SARASOTA, FL:  Something strange is happening in Florida, the home state of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

Last November, 44-year-old DeSantis — with Trump’s endorsement — won re-election as governor by a whopping 19 points, the biggest landslide in Florida in 40 years. DeSantis won everywhere, even in traditionally Democratic Miami Dade.

After that victory, insiders called Governor DeSantis the new conservative face of the Republican Party, the man best positioned to beat President Biden in 2024. But Donald Trump clearly disagreed. Less than two weeks later he announced his candidacy, launching an epic fight between two Florida powerhouses.

Initially pollsters found DeSantis more popular than Trump. But as 2023 began, the tide turned. Latest polls have the former president leading DeSantis by a wide margin and Trump’s lead is accelerating. Eleven of Florida’s 20 Republican members of Congress have endorsed Trump with only one declaring for DeSantis.

 What’s gone wrong for DeSantis?


He has stumbled on multiple issues including gender politics, Ukraine, abortion and fighting with the Walt Disney Corporation, whose theme parks are Florida’s largest private employer and a huge tourist draw. DeSantis prides himself being the younger, less offensive version of the combative Donald Trump. He has pursued a right-wing agenda, getting the Republican-dominated legislature to disallow abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and passing a parental rights bill in education that prohibits discussion of homosexuality and transgender identity in early elementary grades.

DeSantis proclaimed: “We will never surrender to the woke mob,” and “Florida is where woke goes to die.” But when the Disney corporation criticized what many in the media call the “don’t say gay” law, DeSantis lambasted Disney and revoked the company’s generous land and tax privileges near Orlando. Disney is now suing DeSantis, saying the governor violated the company’s right of free speech. In another presumed blunder, DeSantis characterized the Ukraine war as a territorial conflict, a comment he quickly took back. Respected political analyst Larry Sabato says the DeSantis campaign thus far has been a disaster.

While DeSantis has not yet declared his candidacy, he is clearly in campaign mode. To boost his foreign policy credentials, he recently did a quick round-the-world tour to Japan, South Korea, Israel, and Britain.

Legal troubles

As to Donald Trump, his supporters are not apparently cast down by the former president’s legal troubles and likely multiple criminal indictments. One Florida congressman said he supported Trump because he got things done during his four years in office. 

DeSantis is ahead in raising money. However, some prospective Republican donors complain about the governor’s lack of people skills, with one saying, “he doesn’t even return phone calls.” Several pundits say DeSantis is bad at retail politics, bad at pressing the flesh.

The 2024 election is a year and a half away, and much can change in the coming months. Also, other Republicans are either already in the race or are expected to be. They include former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, Senator Tim Scott, former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, and technology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Republican primaries begin in February. A first debate is scheduled for August, though former President Trump says he won’t participate.

Are we looking at a repeat of the Biden/Trump election of 2020? Time will tell. If that is the case, it would be a contest between an 82-year-old Biden and a 78-year-old Trump, the oldest major party candidates ever to seek the American presidency.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Washington writer Barry D. Wood for two decades was chief economics correspondent at Voice of America News, reporting from 25 G7/8, G20 summits. He is the Washington correspondent of RTHK, Hong Kong radio. Wood's earliest reporting included covering key events in South and southern Africa, among them the Portuguese withdrawal from Mozambique and Angola and the Soweto uprising in the mid-1970s. He is the author of the book Exploring New Europe, A Bicycle Journey, based his travels – by bicycle – through 14 countries of the former Soviet bloc after the fall of Russian communism. Read more of his work at Watch