DeSantis Makes It Official
Speaker A: The way a candidate for president announces their campaign doesn’t usually matter all that much.
Speaker A: But some announcements have a way of sticking in your head.
Speaker A: There’s Amy Klobuchar, who announced her 2020 bid for president in a driving snowstorm storm, or Donald Trump, who wrote a golden escalator to his campaign launch in 2015.
Speaker A: Add to that list the official start of Ron DeSantis’s presidential run, which was supposed to be broadcast live on Twitter Spaces, an audio streaming service, Wednesday night.
Speaker A: And it kind of was.
Speaker A: That was quiet, but it did not go smoothly.
Speaker A: You could hear the screeching sound of feedback.
Speaker A: People’s streams suddenly cut off mid sentence.
Speaker B: All right, sorry about that.
Speaker B: We’ve got so many people here that I think we are kind of melting the servers, which is a good sign.
Speaker A: It took nearly a half hour for DeSantis himself to get on the mic and declare he was running for president.
Speaker A: By then, hundreds of thousands of listeners seem to have stopped tuning in.
Speaker A: Molly Ball from Time magazine.
Speaker A: She’s here to assure you that a wacky stunt like this is just the beginning in the 2024 presidential race.
Speaker A: There are going to be more candidates, more oddball announcements, more weird fails.
Speaker C: There’s plenty of time.
Speaker C: I mean, it’s 2023, and this presidential election will occur in 2024.
Speaker C: So just in terms of months on the calendar, right, the first debate is not going to happen until August.
Speaker C: It’s clear that there’s a lot that can still happen.
Speaker A: But Molly also wants you to know that you should not count Ron DeSantis out.
Speaker A: Not yet anyway, because Republicans certainly aren’t.
Speaker C: He’s clearly the the principal obstacle to Trump just sort of gliding to the nomination at this point.
Speaker C: But how much of an obstacle is he going to be, right?
Speaker C: Is he going to be more of a speed bump?
Speaker C: That’s sort of how it’s looked for the past couple of months as Trump has gained ground, but everyone’s really waiting for DeSantis to get in and see if he can be the Trump slayer, for lack of a better term.
Speaker A: It’s so interesting because it sounds like even when you’re talking about Ron DeSantis and his candidacy, his candidacy is still all about Trump, like, whether he can beat Trump.
Speaker A: Like, Trump is the main character here.
Speaker C: Of course he is.
Speaker C: Trump has a way of making himself the main character of sort of any situation he’s in.
Speaker C: DeSantis has mostly tried to emphasize his policy record and his own credentials, and the question is, will that be enough, or will he have to take Trump on more forcefully?
Speaker C: But that wouldn’t necessarily be his preference, just because everyone else who’s tried it over the course of the last eight years has ended up worse off.
Speaker A: Today on the show.
Speaker A: Ron DeSantis may have stumbled to the starting block, but his record shows why this inauspicious launch may not mean very much about where his campaign ends up.
Speaker A: I’m Mary Harris.
Speaker A: You’re listening to what next?
Speaker A: Stick around.
Speaker A: I think a lot of political observers really began to take notice of DeSantis as, like, a serious presidential contender around the midterm elections.
Speaker A: Can you explain what happened then that made so many people go, okay, maybe this is happening?
Speaker C: Yeah, I mean, if you think about Florida, right, going back to Bush v.
Speaker C: Gore, I think we’ve always thought of Florida as the biggest and most emblematic American swing state.
Speaker C: Right.
Speaker C: It’s the third most popular state in the country, a big, diverse state with a lot of different constituencies.
Speaker C: And so I think what that means is, first of all, if you’re able to win convincingly in Florida, that gets you a look as someone who’s really accomplished something politically.
Speaker A: And he won very convincingly, like, by.
Speaker C: 19 points, very convincingly, the biggest win for any Florida governor in a decade.
Speaker C: And he had won by only half a percentage point when he first got elected governor back in 2018.
Speaker C: So he really built on that early sort of precarious success to make this much more resounding statement.
Speaker C: And remember, I think it was amplified by the fact that in a lot of ways, 2022 was a disappointing election for Republicans nationally.
Speaker C: There was a lot of anticipation of some sort of red wave, and it turned out to be more of a ripple.
Speaker C: And a lot of Republicans in other states didn’t do as well as they were expecting.
Speaker A: And in the early days, a lot of those people blamed Trump.
Speaker A: I don’t know if that’s so much the case now, but at least at the time people thought Trump endorsed these people, it didn’t necessarily work out.
