Is Ron DeSantis Shaping Up to Be Trump 2.0 in 2024?

A common refrain in the Trump era was that despite all of Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic ambitions, he was too incompetent to carry out a wholescale remaking of U.S. society. There’s no question his four years in office had a profound, disastrous effect on the people and communities his administration targeted — immigrants, Muslims and trans people, just to name a few. Plus, his openly fascist rhetoric — and sometimes actions — significantly emboldened the far right. However, both his legislative agenda and, in a lesser amount, his exercise executive authority were likely hampered primarily by his lack experience in elected office, laziness and lack of discipline.

Many advocates understandably fear that Trump’s eventual Republican presidential successor, whoever they are, could combine the most toxic elements of Trumpism with a greater degree of technocratic skill. Trump could do more damage to America’s political infrastructure than Trump himself, such as the refugee resettlement program. dismantledThis could take years to rebuild. A more-competent Trump could also potentially shepherd through a legislative agenda that far exceeded Trump’s, which consisted primarily of a standard-fare Republican tax cut for the wealthy.

Florida Governor seems to be the most likely GOP replacement for Trump. Ron DeSantis, who regularly ranks as Republicans’ top choice in the 2024 presidential primary if Trump declines to run. Trump’s pollingThe lead over DeSantis seems to be shrinking in recent months. However, any surveys this far out should not be taken lightly. Everything in DeSantis’s public record suggests that he poses a serious threat to democracy, the working class and marginalized communities. Recently, DeSantis Signed into law some of the nation’s most stringent anti-critical race theory legislation, and ordered a review of the state’s university system to determine if professors were “indoctrinating” students into a “stale ideology,” clearly a reference to ideas ranging from anti-racism to socialism. He’s also pushing a bill that would prevent teachers and private businesses from making white people feel “discomfort” when learning about the history of racist oppression in the United States.

DeSantis recently asserted his position as being more anti-vaccine, and anti-booster than Trump. The Florida governor was elected in December. refused to say if he’d gotten a COVID booster when asked by Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo. “I’ve done whatever I did, the normal shot,” DeSantis said. DeSantis got the Johnson & Johnson single dose in April, and stonewalledWhen he was asked if he would like a booster, he replied in October.

These statements, as well as DeSantis’s rising stature in the national Republican Party, seem to have rankled Trump. In comments that were widely understood to be directed at DeSantis, Trump criticized politicians who wouldn’t say if they had gotten a COVID booster shot. Many Republican politicians had in fact gotten the booster, “but they don’t want to say it. Because they’re gutless,” Trump saidTo the right One America News Network. “You gotta say it — whether you had it or not.” (At a rally in December, Trump told the crowd that he’d gotten the booster. They booed him in response.)

Several days later, Axios reported Trump has been calling DeSantis a “dull personality” in private meetings. Also, in that report, Trump aides claimed the former president was angry that DeSantis hasn’t pledged not to challenge Trump in the 2024 GOP primary, should he run again. The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman tweeted that she’d heard similar frustrations from those in Trump world, who said Trump thought DeSantis should be showing him more “deference.”

DeSantis, on the other hand, has taken shots at Trump. On the conservative “Ruthless” podcast, the governor said one of his biggest regrets since taking office was not being “much louder” in opposing Trump’s calls for soft lockdowns as COVID initially spread throughout the country and world.

DeSantis may also be looking to bolster support from conservative media stars, to build a parallel track for public support, independent of his standing with Trump. On the anniversary of the January 6 storming of the Capitol, the Florida governor gathered “nine prominent social media stars in Tallahassee,” Politico reported. Blaze TV’s Sara Gonzales told Politico it “would be a mistake for DeSantis not to run,” and that many conservatives were “hungry for someone with the guts to speak for them without fear of repercussions, but also without the obvious baggage that Trump carries.”

Despite the simmering tensions between them, neither seems eager to engage the other in an all-out assault. Trump said last week reporters that he has a “very good relationship” with DeSantis. He reminded them about his support for DeSantis’s Florida politician in his early days as a relatively unknown congressman running for governor. DeSantis “won the [gubernatorial] election the day I announced that I was going to give him my endorsement,” Trump said on the call. Similar comments were made to New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters in a forthcoming book, underscoring the degree to which Trump believes he’s responsible for DeSantis’s success. “Look, I helped Ron DeSantis at a level that nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump told Peters.

Despite their personal rivalry, DeSantis is ideologically almost identical to Trump and they also govern in the same way. DeSantis, as Trump, rules Florida with an iron fist. He demands loyalty and complete fealty. “Ron DeSantis is essentially the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate and the chief justice of the Supreme Court right now,” one Republican legislator recently told Politico. Another GOP state legislator said in the same report that it’s “well known you can’t go against him. If you cross him once, you’re dead.”

DeSantis’s actions are another clear sign of Trumpism. pushingThe creation of a new, so called election police force. The new sub agency, whose official name is the Office of Election Crimes and Security would operate under the Department of State which is controlled and managed by the governor. Voting rights advocates are understandably concerned by the low level of deliberate voter fraud. They argue that the goal is to lower turnout, especially among Black voters and other historically targeted groups for harassment.

Also worrisome is a new proposed congressional district map released by DeSantis’s office, an incredibly rare phenomenon. “DeSantis’ map would cut in half the number of African American districts from four on current proposed congressional maps to two, while boosting the number of seats Donald Trump would have won in 2020 to 18 from the 16 on the map currently being considered by the GOP-led Florida Senate,” Politico reported.

The official start of the 2024 primary will be this year, following the November midterms. Trump hasn’t announced whether he’ll run, but all signs suggest that he will. DeSantis is a young, popular, far-right politician who doesn’t command the base of the party like Trump does, but comes closer than any other potential challenger at the moment. Ever since Trump’s upset victory in 2016, those on both the right and the left have wondered what Trumpism without Trump might look like. We might be seeing the answer in DeSantis.