Former President Donald J. Trump is so far ahead in the race to secure the Republican Party’s nomination for the 2024 US election that the rest of the contenders are widely considered to be fighting for second place.
Consistently low polling numbers may well have forced Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to take the gloves off in his battle for the Republican Party’s nomination for the 2024 American Presidential election. Having studiously avoided direct criticism of former President Donald Trump, many of whose political views he is believed to share, Mr DeSantis now says he does not know what has happened to the man who ran for the country’s highest office in 2016. Charging Mr. Trump of “running to the Left”, Mr. DeSantis has made public his disagreements over a host of issues including abortion, immigration and the economy.
Accusing Mr. Trump of having added $8 trillion of the country’s overall debt of $31 trillion, Mr. DeSantis has sought to project himself to Republicans as a candidate who does not carry the baggage his rival does. The sharpened stance and the accusatory rhetoric suggest that Mr. DeSantis, who trails Mr. Trump by 33 percentage points, has decided to unshackle himself as his campaign seeks to gather momentum.
Already, he has assailed the man whose endorsement he had courted when he sought office in Florida for fiscal mismanagement and for having destroyed the lives of millions of Americans with his flawed Covid-19 mitigation policies. Ultimately, Mr DeSantis is presenting himself as an ultra-conservative and offering up his record as Governor ~ easier gun laws, tighter controls on abortion and restrictions on sex and gender education in schools ~ to show why he is a better bet than the former President.
He has asked that Republicans reject the culture of losing, and of making excuses, both pointed digs at Mr. Trump who still refuses to acknowledge his defeat in 2020. But is his rival worried? Mr. Trump who pokes fun at the Florida Governor, often referring to him in public as “DeSanctimonious”, has characteristically derided his opponent, saying his numbers are dropping like a rock. On social media, Mr. Trump wrote last week, “The question is Ron just young and inexperienced and naive or more troubling, is he a fool who has no idea what the hell he’s doing (sic)? We already have one of those in office, we don’t need another one.”
One major point of contention between the two is a bitter confrontation between Mr. DeSantis and the giant Disney Corporation. The Governor has threatened to strip Disney of its self-governing status in Florida, allegedly for endorsing liberal values, and says he is surprised by Mr. Trump’s criticism of his stand. Unlike most Republicans, who believe governments must play a limited role in their lives, Mr. DeSantis has strengthened the office of Governor beyond recognition and says his vision of the Presidency is to imbue it with similar powers. His position against abortion may also impact his chances, given that this issue was widely believed to have led to Republican reverses in the US mid-terms last year. But it is clear the battle has been joined.