Speaker C: That’s right.
Speaker C: And DeSantis is someone who Trump did endorse back in 2018.
Speaker C: But in the past few years, as he started to seem like more of a potential threat to Trump, trump has become less fond of him, and they were a bit more distant in 2022.
Speaker C: And so that contrast, I think, was very good for DeSantis and bad for Trump.
Speaker C: You had DeSantis on election night looking like a big, big winner.
Speaker C: Not only did he win by 19 points, but Republicans swept the field in Florida, won supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature, won every statewide contest, won four new Republican seats in the US.
Speaker C: House of Representatives.
Speaker C: You can argue that Florida is more or less single handedly responsible for the fact that Republicans have a majority in the House today.
Speaker C: So this big win for DeSantis in Florida on election night, and then a week later, you had Trump making his presidential announcement looking very sort of dejected and low energy with this narrative forming that he was the engine of the Republican Party, having lost three elections in a row.
Speaker C: 20 22 20 20 20 18 there’s a really strong case to be made that Trump was a drag on the party in all three of those elections and responsible for Republicans disappointing performance.
Speaker C: So that was a very good contrast for DeSantis, and I think he expected that he could sort of ride that through the successful legislative session and that would be sort of his presidential platform.
Speaker C: I think that’s still the plan.
Speaker C: It just looks a little different now.
Speaker A: Yeah.
Speaker A: I mean, you looked at DeSantis’s rise in politics to try to understand how he’d moved so quickly to the center of the American political conversation.
Speaker A: What did you find when you did that?
Speaker A: Like, how has he risen so quickly?
Speaker A: He was a congressman and then before he ran for governor, so how did he assemble the team that got him where he is now?
Speaker C: Yeah, well, if you read his account of it, it’s not much of a team effort.
Speaker C: He really doesn’t give credit to to anyone besides himself.
Speaker C: But he really started out as part of the Tea Party wave going back to 2010 when that anti Obama backlash started to build.
Speaker C: He was just a young lawyer and Navy veteran in the Jacksonville area who started to think he could run for Congress.
Speaker C: So it was a crowded Republican primary.
Speaker C: He had self published this book of conservative ideas.
Speaker A: The book was kind of a troll of Obama.
Speaker A: Right.
Speaker A: It was Dreams from our founding fathers as opposed to Dreams from my father.
Speaker C: Right.
Speaker C: If you think back to that era of the Tea Party, there was a lot of that sort of like, Obama hates America, but we love America, and therefore, that’s the contrast.
Speaker C: And so with his credentials, with his ability to sort of impress Republican based voters, and particularly those sort of Tea Party voters, his record as a veteran, I think, was a big asset.
Speaker C: He was able to win that primary by a pretty wide margin.
Speaker A: I was impressed with how, from the beginning, DeSantis was kind of working all of the angles to his advantage.
Speaker A: Like, when he ran for Congress, his wife Casey was in TV news.
Speaker A: She was an anchor, and you mentioned how she switched her name to her married name.
Speaker A: So all of a sudden, you’re hearing DeSantis all the time on the TV news, and then she went door to door with him, which is just kind of interesting.
Speaker A: It’s like, I hadn’t thought about that, but it’s this way to kind of shine the spotlight on yourself without doing the traditional stuff of ads or whatever.
Speaker A: Just get your name in the atmosphere.
Speaker C: Absolutely.
Speaker C: I mean, that’s always the biggest obstacle to any first time candidate, is just name ID, just getting people to know who you are and have some sense of why you’re in the race.
Speaker C: So being married to a local celebrity certainly helps.
Speaker C: And then another aspect of that campaign that I reported on was that they gambled by spending basically the entire budget of the campaign when they didn’t have a lot of money on an ad on Fox News knowing or betting that that was the way that they could get on the radar of local Republican voters.
Speaker B: I’ve taken an oath to the Constitution.
Speaker B: I’ve served in Iraq, prosecuted criminals, and I’m still in the Navy Reserve.
Speaker C: I take my and it works seriously.
Speaker A: How did he decide to run for governor?
Speaker C: Again, he was sort of an insurgent.
Speaker C: Again, he was not the choice of the establishment.
Speaker C: There was a man named Adam Putnam who was the state agriculture commissioner at the time.
Speaker C: That’s one of the statewide offices in Florida.
Speaker C: So he was well known and well liked and well supported by the sort of donor class.
Speaker C: But DeSantis saw that the way the party was going this is at the time when it was really being remade into Trump’s Republican Party, but that was still sort of a live ball.
