Pandemic Response Thrusts Gov. DeSantis Into Presidential Mix
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has emerged as an early contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 amid his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
After being criticized, even called for "DeathSantis" for his resistance to restrictive measures during the pandemic's early days, DeSantis has received credit for helping to keep businesses open while also reducing COVID-19 numbers and administering vaccines.
The governor's position has strengthened among Republicans heading into his 2022 reelection, with increasing national conservative talk about a presidential bid, per Politico.
"Ron DeSantis is having a moment with conservatives," said Josh Holmes, a top adviser to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"Part of this is liberals tried to cast this in the yin-and-yang comparison with [New York Democrat Gov. Andrew] Cuomo. It's policy and it's partly stylistic, the way he handles the news media and his blue-collar appeal."
DeSantis has battled with both reporters and President Joe Biden's administration to win over supporters of former President Donald Trump.
During a recent press conference in which he announced a proposal to crack down on big tech, DeSantis accused the news media of having double standards.
"You can whiz on my leg, but don't tell me it's raining," the governor told one reporter.
"A Republican saying that in a press conference is like a shot of adrenaline to the conservative grassroots," Holmes said. "The reaction was, 'Wow! He actually said it!"
In fact, recent polls of Florida Republicans showed DeSantis with higher net favorable ratings than Trump. The numbers also suggested the governor was more popular than Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., both of whom also have presidential ambitions.
"He flies by instinct, not by instrument; he's a natural," said Ryan Tyson, a top Republican pollster whose recent survey for a private client was shared with Politico.
While Cuomo has been embroiled in a COVID-19 death-count cover-up and California Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a recall effort for his handling of the pandemic, DeSantis has been earning compliments for his leadership.
That is a big difference from last spring, when both Cuomo and Newsom received praise for their handling of the pandemic, while DeSantis was criticized for his more economy-focused approach.
Early nationwide 2024 primary polls show DeSantis remained relatively unknown among the broad base of GOP voters. He was in the middle of a hypothetical crowded field that included Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former Vice President Mike Pence, leaders by each receiving about a third of the vote.
At the moment, DeSantis does not have a pollster or paid political consultant.
For a party base that wants Republicans to fight the mainstream media, confront liberals, and defy scientific experts, DeSantis is gaining momentum.
"Any serious handicapper would have to put DeSantis in tier one for 2024 – and tier one is not big," said Tony Fabrizio, who has worked for both Trump and DeSantis in 2020 and 2016, respectively.