Trump, DeSantis, and 2024
New poll and court decision spark questions about the next presidential race
Former President Donald Trump has been keeping active since leaving the White House in January. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have banned him, but he has continued to publish tweet-length press releases on his personal website. One of the more recent posts wished a happy Father’s Day to all the “RINOs … and losers of the world.”
Trump has supported Republican efforts to elect party leaders, declaring in a convention speech on June 6, “The survival of America depends on our ability to elect Republicans at every level starting with the midterms next year.” He has also monitored recent audit updates: He expressed admiration for the current audit underway in Maricopa County, Ariz., and called on Fulton County in Georgia to do the same.
Although Trump left the White House surrounded by controversy, the former president and his actions remain in the public eye as long as one question endures: Will he run again? The answer to that question also weighs heavily on the presidential aspirations of a GOP leader who has emerged in Trump’s wake: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
A recent inspector general’s report and a judge’s ruling have buoyed the former president. Trump and his aides received widespread criticism last June for purportedly ordering the forceful clearing of demonstrators from Lafayette Square in Washington so he could walk through the park on his way to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Inspector General Mark Greenblatt’s office on June 9 released a report stating that before the White House decided on the walk, the Secret Service already planned to clear the park so contractors could safely install anti-scale perimeter fencing.
The court ruling involved a lawsuit against Trump, then–Attorney General William Barr, and others for allegedly conspiring to attack peaceful protesters so as to have the photo op in front of the damaged St. John’s church. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich dismissed the suit. Trump on his website thanked the inspector general for “completely and totally exonerating” him. Scot Michelman for the ACLU D.C. chapter said the ruling makes Lafayette Park a “Constitution-free zone.”
Will the report and ruling help Trump to make another run for the presidency in 2024? John Doster, political consultant and former senior advisor to Jeb Bush’s and Mitt Romney’s campaigns, said they likely won’t matter: “By the time we get to the presidential contest, things that are happening right now and next summer are going to be ancient history.”
Pollsters are already looking at 2024 hopefuls. The Western Conservative Summit on June 19 released a straw poll in which DeSantis led Trump 74 percent to 71 percent. DeSantis is running for reelection in 2022 and has stated that he will not run against the former president should Trump choose to enter the presidential race.
DeSantis made headlines throughout the pandemic last year for reopening the state early and refusing to enforce the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s restrictions. According to Florida Family Council President John Stemberger, he has become a hero for Floridians: “They see somebody who’s fighting for the common man, fighting for the right to go to a bar or a restaurant and open society back up, in contrast to the politicization of this disease and the overbearing control that's being exercised.”
Last week, the Faith and Family Forum hosted a conference featuring high-profile speakers such as former Vice President Mike Pence, political commentator Eric Metaxas, and DeSantis. During Pence’s speech, audience members booed, and a few shouted “traitor.” At that same event, attendees gave standing ovations to DeSantis.
Stemberger said DeSantis “brings all of the courage and conviction and moxie that the president had but without the bad tweet aftertaste.” Doster said DeSantis’ appeal is widespread and as strong as he’s seen for a GOP governor in the last 20 years.
Democrats say DeSantis endangered lives during the COVID-19 crisis, and they have criticized him for supporting a ban on teaching critical race theory in classrooms. In April, a social justice group sued the governor over an anti-riot bill that imposed punishments on violent rioters. The group claimed it was a racist reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. Multiple groups, including the NAACP, also sued the governor over a new election bill that they claim unconstitutionally restricts voting. Both lawsuits are pending.
Florida is often described as a “purple state,” meaning it contains nearly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals. Although the state government is currently Republican-led, Doster said DeSantis faces a tough race in 2022. DeSantis will run against either former Gov. Charlie Crist or Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, both Democrats. When Fried announced her candidacy, she said DeSantis “has fully embraced the right-wing agenda and authoritarian style of governing.”
As for Trump, the former president has been unusually silent about the Florida race. Although Trump endorsed DeSantis in 2018 during his first race, he has not publicly endorsed him for reelection.
In between golfing at Mar-a-Lago and discussing possible book deals, Trump is filling his social calendar with speaking events. He will be in Ohio this week for a rally on June 26. After that, he will head to Texas at the invitation of Gov. Greg Abbott. They plan to visit the border to show support for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol.
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