Speaker C: And so DeSantis and his allies convinced Trump that Putnam was basically a never Trumper.
Speaker C: Based on things that Putnam had said during and after Trump’s original run for president.
Speaker A: You said Matt Gates encouraged Trump to endorse DeSantis.
Speaker C: That’s right.
Speaker C: There’s this famous flight on Air Force One where Gates and DeSantis are hitching a ride with Trump to a Trump rally in Pensacola in late 2017.
Speaker C: A couple of people who were on that plane described it to me as Gates having basically a printout of all of the negative things that Adam Putnam had ever said about Trump.
Speaker C: And he just went up to Trump and said, here, here, and here this guy.
Speaker C: You can’t trust him.
Speaker C: Trump.
Speaker C: A couple of weeks later, he saw DeSantis defending him on Fox News yet again and issued a tweet praising him, and the rest is history.
Speaker A: Governor DeSantis’s story, if you look at it, it’s pretty clear how lashing himself to Trump was beneficial to him in this gubernatorial race.
Speaker A: Like, he also released an ad in which he sat with his kids and read The Art of the Deal.
Speaker C: Ron loves playing with the kids, build the wall.
Speaker C: He reads stories.
Speaker B: Then Mr.
Speaker B: Trump said you’re fired.
Speaker B: I love that part.
Speaker A: He basically, like, positioned himself as the Trumpiest candidate and just slathered attention and compliments on Trump.
Speaker A: But you’ve said that DeSantis himself doesn’t attribute his success to Trump.
Speaker A: Why is that?
Speaker C: Well, I think for one thing, it’s become Trump’s main attack on him, that he owes his career to Trump, that Trump made him, that he would be nothing without Trump, that he was just this sort of insignificant political figure who Trump elevated.
Speaker C: So it’s obviously in DeSantis’s interest to portray himself as having a little bit as being a little bit more self made than that.
Speaker C: But I also spoke to advisors and former advisors of his who said he has a real sense of destiny about him, that his course in life is sort of foreordained, and that he’s where God wants him to be at all times.
Speaker C: So I quoted a former advisor to him saying, I’m sure he thinks it was nice of Trump to help me do this, but I would have gotten here anyway.
Speaker A: How did Ron DeSantis change the governorship once he assumed that position?
Speaker C: Yeah, DeSantis came in and very intentionally wanted to figure out where the levers of power were and how he could put maximum pressure on them.
Speaker C: He tells the story in his book.
Speaker C: I’ve talked to people who were there at the time, his sort of advisors and staff, who said when he was transitioning into the governorship, having won by the slightest of margins 30,000 out of 8 million votes, he said to the people around him.
Speaker C: And keep in mind, he’s a Harvard trained lawyer.
Speaker C: So this is a sort of wonkish and intellectual person who said, tell me everything I can do.
Speaker C: I want to know all the powers of the governorship, not just the ability to sort of propose and advocate for legislation or execute the laws that the legislature hands down, but all of the different powers of the governorship.
Speaker A: Yeah, I mean, we should tick off some of the things that DeSantis has done, because there have been so many of them that I feel like it’s easy to just have them get lost like there was last year.
Speaker A: He was very involved in gerrymandering in the state, making sure that there were enough republican congresspeople from Florida to make an impact in Washington.
Speaker A: He even changed the rules so that as governor, he could run for president.
Speaker A: He’s changing all of these rules along the way that benefit him.
Speaker C: That’s right.
Speaker C: I mean, the redistricting battle is really a case study in how aggressive his approach to these things is.
Speaker C: There is a voter approved constitutional amendment in Florida that redistricting has to be nonpartisan.
Speaker C: And in the past, when the legislature proposed and approved maps that sort of pushed the envelope and tried to gerrymander the state, the courts have slapped them down.
Speaker C: So understanding that the legislature last year proposed a map that was pretty neutral, pretty balanced, pretty nonpartisan, didn’t really change the potential partisan makeup of the state’s congressional delegation.
Speaker C: And DeSantis came in and said, that’s not good enough.
Speaker C: Now, previously, governors have been very hands off in this.
Speaker C: All they’ve done is sort of sign the bill.
Speaker C: But again, he identified that technically he had the power to be a part of this process.
Speaker C: No governor in Florida history had ever done this before.
Speaker C: He proposed his own map.
Speaker C: He vetoed the map sent up by the legislature, and this really sent a shock to the system.
Speaker C: It sent shockwaves through the legislative building in tallahassee that any governor would do this because it had just never been done before.
