In the tumultuous landscape of the Republican Party, where former President Donald Trump’s shadow looms large, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has emerged as a threat to Trump for the GOP nomination. DeSantis, with his fierce governance and outspoken views, has found himself in a unique position: being heralded by many as Trump's biggest competition for the GOP nomination.
Trump and DeSantis are no strangers. When DeSantis first emerged onto the political scene, Trump gave DeSantis an impactful endorsement that Trump claims propelled DeSantis to the top of Florida’s 2016 race for governor.
Trump and DeSantis remained allies throughout the Trump presidency as they were aligned on many headlining issues, most importantly both being anti-immigration and supporting a business-friendly COVID-19 response. Trump platforming DeSantis elevated DeSantis to the top of the Florida political sphere as seen at the start of their fight over the state of Florida. This will be vital in deciding who will earn the coveted Republican nomination.
Florida being so crucial in earning the Republican nomination is seen as the state has a very high population, making it very important for the election cycle. Florida also follows a winner-take-all system, which means that if a candidate wins the state’s primary they receive all the state’s votes.
In 2024 the candidate who wins Florida will earn 125 delegate votes, according to Ballotpedia. Florida is also home to influential Republican figures and affluent donors, which means winning the state can lead to political endorsements and vital fundraising avenues.
Given its swing state status in general elections, success in the Florida primary is often perceived as a litmus test for a candidate's broader electability. The importance of Florida is a major catalyst in the rivalry between Trump and DeSantis, and is what makes Desantis Trump’s biggest threat as both candidates have strong ties to Florida on top of the political success they have sustained in the Sunshine State. DeSantis is not only the governor of Florida, but has called Florida home his whole life. Trump currently calls Palm Beach home and during his presidency he labeled his Mar-A-Lago estate “The Winter White House”.
The two candidates have taken different approaches in the race to earn the GOP nomination, as Trump has uncharacteristically taken a back seat choosing not to compete in the Republican primary debates. DeSantis on Sept. 27 took Trump’s absence during the second Republican primary debate as a chance to say that Trump is hiding from the campaign trail.
Despite not being present at the debates, Trump has remained at the forefront of the news cycle with multiple criminal indictments, one resulting in a mugshot as the former president was forced to turn himself in due to being indicted in Georgia for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Although Trump has a lead in the polls currently, the DeSantis camp is insistent that the race for the nomination is only beginning. DeSantis will be able to overtake Trump if Trump continues to be absent in the race and DeSantis remains persistent in his attacks. The first official event in the race to secure the nomination for the Republican Party is the Iowa Caucus, in January 2024. This caucus will display that Trump can not just use his name, and the citizens of Iowa will show strong support for DeSantis. DeSantis' performance in the Iowa Caucus can signal a change in Republican voter preference -– this will be the official kickoff of DeSantis overtaking Trump and earning the Republican nomination.
Max Rappoport is a UF Business Administration sophomore