We all know, surely, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is running for president.
My, how quickly things change; how timing is everything. And how uncontrollable factors throw off the best-laid plans.
That’s the story for three Floridians who want to be president.
Before the November midterm elections, before DeSantis roared to a 1.5 million vote margin over hapless Charlie Crist, the talk in Florida’s Republican circles was that there were three Floridians desiring to be president; three Floridians thinking about running; and three Floridians who have what it takes:
- Donald Trump
- Ron DeSantis
- Rick Scott
But as unexpected and unpredictable events often do, events that occurred in 2022 changed the presidential picture for the three Floridians. We’ve all known Trump is in. But timing and uncontrollable factors have helped DeSantis and hurt Scott.
Too bad for Scott
Knowing what Floridians know about the way he turned Florida around economically from 2010 to 2018, he would make a solid, competent president and leader.
When Scott served as governor, he brought a business and financial discipline to the office that is so sorely, desperately and badly needed in the White House and throughout the Washington Swamp.
While governor, Scott was unlike almost all politicians at the time because he told Floridians what he was going to do as governor, and he did it. He stuck to a simple agenda that he repeated over and over: create jobs; cut taxes; cut regulations; pay down Florida’s debt; cut waste; and make Florida the number one business climate in America.
Scott came as close as anyone ever has in showing that government can be operated like a business, and he was the rare politician who fulfilled his campaign promises.
Those who know Scott well will tell you they have met few people as mentally and physically driven as Scott and that he doesn’t do anything without thoroughly analyzing and assessing the consequences of choices before making a choice.
Indeed, that calculating has been the reason Scott has had a perfect 6-0 record in elections for public office. In each case, he analyzed down to the last detail what it would take for him to win, and he executed the plan.
He came out of nowhere in 2010 to knock off the favorite, Bill McCullom, as the Republican candidate for governor. He eked out a victory for governor over Alex Sink in the 2010 general — a time when the media tried to paint him as a crook during his tenure as chairman and CEO of Columbia-HCA.
In 2014, he eked another victory over Charlie Crist to be reelected governor. And in 2018, he beat longtime U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, someone believed by many political watchers to be unbeatable. Scott’s margin of victory was only 10,000 votes. But he did it.
Republican observers figured Scott took the step of running for the Senate as a precursor to a quest for the presidency. Indeed, after his success as governor and his career as CEO of the largest health care company in America, it would be difficult to imagine Scott satisfied as one of 50 senators debating policy and not being in charge.
Two years into his Senate term, and one week after the 2020 general election, Scott’s U.S. Senate colleagues acknowledged his leadership and elected him chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — the fundraising arm of the Senate.
This was another calculated move. That gave Scott access to Republican donors all over the U.S. and a valuable network for a presidential run.
But the 2022 midterm elections turned out to be the one election you could say Scott did not win. To Republican voters’ surprise, Republicans did not take back the Senate.
Was that Scott’s fault? Unlike his own elections, Scott was not in control of the financial strategy of all Senate races. What’s more, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell undermined Scott’s efforts in certain races, punishment, to an extent, for Scott stepping outside the Establishment.
Not one to stick with the status quo if it is not working (e.g. the Republicans’ strategy in Congress), Scott, before the election, produced a highly publicized 12-point plan to rescue America. McConnell hated it. And then, Scott went one step further. After the midterms, he challenged McConnell for the Senate minority leadership.
Scott lost big — the first election for which he was a candidate. But voters didn’t reject him; he lost to the GOP Washington Establishment. National media and Florida media coverage undeservedly cast Scott on the outs.
Things often change unexpectedly in politics, but Scott is now repeatedly saying when asked if he is running for president: “I am running for re-election.” Asked who he wants to be the Republican nominee, Scott told a radio interviewer recently: “It must be someone who is competent.”
Hmm. That would describe Scott.
When Scott won his Senate seat in 2018, you could envision his calculating that Trump would win a second term and be unable to run in 2024. That would clear an opening for Scott to make his move.
But after Biden beat Trump in 2020, and the GOP failed to win the Senate in 2022, timing and circumstances threw the Scott scenario off course. Trump is running again, and Scott’s gubernatorial successor has eclipsed every politician in the country with his bold leadership.
Even so, as Scott supporters will tell you: Never count him out.
The courage to be free
But while Scott’s star lost sparkle, DeSantis’ star was on the rise.
He pulled off a stunning re-election landslide that shook the entire country. And that came after DeSantis was constantly featured in every national media outlet for, as he said, “standing up to the woke mobs” at every turn. He vociferously fought against the BLMers, letting them know riots would not be tolerated in Florida. He challenged Fauci & Co. over COVID. He took on Disney … the ESGers … the DEIers … and he took on Joe Biden when DeSantis sent a planeload of illegal aliens to Martha’s Vineyard.
The DeSantis momentum has been growing. Turn on the radio or cable TV every day, and DeSantis is being interviewed by every conservative talk-show host in America about what he has done as governor and his potential run for president.
Of course, he is running. The clincher was the book, “The Courage to Be Free.”
That’s what they all do now. To avoid election laws and the leftist national media filtering their message, candidates write autobiographies and go on book tours to tout themselves and determine whether they should run for the presidency.
Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy — they all have published recent autobiographies with their prescriptions for U.S. DeSantis’ book is no different.
Perhaps telling, Scott has not published a book.
Roots: Salt of the earth
We have read only the first third of DeSantis’ book so far. That alone is worth reading.
DeSantis explains his roots, which in turn gives you a clear and important understanding of how and why he is who he is and how he got where he is.
Although he is a native Floridian, DeSantis’ grandparents and parents were from the manufacturing towns of Aliquippa, Pa., and Youngstown and Poland, Ohio — “gritty, working-class, God-fearing.” The people of these towns, he wrote, “represented the salt of the earth.”
“What I came to understand was that they had an incredible amount of common sense and accumulated wisdom …” he wrote.
Born in Jacksonville, DeSantis and his family moved to Dunedin when he was 4. He spent his youth through high school there, with his world revolving school and baseball. It was the latter that attracted the attention of the Yale University baseball coach.
“I figured that getting a degree from a school like Yale would help open doors down the line,” he wrote. But the only problem was the cost. Yale didn’t offer athletic scholarships, and the annual cost was more than what his parents earned combined.
To pay his way, DeSantis worked summers as an electrician’s assistant at $6 an hour. While attending Yale, he held jobs recycling trash, parking cars at events, moving furniture, coaching baseball clinics and as a ball boy for the Yale soccer team.
“If someone needed a job done around campus, they knew to call me,” he writes. “I was living paycheck to paycheck. I ended each school year with only about $100 in my checking account. I didn’t go on spring vacations to the Bahamas, spend summers in the South of France or ski in Aspen over Christmas. I worked year-round …”
DeSantis graduated cum laude from Yale. From there, he was accepted into Harvard Law School. Which begs the question: How do you earn degrees from two of the most liberal, woke Ivy League universities in the country and come out a conservative? How could DeSantis possibly get through those schools without being waterboarded into a progressive, leftist elite?
“Experiencing unbridled leftism on campus pushed me to the right,” DeSantis writes. “I am one of the very few people who went through both Yale and Harvard Law School and came out more conservative than when I went in.”
Credit the common-sense genes inherited from his parents and grandparents. Indeed, once you take in DeSantis’ story — his upbringing to college to his service in the Navy to winning his first try for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, you can see DeSantis has that “salt of the earth” common sense; the work ethic of a steel mill foundry worker of the 1960s; and astute political instincts.
“Nobody handed me anything,” DeSantis writes in the chapter “Underdog,” describing how he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 as a rookie unknown seeking to represent St. Augustine, Palm Coast and Daytona Beach. “I simply had to earn it. My years of playing baseball, my time working odd jobs and my experience in the military all helped instill in me the discipline necessary to do the daily hard work necessary for my campaign to succeed.”
Like Scott coming out of nowhere to become Florida’s governor in 2010, DeSantis and his wife, Casey, came out of nowhere in 2012, knocking on thousands of doors from Ponte Vedra to Daytona Beach to win his first attempt at public office.
In that first adventure, DeSantis learned what has propelled him ever since. “The one theme I heard repeatedly was the concern that candidates often say the right things and even have the best of intentions, but once the D.C. swamp gets its hooks into them, they change for the worse … My task was to demonstrate to voters that I was not just giving lip service to their values, but would walk the walk once elected.”
And as governor, he also has learned: “The people will support a leader who displays courage under fire and resolutely stands firm for the truth because it is so rare among elected officials,” DeSantis writes. “When a governor demonstrates to the people he is willing to fight for them under difficult circumstances, the people will have that leader’s back and then some.”
The Trump insults
Timing is not everything. But it almost is.
When Scott became governor, Florida’s economy was in a tailspin. Unemployment was 11%.
Scott brought the right leadership skills at the right time. He championed fiscal discipline; he brought business-CEO acumen that was needed to right what was then a bloated state government; and he championed a business and regulatory climate that created a framework that attracted businesses, allowed them to flourish and made Florida one of the best states in which to do business.
And while all those skills are needed in Washington more than ever, Scott finds himself somewhat lost in the crowd of Washington senators. He is one of 50 and not in charge.
DeSantis, meanwhile, has the advantage of being the executive in charge of running a state. What’s more, the times have changed. Fiscal restraint hasn’t been at the top of DeSantis’ agenda. He instead has focused on the issues that have dominated the public square: the nation’s culture wars, pushing back unabashedly and courageously against the vast progressive left.
The pendulum always swings. DeSantis and his “I don’t care what people think” style of governing and leadership appear to be suited to the time. National Public Radio describes DeSantis as “Trump without the baggage” and “Trump with a brain.”
But now, at age 44, DeSantis is on the verge of making the biggest leap of all from his modest roots in Dunedin. Can he knock Donald Trump off the top of the GOP ticket?
We’ve said before we would rather DeSantis not run; Floridians want him to continue making Florida great. But it appears inevitable that he is succumbing to the forces that overtake so many ambitious politicians. He has, as his book title says, the courage to be free.
Does he have the mental and physical wherewithal to stay on the high road, deflect Donald Trump’s incessant insults and win the hearts and minds of Trump supporters and Republicans and independents at large?