Speaker C: But what he said was, well, look, the law gives me a role in this process.
Speaker C: It says that I have to approve the maps.
Speaker C: I don’t like your maps, so I want you to take a look at mine.
Speaker A: DeSantis clearly sees what he’s doing as something that could be nationalized, go to other states.
Speaker A: He calls it the Florida blueprint.
Speaker A: And you’ve chronicled the way he’s brought conservative leaders to Florida to learn from his approach.
Speaker A: And all this is interesting to me because I feel like back in November, when DeSantis won reelection, there was some talk among republicans that DeSantis was like Trump light.
Speaker A: Like, if Trumpism is, like, too much for you, or Trump himself is too much for you, DeSantis is an option.
Speaker A: But I wonder if your reporting made you see things a little bit differently.
Speaker A: Like, is it Trump light or is it Trump plus?
Speaker C: Well, it depends what part of Trump you’re talking about.
Speaker C: If you think back to when Trump was president and there was constantly palace intrigue and feuding advisors and these stories out of the administration where people were sort of knifing each other on background, you don’t get any of that with DeSantis.
Speaker C: Nobody thinks that DeSantis is going to get indicted or have an affair with a p*** star or do any of these sort of scandalous things that Trump is constantly embroiled in.
Speaker C: On the other hand, if what you mean by that is just trump’s approach to policy being willing to to push particularly the culture war in a particularly extreme direction, in that sense, I think you could really say that DeSantis has been the leader and Trump has been the follower.
Speaker C: You look back at what some people might consider the accomplishments of the Trump presidency, right?
Speaker C: His big tax cut that he passed, or the vaccine development through operation warp speed.
Speaker C: He doesn’t talk about that on the stump these days when he’s not sort of whining about being victimized by prosecutors and the democrats or whatever, he’s talking about a lot of these same culture war themes that I think you can argue that DeSantis really pioneered.
Speaker A: We’ll be back after a quick break.
Speaker A: One of the first signs that things wouldn’t be entirely rosy for Ron DeSantis, the presidential candidate, came this spring.
Speaker A: DeSantis went to Washington.
Speaker A: He wanted to recruit congressional support for his presidential bid.
Speaker A: What happened when he did that?
Speaker C: Yeah, it didn’t go very well.
Speaker C: Thinking back on the early days of Trump being in politics, he always used to say he was a counter puncher, right.
Speaker C: That he never he never attacked anyone first, but when people attacked him, he was going to hit them back twice as hard.
Speaker C: That’s sort of gone out the window with DeSantis right before DeSantis did anything to Trump except sort of become an implicit threat.
Speaker C: But without him having attacked Trump in any way, trump has decided that DeSantis’s disloyalty requires that he be eliminated.
Speaker C: So it’s clear who Trump views as a threat, and he and his political operation have gone into overdrive, trying to bruise DeSantis in any way possible with quite a bit of success.
Speaker C: The other thing that you hear as the sort of principal liability about DeSantis, and this is certainly a narrative that Trump has tried to drive is that he’s an introvert.
Speaker C: He’s not someone who loves to glad hand.
Speaker C: His strength as a politician is not that he’s a people person.
Speaker A: Yeah.
Speaker A: Other congressmen have talked about, like, oh, he goes home to FaceTime with his family, he doesn’t go out to dinner, and Washington thrives on dinners with your colleagues.
Speaker C: That’s right.
Speaker C: He really seems like the type of person who is fatigued or drained by having to spend a lot of time around other people.
Speaker C: And you can tell sometimes that he’s just not having fun.
Speaker A: That’s such a good way to put it.
Speaker A: I think that’s so true that when people look at their political candidates, they just want to see them enjoying it.
Speaker A: It’s this element that people don’t talk about as much, but it’s a huge part of the success of a candidate.
Speaker A: And Trump does look like he’s having fun when he’s campaigning.
Speaker A: He’s saying noxious things, but he’s having a great time.
Speaker C: He does.
Speaker C: Although it’s funny that Trump and his people love to attack DeSantis for being uncomfortable doing retail politics.
Speaker C: That was not something Donald Trump did until very recently.
Speaker C: Right.
Speaker C: I remember back in 2015, he would go to Iowa and New Hampshire and give speeches and not shake any hands, not go to any diners, not eat any ice cream or do any of those things.
Speaker C: And it certainly didn’t hurt him at all back then, but he’s doing it now in order to draw this contrast with DeSantis, in order to make the argument that DeSantis is not good at this and is uncomfortable in these situations.
Speaker C: And there’s clearly an element of truth to that.
