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United States: Ron DeSantis, a “Donald Trump with filter” who dreams of being the Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election

United States: Ron DeSantis, a "Donald Trump with filter" who dreams of being the Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election

“Ron DeSantis is Donald Trump with a brain and without the melodrama.” The formula chosen by the FinancialTimes* to describe the governor of Florida days before his re-election in the fall of 2022 is caustic. But it rings true. More polite than the rowdy billionaire, this 44-year-old conservative intends to follow in his footsteps: Wednesday, May 24, he announced his candidacy for the Republican primaries for the presidential election of 2024.

This declaration (marked by numerous technical bugs) is not a surprise. For months already, media and observers have been speculating about the ambitions of Ron DeSantis. Because the signs have accumulated. First there was “his omnipresence in the national media”, sometimes with several interventions per day on the conservative television channel Fox News, notes Françoise Coste, professor of American studies at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès. Then his triumphant victory in the midterm elections, with nearly 20 points ahead of his Democratic opponent. Enough to consecrate his new status as the heavyweight of the party. During this campaign, the outgoing governor raised more than $200 million in donations. According Associated Press*, he still has 70 million in reserve, a precious advance to embark on the expensive race for the White House.

Florida, DeSantis’ “model” for the United States

At the beginning of 2023, Ron DeSantis began his “pre-campaign” for the primaries by publishing his memoirs, a must for any presidential candidate wishing to make himself known to the general public. To promote The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Model for Fixing America, the governor embarked on a tour across the country. She notably led him in Iowa, a state which traditionally kicks off the Republican primaries. “He needs to make his name known, his points of view”explained in March a conservative donor, questioned by the chain NBC*.

During his meetings with the public, Ron DeSantis delivered few elements on his political program. But, as the title of his book suggests, his record in Florida provides insight into his positions. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, he had gained notoriety by “flattering anti-masks and anti-vax” with very limited health restrictions, reports Françoise Coste. “That’s probably what allowed him to be re-elected, but he was able to appropriate other important issues for Republicans”relieves Lauric Henneton, historian and lecturer at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin.

In a state where the conservative vote is increasingly entrenched, Ron DeSantis pursues an anti-abortion and anti-immigration policy, going so far as to send hundreds of undocumented migrants to the island of Martha’s Vineyarda vacation spot for wealthy Democrats in the northeast of the country. “It’s show politics, but these are images that mark the Republican electorate”analyzes Lauric Henneton.

He also attacks the LGBT + community, promulgating a text in early May which prohibits gender transition care for minors, recalls CBS*. ‘He also signed the law’don’t say gay‘, which prevents talking about sexual orientation to elementary school students, and revoked the special status (from amusement park) Disney World”, after the Californian group developed diversity in its films, adds Jeff Hawkins, associate researcher at Iris. Disney responded by filing a complaint, saying it was a campaign of “targeted revenge”.

“His battle with Disney may seem ridiculous, but for conservatives in his state and elsewhere, it’s a way of saying, ‘I’m like Donald Trump, I’m waging the same culture war against progressives.'”

Jeff Hawkins, Associate Researcher at Iris

at BlazeTrends

This closeness to Donald Trump dates back to 2018. The support of the tenant of the White House had then allowed Ron DeSantis to be elected governor of Florida, by a short head. “At the time, you had to conquer the Trumpist electorate to win. Like most Republicans, DeSantis therefore made Trump”emphasizes Lauric Henneton.

A “smooth” politician without “charisma”

Since then, the young curator has proven to be a “Donald Trump with a filter”, summarizes the lecturer. Far from the extravagance and excesses of the former president, Ron DeSantis measures his words. His most daring repartee? “You can piss on my leg, but don’t tell me it’s rain”he retorted to a journalist, at a press conference in 2021*.

Another major difference with Donald Trump: his career, classic for a presidential candidate. A high school baseball player, he won a scholarship to study law at the prestigious universities of Yale and Harvard. “He puts forward this sporting past to counterbalance his course within the elite, and seem closer to the general public”decrypts Lauric Henneton.

Donald Trump had been exempted from military service for medical reasons, in the midst of the Vietnam War. Ron DeSantis, he served several years in the US Army, as a lawyer, and notably accompanied the elite soldiers of the Navy Seals during a deployment in Iraq. He then began his career in politics as an elected member of the House of Representatives, between 2013 and 2018.

For Republicans, the Governor of Florida “present so a lot of advantages that Donald Trump does not have”assures Françoise Coste. “He’s younger, not bogged down in court cases and, ideologically, he’s just as conservative”she explains, while the former president was charged in the State of New York for having bought the silence of an actress of pornographic films. “For a party that wants to mobilize its electorate without reliving controversies and indictments, it seems to be a good candidate”Judge also Jeff Hawkins.

“DeSantis’ candidacy is a godsend for a part of the Republican base, which would like to turn the page on Trump without abandoning Trumpism.”

Françoise Coste, professor of American studies at Toulouse-Jean Jaurès University

at BlazeTrends

Is this enough to allow the governor of Florida to impose himself at the national level, facing a former head of state accustomed to the media? “Ron DeSantis is more calculated than Donald Trump, but this lack of spontaneity also makes him smoother. He lacks charisma”, tempers Lauric Henneton.

Donald Trump against “Ron morality”

This new rival is in any case taken seriously by the current favorite among the Republicans. “Since his election in 2018, DeSantis has been very ambitious, and Trump does not forgive him for daring to confront him during the primary”, emphasizes Françoise Coste. The ex-president considers that the governor “owes him everything and shows no loyalty to him”confirms Lauric Henneton. Sign of this break, the billionaire has decked him out with several mocking nicknames, such as “Ron the Moral”and multiplied the attacks against him even before the official announcement of his candidacy, recalls Bloomberg*.

A few months before the supporters’ vote, Donald Trump nevertheless retains a “grip on part of the Republicans”notes Jeff Hawkins. The former head of state easily tops all the latest opinion polls, widening his lead over Ron DeSantis over the months, according to the survey aggregator of the specialized site FiveThirtyEight*. “The extremism and the extravagance of the candidates will weigh a lot for the primaries of the Republican Party, which has become more radical under Donald Trump, continues the researcher. But to win the presidential election that will follow, you will have to position yourself in the center.

“Ron DeSantis has a better profile to win the general election, but he’s way behind Donald Trump in the primaries. It’s a real headache for the party.”

Jeff Hawkins, Associate Researcher at Iris

at BlazeTrends

Who to support between these two men? For conservative officials, the choice looks all the more complex as the ex-president has a bitter defeat… and the power to sink the Republican campaign. “If Donald Trump is left out of the primaries, he may seek to take his voters with him”, encouraging them not to vote for the candidate nominated to face the Democrats, suggests Jeff Hawkins. Such a division would leave the field open to Joe Biden, who is running for a second term.

“For Republicans, Donald Trump is not inevitable in 2024, but he is hardly circumventable”, insists Jeff Hawkins. Under these conditions, can Ron DeSantis dethrone the former head of state? The Conservative Party’s first primaries debate in August will provide insight into its ability to win this duel.

* Links marked with asterisks refer to content in English.

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