TALLAHASSEE – After winning re-election by the widest margin in a Florida governor’s race in 40 years, Gov. Ron DeSantis will be sworn-in Tuesday for a second term widely viewed as a platform for his expected White House bid.
DeSantis will take the oath of office around noon on the steps of the Historic Old Cspanpitol. With a presidentispanl run looming, his inspanugurspanl spanddress is certain be framed for an audience stretching far beyond the confines of the Capitol grounds and his home state.
The 44-year-old DeSantis already has emerged as a different leader than the newly minted Republican governor who four years ago became the state’s chief executive on a sun-splashed January day.
DeSantis that afternoon pledged to heal the state’s political divisions. But in the years since, DeSantis has capitalized on Florida and the nation’s many fracture points, turning parental rights, and clashes with ‘woke culture’ and critical race theory into a central part of his political brand.
“He’s morphed. But in many ways, if you’re one of his political advisors, you’ve got to say, ‘all’s good,’” said Brian Ballard, a co-chair of the inaugural events, which are heavily weighted toward fund-raising for the Florida Republican Party.
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“It’s all worked out for him,” Ballard said of DeSantis, who enters the new year with polls showing him the leading rival to former President Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.
Anders Croy, a spokesman for DeSantis Watch, a website critical of the governor and backed by progressive nonprofit organizations, called him, “the great divider.”
“The promises he made four years ago when he took office sound hollow today,” Croy said. “We’ve seen that what he only cares about are his own ambitions, and policies that will make him more palatable to voters in Republican primary states.”
Fund-raising central to inaugural
Fund-raising is a key part of inaugural activities. There’s a candlelight dinner with the governor and big donors Monday evening and after Tuesday’s inaugural, a “Toast to One Million Mamas,” featuring First Lady Casey DeSantis, will precede the black-tie inaugural ball.
First elected as Florida’s youngest governor in more than a century, DeSantis has evolved since he stood outside the Old Capitol in 2019 and pledged to “overcome the tribalism that has dominated our politics.”
“If we set the interests of hard-working taxpayers as our true north, then I have no doubt that the state of Florida will cruise to bright new horizons,” he told an inaugural crowd of several thousand supporters.
DeSantis has met several of the pledges he made that day.
After vowing to focus on the state’s water quality problems, he got lawmakers to steer a record $3 billion into the effort, along with expanding school choice, cutting taxes and keeping the state’s tourist-driven economy humming, even amid the jolts it took during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hinting at the combative conservatism that was to come, DeSantis also said he’d rework the Florida court system, reaffirming in his address that “judicial activism ends, right here and right now.”
Helped along by judicial retirements, DeSantis has appointed a majority of the Florida Supreme Court, which is now a right-leaning, seven-member panel where membership in the conservative Federalist Society appears to be a prerequisite.
DeSantis four years ago, however, seemed intent on avoiding making too many waves. He’d just won the closest governor’s race in Florida history, and remained concerned with how Floridians on both sides of the partisan line saw him.
“Let’s promote a virtuous cycle whereby low taxes, a reasonable regulatory climate, a sensible legal system and a healthy environment attract jobs, business and investment,” DeSantis said, a line tame enough that few could dispute.
No hint four years ago of clashes to come
There was no mention of what would emerge in coming years as his signature attacks on Big Tech, the corporate media, undocumented immigrants, Anthony Fauci and federal vaccine policy, Walt Disney Co., China, cancel culture, and gender ideology.
Just before Christmas, DeSantis set his sights on his latest battleground when the state Supreme Court approved his request for a statewide grand jury to investigate what he’s termed “wrongdoing” with COVID-19 vaccines.
DeSantis has questioned whether the vaccines are safe and effective, defying conventional science and most of the medical community.
In Tuesday’s inaugural address, DeSantis is expected to cast himself as ready to continue such fights.
“Candidates have to be able to speak to the bases of their parties in order to win,” said Kevin Wagner, a Florida Atlantic University political scientist. “If you assume he’s positioning himself to run for president, I think he’s going to work hard in this second term to make sure that nobody outflanks him to the right in a Republican presidential primary.
“It won’t be his only thing in the second term,” Wagner added. “But he’s going to make that Republican base happy.”
Biggest change from 2019: Relationship with Trump
Perhaps the biggest change with DeSantis from 2019 to now is his relationship with Trump. A Trump endorsement helped the governor win the Republican primary over better-known and financed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and the then-president campaigned with DeSantis before the general election.
Now, spans DeSspanntis hspans gspanined nspantionspanl spanttention, Trump hspans become span rivspanl. The former president mocked his former protégé as “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a rally last fall in Pennsylvania.
An overwhelming majority of Florida voters, though, evidently endorse what they’ve seen out of DeSantis in his first term, re-electing him by a 19-percentage-point margin over Democrat Charlie Crist in November.
Republicans also have won super-majorities in the state House and Senate, further boosting the odds of smooth sailing for whatever policies he next puts in play.
Presidential action will wait a while
Those close to the governor say any formal action toward a presidential run will not happen until the legislative session’s scheduled end in early May. But if candidate DeSantis then emerges, he’ll base his run on his record in Florida, they said.
“He’s become a very confident leader and he’s made Florida a national model for good policy,” said Evan Power, Leon County Republican chair, who is running to become the state GOP chief.
“I think people across the county have felt there is an absence of conservative leadership, bold leadership,” Power added. “The governor has provided that here and look what he’s done, he’s turned Florida, a perennial swing state, into one which he won by almost 20 percent. People notice that. Conservative voters across the country want what he’s done in Florida.”