in advance of his expected official announcement in an online conversation with billionaire Elon Musk on Twitter on Wednesday evening.
DeSantis has tried to position himself as a culture warrior who will carry on Trump’s legacy as a fighter without the attendant baggage, including fundamental concerns over the former president’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and at least one criminal indictment.
As recently as a few months ago, DeSantis was seen as a potential front-runner for the nomination. The former Trump protege won reelection in November by a landslide margin in a state normally seen as competitive. That victory came in an otherwise disappointing midterm election cycle for his party in which many candidates endorsed by Trump fared poorly.
DeSantis appeared frequently on Fox News touting his disdain for the media, vaccine mandates, critical race theory and a host of other targets he labeled as “woke.” He signed laws that restrict how U.S. history on race can be taught in schools and forced the College Board to revise its new AP African American History curriculum.
Somewhat surprisingly, he also targeted Disney, an essential driver of his state’s economy. The clash came after the entertainment giant criticized Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill limiting what elementary school teachers can discuss about gender and sexuality.
In response, DeSantis targeted Disney’s business operations in Florida. The state government and the company, which owns several theme parks and other businesses that fuel central Florida’s tourism, are now locked in a court battle and Disney announced last week that it was canceling plans to open a new central Florida campus that would have employed 2,000 workers.
The strategy gained DeSantis plenty of attention. But his poll numbers have fallen and some donors are expressing reservations after DeSantis appeared to stumble.
In March, for example, he walked back his description of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute.” And some, including Trump, have criticized DeSantis for signing a six-week abortion ban in the state, among the most restrictive in the nation.
Hoping to regain momentum, DeSantis has spent the last few weeks renewing his effort to hold out Florida as a model for conservatives nationwide, a key part of his campaign.
DeSantis’ supporters use the slogan: Make America Florida.
He’s signed bills passed by the Florida Legislature to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth, expand private school vouchers and gut diversity and equity programs at public colleges and universities.
California is a frequent target, with DeSantis often describing the liberal state as the antithesis of Florida. He has sparred with Gov. Gavin Newsom on a range of issues, including COVID-19 policy and abortion. Last July, Newsom broadcast an ad in Florida lambasting DeSantis’ policies.
Five years ago, DeSantis was a little-known Florida congressman who became governor in part thanks to Trump’s endorsement, a fact Trump often mentions.
Once allies, the race for the 2024 GOP nomination has increasingly turned the pair against one another. Trump in particular has taken aim at his chief rival, dubbing him “DeSanctimonious” and running an attack ad making fun of his predilection for eating pudding with his fingers. Trump has also pointed to DeSantis’ prior support for curtailing entitlement programs.
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