Commentary

Ron DeSantis is ready to take on Donald Trump for the 2024 presidential nod

Gov. Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantisPhoto: Shutterstock

When the Conservative Political Action Conference kicked off on Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) should have had a primetime speaking role. After all, the big right-wing jamboree is happening in his state, and DeSantis uses the language of extremism to condemn mandates, LGBTQ rights, and all the other right-wing targets.

Instead, DeSantis was given a spot on opening day, early in the afternoon, as attendees were still arriving to check-in. On paper, it makes sense as a welcoming speech. But for someone who is widely considered a leading light in the GOP, it was more like infomercial time than prime time.

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Maybe another Florida resident had something to say about DeSantis’ speaking slot. Donald Trump, the maharaja of Mar-a-Lago, is also speaking at CPAC. And without a doubt, Trump can barely stand DeSantis these days.

There are two reasons for Trump’s disdain. One is Trump’s insatiable ego. DeSantis owes his political success in large part to Trump’s endorsement of him in the Republican primary for governor in 2017. At the time, DeSantis was a congressman who did his best to suck up to Trump (he once ran an ad in which he talked about teaching his young children the virtues of Trump’s values). DeSantis was a long shot before the endorsement, but with Trump’s backing went on to win the nomination and governorship.

Trump feels that DeSantis is insufficiently grateful. The former president has been complaining to acolytes visiting Mar-a-Lago that DeSantis hasn’t been bowing and scraping the way Trump expects.

The other reason Trump despises the governor is that DeSantis won’t publicly tamp down his own ambitions in the face of Trump’s own. The consensus is that the 2024 presidential nomination is Trump’s if he wants it, but DeSantis sure looks like he is angling for the same nomination. Unlike other potential candidates, DeSantis has refused to say he won’t run for the nomination if Trump decides he will.

That’s the kind of power play that Trump understands as a direct challenge to his primacy. Trump operates like a mobster, and there can only be one Don. Any potential challenger has to be annihilated. It’s a kill or be killed mentality

DeSantis has to know that. He senses a vulnerability in Trump and wants to exploit it for his benefit. Trump is no longer Trumpy enough for the forces he unleashed.

At the same time, the party leadership isn’t all that happy with the prospect of Trump redux. The ex-president’s endless harping on the 2020 election isn’t the message the party wants to run on in 2024. They want the election to be about Joe Biden, not Donald Trump.

DeSantis is counting on that sentiment only growing as 2024 nears. He’s pointing to the future that is irretrievably bigoted, as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation has proven. It’s also an America that is anti-science, corrosively partisan, and punitive against perceived enemies.

In short, it’s a lot like what the Trump administration was like, with one big difference: DeSantis is more disciplined than Trump, which makes him a bigger threat.

Just how much a threat the governor will be to his former patron remains to be seen. But DeSantis sent a strong signal in his speech at CPAC as to how he thinks things are going to shape up. He never once mentioned Donald Trump. 

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