WASHINGTON, May 23 (Reuters) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose heated battles over pandemic shutdowns and divisive cultural issues have endeared him to conservatives, will announce on Wednesday that he is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, putting him on a collision course with former President Donald Trump.
DeSantis will make the announcement on Twitter during a chat with Twitter CEO Elon Musk, DeSantis’ policy team confirmed. At the same time, he will file a document with the Federal Election Commission declaring his candidacy.
NBC first reported the planned announcement.
Musk confirmed appearing on a webcast at a conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal, saying he doesn’t approve of DeSantis.
“I don’t plan to endorse any particular candidate at this time, but I’m interested in Twitter being a bit of a public square,” Musk said.
DeSantis was handily re-elected to a second term in November. His rising profile among Republicans and his fundraising prowess likely make him the biggest threat to Trump’s hopes of once again becoming the Republican nominee for the White House.
The pair were close allies during Trump’s four years in the White House — Trump endorsed him during his first gubernatorial campaign — but DeSantis has since forged his own political identity. At 44, he may represent the future of the party more than the 76-year-old Trump.
“Advertising on Twitter is perfect for Ron DeSantis. That way he doesn’t have to interact with people and the media can’t ask him questions,” said a Trump adviser who asked not to be identified. .
DeSantis will convene a meeting in Miami of his major donors, who will immediately launch his presidential fundraising efforts.
During the coronavirus pandemic, DeSantis has emerged as the national face of resistance to mask and vaccine mandates and has been a vocal critic of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who led the government’s COVID-19 response in the Trump and Biden administrations.
In stump speeches, he argued that his policies made Florida’s post-pandemic economic recovery possible, turning the state into a magnet for hundreds of thousands of new residents. Florida has consistently outpaced the nation in job growth over the past two years.
“His response to the pandemic made him governor of Red State America,” said Justin Sayfie, a Florida lobbyist and former aide to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
In the months leading up to his bid for president, DeSantis has traveled the country, visiting states like Iowa and New Hampshire that will hold presidential nominating contests early next year and speaking about his accomplishments in Florida.
But his decision to wait until now to join the fray allowed Trump to beat DeSantis with a flurry of attacks, costing him his spot in the national polls.
DeSantis fended off criticism, pushed his priorities through the legislature and punished his enemies. His Democratic opponent in his 2022 re-election campaign, Charlie Crist, called DeSantis a “budding dictator.”
When Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), one of Florida’s largest employers, objected to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that limited discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools, DeSantis decided to deprive the company of its self-governing status. .
Disney has since filed a federal lawsuit against the governor, accusing him of arming the state government to retaliate against the company.
When an elected Democratic prosecutor said he would not prosecute anyone for defying the limits on abortion supported by DeSantis, DeSantis removed him from office.
He has made crusading against what Republicans call “woke” education policies a centerpiece of his politics while supporting conservative candidates for local school boards.
He backed legislation that bans the teaching of “critical race theory” — an academic doctrine that views US history through the lens of oppression — in state public schools despite the little evidence that it was taught.
Republican lawmakers in Florida handed DeSantis a host of conservative victories in his recent session: They expanded the state’s school voucher program, banned the use of public money in sustainable investing, scrapped diversity programs at public universities, allowed the unlicensed carrying of concealed weapons and, perhaps most notably, banned nearly all abortions in the state.
The blanket ban on abortion may help DeSantis appeal to party evangelicals, but could hurt him significantly in the November 2024 general election if he gets that far. Pro-business Republicans have also criticized his feud with Disney, arguing that it contradicts the party’s traditional approach to regulation.
Republicans nationwide have taken notice of his aggressive approach to government. DeSantis and his affiliated Political Action Committee have raised more than $200 million to support his bid for re-election as governor.
Also watching was Trump, who made a habit of mocking his former protege at rallies, nicknaming him “DeSanctimonious” and claiming credit for making DeSantis the political rising star he is today.
On the stump, DeSantis has a totally different style than the explosive Trump: low-key, buttoned-up and inclined to favor politics over personal attacks. His campaign speeches can sometimes look like PowerPoint presentations.
A key question going forward will be how DeSantis responds to what is sure to be an almost endless stream of insults and innuendo from Trump. So far he has tried to call them “noise” and said he is focused on “getting results”.
It may not be in DeSantis’ best interest to fight back. He needs to win over some of Trump’s supporters. Instead, he’ll likely try to toe a careful line between not bashing Trump while making it clear that he favors many of the same policies with perhaps a firmer hand at the helm.
Prior to his election as governor in 2018, DeSantis served three terms in the United States Congress. His wife, Casey DeSantis, is considered his closest political adviser. The couple have three children.
Reporting by Jasper Ward; Editing by Doina Chiacu
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