Who is Ron DeSantis and what his presidency could mean for Ukraine
Ron DeSantis was previously elected to the U.S. House of Representatives three times, and is now serving his second consecutive term as governor of Florida (Photo:REUTERS/Marco Bello)
Ron DeSantis, the 44-year-old Governor of Florida, is widely regarded as the strongest competitor to Donald Trump within the Republican Party. He has officially announced his decision to seek the Republican nomination for the 2024 U.S. presidential elections.
However, winning the Republican primaries will not be an easy task, as Trump currently enjoys a significant lead over all potential contenders in the Republican Party, despite facing ongoing legal battles.
A May survey conducted by Morning Consult sheds light on the preferences of Republican voters regarding potential presidential candidates from their party. The results indicate that:
· 61% of Republican voters support the nomination of Donald Trump;
· 18% favor Florida Governor Ron DeSantis;
· 6% lean towards former Vice President Mike Pence, who has not yet officially announced his candidacy;
· 4% support former U.S. Ambassador to the UN and ex-governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley;
· 4% show interest in entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
Among the potential contenders, Governor Ron DeSantis poses the strongest competition to Trump, whose ongoing legal issues could potentially impact the election.
However, DeSantis’s pre-election campaign kickoff encountered chaos. His attempt to announce his candidacy through an online event on Twitter Spaces, featuring Elon Musk, was disrupted due to the overwhelming number of users trying to join the event simultaneously. DeSantis’s campaign team attributed this to the immense enthusiasm generated by his presidential bid, stating that it “literally broke the internet.”
As we delve into Ron DeSantis’s biography and views, let’s explore some of the most intriguing facts about the Florida Governor.
The youngest among potential candidates
On Nov. 5, 2024, during the U.S. presidential elections, Ron DeSantis will be 46 years old, currently being 44. Youth is one of the main advantages this potential candidate possesses when compared to the age of other likely contenders.
A few weeks after the election, Joe Biden will celebrate his 82nd birthday, while Donald Trump will already be 78 years old. This sets a new record for the United States, as the previous oldest president, Ronald Reagan, left the White House at the age of 77.
Regarding DeSantis’ candidacy, The Wall Street Journal commented in an editorial article: “The unfortunate political reality today is that America is marching toward a 2024 rematch between two aging presidents, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, that most Americans say they don’t want (to see in the White House).”
“This great country can do better, but it’s up to voters to spare us from the divisive oldsters who desperately need each other to win a second term.”
A graduate of elite universities, a U.S. Navy veteran, and an Iraq War veteran
Despite his relatively young age, Ron DeSantis had an impressive resume even before his significant involvement in U.S. politics.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida, to Italian-American parents, he received an excellent education. DeSantis graduated with honors from Yale University, majoring in history, and later earned a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. At Yale, he served as captain of the university’s baseball team. Additionally, DeSantis added several years of service in the United States Navy to his accomplishments.
DeSantis attended the Naval Justice School, the specialized law school of the U.S. Navy, where he became a lieutenant and served as a legal advisor to SEAL Team One, a unit of the U.S. Marine Corps assigned to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. In 2006, he worked at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, directly interacting with prisoners in the infamous detention facility.
In 2007, the future governor of Florida spent nearly eight months in Iraq, serving as a senior legal advisor to the SEAL who commanded Special Operations Task Force-West in Fallujah, Navy Captain Dane Thorleifson.
DeSantis returned to the U.S. from Iraq in April 2008 and was appointed as an assistant state attorney for the Middle District of Florida. In 2010, while remaining a reservist in the U.S. Navy, he resigned from active military service. The politician concluded his military service in February 2019, shortly after being elected governor of Florida.
Throughout his military career, Ron DeSantis received several awards, including:
· Bronze Star Medal: the fourth-highest individual military award in the U.S. Armed Forces, presented for outstanding achievements or acts of valor;
· Global War on Terrorism Service Medal: an award established in 2003 by President George W. Bush;
· Iraq Campaign Medal: awarded to U.S. military personnel who participated in the Iraq War for at least 30 consecutive days or 60 non-consecutive days;
· Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal: an encouraging award in the U.S. Army.
