By most accounts, 44-year-old Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will run for president in 2024. The only problem is many of those closest to him despise him.
At least that’s the gist of a new Vanity Fair profile on DeSantis in which numerous sources describe DeSantis as combative, cold, and “a mix of extreme arrogance and painful awkwardness.”
DeSantis has made a name for himself by repeatedly pursuing policies that seem designed to anger social progressives while exciting his conservative base. This includes passing the “Don’t Say Gay” law, punishing Disney for opposing the law, and (more recently) firing a state attorney who refused to enforce state prohibitions on gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
But as his star has risen among Republicans nationwide, he has gradually gained the ire of Donald Trump, the former president who is likely to be DeSantis’ opponent for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
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“Trump says he’s overrated, disloyal, and a know-nothing,” an unnamed “Trump friend” told Vanity Fair writer Gabriel Sherman. A new book by New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman says Trump also referred to DeSantis as “fat,” “phony,” and “whiny.”
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) reportedly said of DeSantis, “I’ve had enough of this guy,” after DeSantis said at a February 2022 fundraiser, “I’m the reason why people move to Florida.”
An unnamed Republican strategist said, “The biggest complaint you hear about DeSantis is that he never says thank you. People host events where donors give him enormous sums of money, and he never says thank you.”
A prominent Republican quoted in the Vanity Fair article said, “He’s missing the sociability gene. He doesn’t do the warm and fuzzies well.” Another strategist said, “I was at a fundraiser in D.C. where he was like two hours late. Everyone was like, ‘What the f**k?’”
Others said that DeSantis’ wife, Casey, sometimes sends thank-you cards and calls on his behalf, also making many decisions about how he publicly presents himself. “They use people like toilet paper,” a top GOP strategist said of DeSantis and his wife.
DeSantis’ lack of personal warmth could harm him in a general presidential election if mainstream media cameras catch him being cold to his supporters, the profile said. On this point, a Republican quoted in the profile asked, “Can a guy who doesn’t have any time for the rituals and practices of politics — the backslapping, handshaking, how are the kids? — succeed?”
A former congressional staffer said of DeSantis, “I describe him as having the personality of a piece of paper.”
Politico wrote that DeSantis’ former staffers had formed a “support group” to share their experiences working for him. One former adviser said, “He’s a terrible bully.”
Another unnamed prominent Republican said that DeSantis often wonders if his policies and public actions will “play well on Fox,” meaning the viewers of the conservative media outlet Fox News. He reportedly has texting relationships with Fox hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.
Though DeSantis was a member of the hard-right congressional Freedom Caucus during his years in the U.S. House, he reportedly “thought the Freedom Caucus guys were all nuts,” one staffer said.
Then, during the 2016 election, DeSantis “made more fun of Donald Trump than anyone I know,” and “thought Trump was f**king nuts,” two former DeSantis staffers said.
A former staffer said, “Ron is one of the smartest people I’ve come in contact with. He had such potential, but he became nothing but a Trump suck-up. It’s really sad.”
That sucking up seemed to come in handy when DeSantis ran for Florida governor in 2018. After Trump endorsed him, he won the governorship by over 20 percentage points. However, when DeSantis ran against then-closeted bisexual Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) in 2018, DeSantis won the election by barely 30,000 votes.
As DeSantis considers a run for president, people close to DeSantis said he has become “increasingly paranoid,” communicating as little in writing as possible to avoid leaving a paper trail about his connections, directions, and motivations.
Another longtime Trump adviser compared DeSantis to former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), a quarrelsome and grudge-holding political leader who resigned in disgrace in August 2021 after numerous Democrats told him to resign amid damning sexual harassment allegations.
“[Cuomo] ruled by fear,” the adviser said. “He kept everyone off-balance. But the moment he slipped, he’d made many, many enemies. Ron has made a lot of enemies.”
Of course, that may not matter. Trump had lots of enemies, a history of not paying people who worked for him, and numerous rape accusers when he first ran for president in 2016. But his mastery of media and appeal to the Republican base won him the presidency regardless.
A University of North Florida poll conducted in early August found that DeSantis would beat Trump in Florida’s 2024 Republican primary 47 percent to 45 percent.