Gov. Ron DeSantis is running Florida as an unabashed culture warrior, redefining what Republican voters want from a governor and inspiring imitators along the way.
The first-term chief executive is threatening out-of-state technology companies, so-called “big-tech” firms, with punitive legislation; blocking municipal authorities and businesses from implementing mask and vaccine mandates to reduce the spread of the coronavirus; and sparring with reporters and jousting with President Joe Biden in a manner similar to that of former President Donald Trump.
This fiery focus on hot-button national issues departs from the sober, apolitical, and local managerial tasks that often dominate a governor’s agenda. But DeSantis’s approach is winning plaudits from Republican voters and has vaulted him into the top tier of 2024 presidential contenders. His fellow Republican governors are taking notice.
“If you look at how Gov. [Greg] Abbott and other Republican governors — in Southern states, in particular — have dealt with COVID and other issues, you can certainly see the influence of Gov. DeSantis,” said a Republican strategist in Washington, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. Abbott, Texas governor and another potential 2024 presidential candidate, has mirrored DeSantis’s approach, signing restrictive abortion legislation and investing in border security — usually the purview of the federal government.
DeSantis, 43, is up for reelection in 2022 and would have to be favored with a Democrat in the White House, especially if Biden’s job approval numbers do not climb back up toward 50% by Election Day next year.
Republicans nationwide have given Florida’s governor strong marks for his handling of the coronavirus. They like the way he balanced both health and economic challenges created by the pandemic and believe biased media coverage is why he wasn’t recognized for his leadership or compared more favorably to Democratic governors such as California’s Gavin Newsom and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in August amid sexual misconduct allegations.
But aside from the coronavirus, DeSantis has particularly distinguished himself for addressing issues outside the scope of a governor’s typical job description.
In tackling what Republicans believe is political censorship of conservatives by social media platforms, refusing to let local governments and business owners make their own decisions on face masks and coronavirus vaccinations, selectively blocking media outlets from press conferences — DeSantis operates more like a federal politician, for whom cultural issues are more salient. The strategy has worked wonders for the governor’s national profile, at least inside the GOP.
“If President [Donald] Trump for some reason doesn’t run in 2024, Gov. DeSantis is the current heir apparent,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump spokesman who founded GETTR, an upstart competitor to Twitter. “His fights against the statist liberal elites have endeared himself to the GOP base.”
Trump is mulling a third White House bid and may run, upending the plans of several Republicans planning to run for president in 2024. But even if the former president does try to get his old job back, some polls have suggested DeSantis could be competitive in a Republican primary. If the Republican Party nominated the Florida governor, it would be something of a throwback move.
The GOP went through a period in which it preferred governors, former governors, or other politicians who had served in executive roles as its presidential nominee: former Vice President Richard Nixon, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, Vice President George H.W. Bush, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (now a Utah senator.) But in 2016, none of the sitting gov…