Ambitious Congressman and Florida Governor
In the autumn of 2012, Ron DeSantis began his political career when he was first elected as a member of the United States House of Representatives. He was re-elected twice in 2014 and 2016, serving as an influential congressman for three consecutive terms. Later, he advocated for the introduction of a constitutional amendment that would limit the terms of congressmen in the House of Representatives to three and in the U.S. Senate to two.
During his time in Congress, DeSantis co-founded the so-called Freedom Caucus, a group of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives who opposed then-Democratic President Barack Obama. DeSantis criticized Obama’s immigration policy, insisting on its strengthening, and became one of the co-authors of a bill to increase penalties for foreigners who illegally re-enter the United States after deportation.
DeSantis also enjoyed the favor of Donald Trump for a long time and supported his candidacy in the 2016 elections. When Special Counsel Robert Mueller, appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice, attempted to establish links between Trump’s election and Russian interference in the presidential elections, DeSantis was one of the most vocal critics of the investigation and demanded the cessation of funding for it.
In the autumn of 2018, Ron DeSantis secured the nomination from the Republican Party with active support from Trump and won his first election as the Governor of Florida.
Although DeSantis had a slim margin of victory over his Democratic opponent by only 0.4% in 2018, he confidently won the race for the governor’s seat in Florida in the 2022 elections. The incumbent governor surpassed the Democratic candidate by nearly 20% and secured the majority of votes in Miami-Dade County, which has a predominantly Latin American population and historically has been a significant source of votes for Democrats. It had been 20 years since a Republican candidate for the governor’s position won in Miami-Dade County, the last being Jeb Bush in 2002.
DeSantis’s victory in the fall of 2022 was considered one of the significant results of the midterm elections by the U.S. media. Leading U.S. media outlets viewed his triumph as not only a concerning sign for Democrats in Florida but also as a serious indication of DeSantis’s potential candidacy for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2024. In his victorious speech, DeSantis emphasized his pride in one of his most controversial decisions – his reluctance to impose strict restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic and his swift repeal of even minor rules that were introduced. He claimed that Florida had become a “refuge of common sense when the world went crazy.” DeSantis referred to any regulations related to strict lockdowns, mask mandates, or vaccinations as an attack on people’s personal freedoms, which, according to U.S. media, increased his popularity among conservative circles.
New Target of Trump’s Attacks
Ever since Ron DeSantis’s desire to enter the race for the U.S. presidency became evident, Donald Trump has directed a barrage of criticism, mockery, and ridicule towards his former ally. Trump now twists DeSantis’s name, referring to him as Ron-DeSanctimonious and seizes every opportunity to mercilessly attack the Florida governor in his speeches and on social media.
In April 2023, an aggressive ad campaign against DeSantis, initiated by the MAGA, Inc. group that supports Trump, appeared on U.S. television. The ad used unverified rumors that in 2019, DeSantis supposedly dipped his fingers into chocolate pudding, while on board of a private jet. The politician denies these rumors, but Trump’s supporters capitalized on them, creating a realistic 30-second video claiming that Ron DeSantis “sticks his fingers where they don’t belong.” The ad criticizes DeSantis’s views on social security reform and raising the retirement age.
“Trumpism without Trump”: What DeSantis Offers to Americans
The governor of Florida refrains from directly criticizing Donald Trump and mostly avoids commenting on the former president’s legal troubles. However, he occasionally makes humorous remarks that allude to the legal challenges Trump faces. Recently, DeSantis remarked, “Listen, I truly don’t know what it’s like to pay a porn star for silence to secure the confidentiality of a rumored affair,” which provoked laughter and applause from the audience.
Once, he referred to himself as “Trump without the drama.” According to The Washington Post, Ron DeSantis is attempting to win the favor of American voters by positioning himself in this specific role ahead of the Republican primaries and the 2024 elections.
“In other words, you can have Trump — even a better version of him — without Trump himself and all the baggage and chaos associated with him,” explains The Washington Post, describing DeSantis’s approach as “Trumpism without Trump.” The article suggests that instead of directly attacking Trump, DeSantis aims to compete by embodying a better version of what people desire, as indicated by previous election outcomes.
