Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is now feeling the heat – both from former president Donald Trump and over the governor’s remarks about Ukraine’s war with Russia as he prepares his run for the White House.
During Mr Trump’s jaunt through Davenport, Iowa, on Monday, the former president criticised Mr DeSantis and said the governor reminded him of Mitt Romney, the foremost MAGA critic within the Republican Party. Mr Trump also blasted Mr DeSantis for being a disciple of former House Speaker Paul Ryan in his support for slashing popular entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. Mr Trump’s visit comes a week after Mr DeSantis visited Iowa himself as he teases a presidential run.
Then on Monday evening, Mr DeSantis responded to a questionnaire from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has asked multiple candidates and potential contenders what they think about US support for Ukraine. Mr DeSantis responded by calling the war between Russia and Ukraine a “territorial dispute,” which in turn prompted the spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to invite Mr DeSantis to Ukraine.
It amounts to Mr DeSantis’ first time facing serious scrutiny both nationally on the world stage as he prepares an impending presidential bid.
Until now, Mr DeSantis has had the luxury of avoiding scrutiny over political approach to global affairs. As a member of the House, he was one of 435 and even as a member of the rambunctious House Freedom Caucus, he did not distinguish himself much. When he ran for governor, he mostly did so from the green room of Fox News, which earned him Mr Trump’s endorsement in the primary.
During his first term as governor, he received some national media criticism for his decision to keep the state mostly open during the Covid-19 pandemic. But it did little to puncture his image and, if anything, made him more of a hero for conservatives when even some Republican governors closed their states during the pandemic. His fight with Disney after it opposed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation endeared him further to social conservatives and his popularity surged to the point he won re-election by almost 20 points in 2022.
But the media spotlight when running for the White House differs greatly from that he faced when he was governor. In the governor’s mantion he mostly can decry national critiques of his approach to Covid-19 and refuse to comment to a whole network, as his team has said it would do with NBC.
Florida’s Republican nature meant that he could afford to stay in friendly media circles, as was the case when he literally conducted a softball interview with Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade on a baseball field. That is not a possibility for someone on the national – and international – stage.
Similarly, he’s deftly avoided attacking his former political benefactor Mr Trump while the former president tests out various epithets and insults. But the former Yale baseball outfielder will need to prepare for multiple curveballs as he tries to make a White House run.