Speaker A: What do the polls show now about where DeSantis is?
Speaker C: 30 points?
Speaker C: 40 points?
Speaker C: 50 points?
Speaker C: He’s way, way, way behind.
Speaker C: And that’s different than it looked six months ago.
Speaker C: Right after the election, there were polls showing him ahead of Trump nationally or in some states with Republican primary voters.
Speaker C: So to me, the fact that he was ever there shows that there’s an openness right.
Speaker C: It shows that there is a group of Republican voters who are willing to consider an alternative to Trump.
Speaker C: But the fact that they have closed ranks so quickly and that Trump has been able to reconsolidate them so successfully also shows that it’s a big task.
Speaker C: It’s going to be really hard to do, and it may or may not be possible.
Speaker A: There are a lot of other people in this Republican presidential primary, either officially or unofficially.
Speaker A: You’ve got Nikki Haley from South Carolina, former Arkansas Governor ASA Hutchinson, a businessman named Vivic Ramaswamy, senator Tim Scott.
Speaker A: Mike Pence is in the wings, potentially jumping in.
Speaker A: How does this compare to previous presidential slates you’ve covered?
Speaker C: Yeah.
Speaker C: Having covered the past few presidential elections, this feels like a really small field to me.
Speaker A: Interesting.
Speaker C: Remember, we had, what, 17 Democratic candidates on stage in 2020 and back in 2016.
Speaker C: The Republican field was in the 20s, depending on how you’ve counted the candidates.
Speaker C: So Trump, again, has been openly encouraging more candidates to get in the race on the theory that it helps him because he doesn’t necessarily have a majority of the Republican vote in some of these states.
Speaker C: So the more he can sort of splinter the field, the more he can prevent one person from being the alternative to him, the more he seems to benefit.
Speaker C: And the fact that so many candidates now seem to be circling and looking at the race and potentially getting in, people like Chris Christie, a Glenn Juncken, a lot of candidates nationally purported to be looking at this race, that is a reflection of DeSantis’s weakness so far.
Speaker C: There’s a sense that he had a chance to emerge as the odds on favorite to beat Trump.
Speaker C: He didn’t do it.
Speaker C: He’s starting out at a disadvantage.
Speaker C: He’s got a formidable task ahead, and maybe that creates an opening for someone else.
Speaker A: Is the truth that someone like Ronda Santis or really any of these other candidates, they’re basically running to be your backup date to prom.
Speaker A: Like, if Trump is indicted, if Trump is tied up with court cases, criminal cases, we have other options?
Speaker C: Yeah, I mean, that’s certainly part of it.
Speaker C: I mean, nobody will admit that they’re running as a backup or running for vice president.
Speaker C: As sometimes gets said, all of these people, I think, want to be President of the United States.
Speaker C: But it has been the case since he entered politics in 2015 that Trump has been sort of the immovable object in Republican politics.
Speaker C: I thought a lot about sort of the differences between DeSantis and Trump and sort of looking at their their personalities, you see that, you know, Trump has this very high tolerance for chaos.
Speaker C: He almost seems to relish it.
Speaker C: DeSantis, you can see, is someone who really values control.
Speaker C: He really likes to be in control of everything around him.
Speaker C: He really likes to have a sort of roadmap.
Speaker C: When he has a task to execute, he’s able to execute it very well.
Speaker C: So he’s almost always been in situations where he could sort of figure out what to do.
Speaker C: And now he’s in uncharted territory because it is a very chaotic and fluid situation, and there is no roadmap.
Speaker C: There’s no one who can tell you sort of what the formula is for winning this race.
Speaker A: Molly Ball, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Speaker A: I’m really grateful.
Speaker C: Thanks so much for having me.
Speaker A: Molly Ball is a national political correspondent over at Time Magazine.
Speaker A: And that’s our show.
Speaker A: What Next is produced by paige Osborne, Elena Schwartz, Rob Gunther, Madeline DuCharm and Anna Phillips.
Speaker A: We are led by Alicia Montgomery with a little boost from Susan Matthews.
Speaker A: Ben Richmond is the senior Director of Podcast operations here at Slate.
Speaker A: And I’m Mary Harris.
Speaker A: Go track me down on Twitter.
Speaker A: Just not Twitter spaces.
Speaker A: I’m at Mary’s desk.
Speaker A: I’m handing things off to Lizzie.
Speaker A: O’Leary and the what next?
Speaker A: TBD crew.
Speaker A: I will be back in this feed on Monday.
Speaker A: Catch you then.