Throughout his tenure as Florida governor and in the recent months leading up to the unofficial start of the election campaign, DeSantis has indeed implemented policies that closely align with Trump’s views.
He defends the following positions:
· Restriction of rights for the LGBT+ community: As governor, DeSantis has signed several legislative acts with similar aims. These include holding transgender individuals accountable for using “inappropriate” restrooms, banning transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ sports in middle and high school, and prohibiting discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in preschools and elementary schools. There are also discussions about extending the latter provision to all grades unless such discussions are part of a state program or an optional reproductive health course. In Florida, this law has been referred to as the “don’t say gay” rule and has prompted similar changes in other conservative states.
· Restrictions on women’s right to abortion: In April, DeSantis signed a law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, shortly after it was passed by the legislative body of Florida. However, since the majority of Americans believe that abortions should be legal, DeSantis rarely comments on the topic publicly.
· Expansion of gun access: A few days after the shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville in March 2023, DeSantis signed a law-making Florida the 26th state to allow open carry of firearms without special permits or training, with a few exceptions for specific public places where it is prohibited.
· Anti-immigration policy: DeSantis, like Trump, supports the idea of building a wall to protect against illegal immigrants on the southern border of the United States. He has also joined other Republican governors in sponsoring the relocation of thousands of migrants from the border territories of the United States to traditionally Democratic cities such as New York, Washington, and Chicago. In the fall of 2022, DeSantis arranged for nearly 2,000 migrants to be transported from Texas to the elite Martha’s Vineyard Island, known as a vacation spot for former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Republicans aim to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the Democrats’ immigration policy through such actions.
Ron DeSantis’s views on the war in Ukraine and assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine have caused controversy
In March 2023, DeSantis referred to the Russian aggression against Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” and stated that aid to Kyiv “is not one of the vital national interests of the United States.” This position received immediate and sharp criticism from both Democrats and some members of his own party.
Former Representative Liz Cheney criticized DeSantis, stating that he is “mistaken and seems to have forgotten the lessons of Ronald Reagan.” She emphasized that the conflict in Ukraine is not just a territorial dispute, but a fight for freedom by the Ukrainian people. Cheney expressed concerns about America’s failure to defend freedom and its impact on national security.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham compared DeSantis to Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister known for his policy of appeasement toward Adolf Hitler. Graham stressed that the war in Ukraine is Putin’s attempt to forcibly reshape the map of Europe, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation. Texas senator John Cornyn also expressed his disturbance over DeSantis’s comments.
Due to the backlash, DeSantis quickly backtracked from his initial remarks. In an interview with The New York Post, he clarified that his statement about the “territorial dispute” was poorly worded and did not imply that Russia has the right to invade Ukraine or threaten NATO. DeSantis referred to Putin as a war criminal and emphasized that Russia “will not win this war.”
In the past, DeSantis held a “hawkish approach to Russia,” as highlighted by CNN investigators. From 2014 to 2017, he consistently condemned the Russian occupation of Crimea and advocated for providing defensive and offensive weapons to Ukraine. He also voted against funding a new agreement with Russia on missile defense until Moscow withdrew its troops from Ukraine. However, he later shifted his stance and criticized the policy of unlimited spending on aid to Ukraine, emphasizing the need for increased control over funding for Kyiv’s needs.
According to David Hopkins, an associate professor of political science at Boston College, DeSantis changed his position to gain an advantage in the Republican Party’s presidential primaries by aligning more with Trump’s views on Ukraine than with Democratic President Joe Biden.
Hopkins explained that since active support for Ukraine is a characteristic position of the Biden administration and Trump is critical of it, some Republican candidates are seeking ways to differentiate themselves from Biden.
Monica McDermott, a professor of political science at Fordham University in New York, added that Republicans are among the groups least inclined to prioritize the defense of Ukraine as important for the United States. McDermott noted that DeSantis aims to win the nomination from the Republican Party and, therefore, is aligning himself with their opinion. Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center from March 2022 to January 2023 indicate that the percentage of Republican Party supporters considering the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the main threat to U.S. interests decreased from 51% to 29%. Among Democrats, the change was less significant, going from 50% a year ago to 43% at the beginning of the year.
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