Let’s call it the DeSantis dilemma.
Republicans’ failures in virtually every state but Florida during this year’s midterms have invigorated calls from conservatives who want that state’s right-wing governor, Ron DeSantis, to run for president in 2024. There’s an obvious political risk for any Republican who lobs a primary challenge against Trump, someone who has no political decorum and seemingly no problem setting the GOP on fire.
For that reason, DeSantis may want to hold out for 2028. But I’m of the belief he will run in 2024, because I don’t think the right-wing mythology he has built around himself as an anti-government crusader will survive through 2028.
Florida is a state that is literally washing away. And its pretense of rugged individualism and anti-government angst will wash away with it. The state is rife with existential problems — from housing crises to food issues, and more — that will almost certainly require collaboration with the very federal government that DeSantis’ administration has demonized.
This is where I think Hurricane Ian — and DeSantis’ behavior during the response — was pretty instructional.
It was noteworthy that the normally boisterous founder of the archconservative House Freedom Caucus, who previously voted against aid for hurricane victims, was made into a docile proponent of big government.
He didn’t always appear happy about the Biden administration’s presence, which undoubtedly cramped his anti-government schtick.
It’s also noteworthy that DeSantis, who has deliberately portrayed himself as a foil to the Biden presidency, speedily got back to needling the Biden administration with cruel political stunts after offering praise during the president’s tour of Hurricane Ian’s damage.
Ironically, DeSantis is now in a very similar position to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who declined to run for president in 2012 despite being a popular governor among conservatives. He has openly said that the decision may have been a mistake that doomed his political hopes.
That year, when Hurricane Sandy hit, Christie accepted the federal aid that DeSantis opposed as a lawmaker, and he was widely panned by conservatives for his supposed coziness with the Obama administration after the storm. When Christie launched a campaign for president in 2016, it went nowhere.
That’s why DeSantis is facing an interesting Catch-22 when it comes to running for president in 2024 or 2028. (I say this as a person who will vote and speak out against him no matter the year.)
If he runs in 2024, he risks running headfirst into the buzz saw that is Trump’s conservative support.
If he waits until 2028, his time as governor will likely force him to collaborate with the feds — as he has done at times — just to make Florida inhabitable. But if the past is prologue, that could hamper his presidential hopes down the line.