Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has used his office to cast himself as a leader on some of the country’s most pressing — and in some cases, divisive — challenges.
While he hasn’t explicitly declared his intentions of seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, he’s emerged as the biggest threat to former President Trump in early polling and presented himself as a key policy leader among conservatives.
Here are five of DeSantis’s policy areas that could lay the groundwork for a presidential platform should he run in 2024.
Fighting pandemic-era restrictions
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wears a face mask as he listens during a news conference at a COVID-19 testing site at Hard Rock Stadium, during the new coronavirus pandemic, Wednesday, May 6, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Nothing has been more central to DeSantis’s political brand than his fierce opposition to pandemic-era mandates and restrictions. He allowed businesses to reopen far earlier than other states, banned facilities from requiring people to show proof that they had been vaccinated against COVID-19 and cracked down on masking requirements.
So as he weighs a 2024 presidential bid, it’s no wonder why he is leaning into that strategy. Just last week, DeSantis announced he would push the Florida Legislature to make permanent many of the COVID-19 policies that helped transform him into a star within the Republican Party.
“We need to lead with this,” DeSantis said in announcing the effort. “We need to lead with this by making all these protections permanent in state statute, which we are going to do in the upcoming legislative session.”
It’s an on-brand move for DeSantis, who first achieved his prominent status within the GOP in the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak. But the move also signals an effort to keep his pandemic-era posturing at the forefront of voters’ minds as he moves toward a potential campaign announcement.
Cracking down on China
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves as he arrives for a news conference at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, on Key Biscayne, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
DeSantis doesn’t have much in the way of foreign policy credentials, but he’s made his international target clear: China.
The country is a common boogeyman for Republicans, but one that could help the Florida governor cement himself as a strong foreign policy leader. Earlier this month, DeSantis confirmed that he plans to ask state legislators to ban Chinese real estate investors from buying residences and farmland in Florida.
The Florida governor described China’s real estate investments as “gobbling up land” throughout the Western Hemisphere, saying that he doesn’t want “hostile nations” to have holdings in the Sunshine State.
It’s not the first time DeSantis has targeted China in his time as governor. Last year, he signed measures requiring companies that do more than $100,000 in business with Florida to disclose any connections with China. He has also signed legislation requiring Florida universities to disclose biannual gifts or donations of $50,000 or more.
Loosening guns laws
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign rally, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, in Hialeah, Fla. (Associated Press/Lynne Sladky)
DeSantis is also leaning into a red-meat issue for conservatives: concealed weapons permits.
The Florida governor signaled last month that he will push state lawmakers to back legislation that would allow Florida gun owners to carry a firearm in public without a permit. As of now, Florida law doesn’t require a permit to buy or own a gun, but mandates that people must have a permit to carry one in public.
It’s an issue that DeSantis has long talked about but hasn’t acted on. In May, he promised that he would act on the “constitutional carry” issue before his time as governor is up. But just last month, he promised that the legislature would take up the issue soon.
“Basically, this was something that I’ve always supported,” DeSantis said. “The last two years, it was not necessarily a priority for the legislative leadership. But we’ve been talking about it, and [the Florida House Speaker has] pledged publicly that’s moving forward, and it’ll be something that will be done in the regular session.”
Two students wear protective masks as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference after announcing a $20 million dollar program to create cybersecurity opportunities through the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at the University of South Florida Wednesday, March 2, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
DeSantis has made it one of his key missions as governor to combat “wokeness” in education. Just last week, the Florida Department of Education rejected an Advanced Placement course on African American studies, calling it a vehicle for “a political agenda and leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material.”
It’s par for the course for DeSantis, who just last year signed legislation — dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — prohibiting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
DeSantis has emerged as a leader among conservatives when it comes to issues of education, criticizing what he has dubbed “woke ideology” in schools. And while that may cross a line for some, it’s made him a hero for those on the right who say that the education system should push a patriotic view of the U.S.
One particular flashpoint is critical race theory, an advanced legal concept that argues that racism is inherent to the U.S. legal system and government policy.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, gestures as he speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla. At rear is Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
DeSantis drew Democratic scorn last year when he helped pay for dozens of migrants to be flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy Massachusetts resort town.
But he’s gone further since then. Earlier this month, he activated the Florida National Guard and other state agencies to provide “resources in support of local governments responding to the alarming influx of migrants landing in the Florida Keys.”
It’s not anything new to Florida. The state has long played host to refugees from countries like Cuba and Haiti. But DeSantis has shown a strong desire to take on the country’s immigration debate, and his policies could very well signal his hopes for national prominence.