Gov. Ron DeSantis made his political debut a decade ago as U.S. House Representative for Florida’s sixth district. He was far from a household name at the time. That changed in 2018 when DeSantis garnered national attention as he cultivated a close relationship with former President Donald Trump.
That relationship is back on the national radar, maybe more than ever. There is a Florida gubernatorial election this year, a presidential election in two years and eyes on both of these principal characters.
DeSantis’ first gubernatorial campaign in 2018 established him as a “conservative warrior” and a devoted Trump ally, which proved to be a key factor in his victory. Just before elections that year, DeSantis released a bizarre advertisement touting his earnest admiration for the GOP leader. It featured DeSantis indoctrinating his children, both under two years old, into the political ideology associated with the former president’s style of governance nicknamed Trumpism. In the ad, DeSantis encouraged his daughter to “build the wall” as she stacked toy bricks and taught her to speak by reading “make America great again” off a Trump campaign sign.
Trump rapidly boosted DeSantis’ support with his endorsement shortly before Christmas in 2017. “Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!” Trump tweeted.
It wasn’t until the last week of December that year — after Trump’s endorsement — that DeSantis emerged as the frontrunner over his Republican primary opponent Adam Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner. DeSantis trailed behind Putnam early in the race. A poll conducted by Florida Atlantic University in late August 2017 reported only 9% of decided voters supported DeSantis compared to 27% who favored Putnam.
Trump’s influence in the race was highlighted by an atypical aspect: Putnam lost despite having significantly more funding than DeSantis. By July 2018, Putnam’s campaign spent over $13 million, more than six times as much as DeSantis.
Historically, candidates who spend the most win the race. Data collected by FiveThirtyEight showed top spending congressional candidates won nearly 90% of the time. In the end, DeSantis beat Putnam by more than 20 percentage points. His victory illustrated that a Trump endorsement was more powerful than money in the new Republican era.
In his first term as governor, DeSantis embraced a political agenda similar to Trump. He became a regular figure on Fox News as he promoted his legislative accomplishments and built his national profile in Trump’s image on prime-time television.
DeSantis echoed Trump on many issues from healthcare to education. In line with Trump’s rhetoric that government should be less involved in matters of personal liberty, DeSantis banned mask and vaccine mandates in Florida. When Trump waged an attack on critical race theory, DeSantis followed suit and crafted the “Stop WOKE Act” to restrict race-based teaching in businesses and schools.
The tight bond between the two Republican party favorites has diminished since Trump left office. Trump has yet to endorse DeSantis in his 2022 re-election campaign. Speculation has it that they could be rivals in the next presidential election. Trump told the New Yorker in an interview published in June that he was close to deciding whether to run in 2024. When questioned about DeSantis’s plans for a White House bid, Trump said “It’s his prerogative. I think I would win.”
Trump also took credit for DeSantis’ previous victory. “If I didn’t endorse him, he wouldn’t have won,” he boasted. Despite not earning a second endorsement from Trump, polls show DeSantis winning re-election against Democratic candidates in Florida.
Looking forward to the presidential race of 2024, several surveys among likely Republican voters show DeSantis and Trump statistically tied if they both decide to run. The once harmonious relationship between the two is expected to remain in discord as the nation gears up for another heated presidential election season.