DeSantis Fatigue Grows Among Florida Republicans as 2024 Campaign Falters

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Ron DeSantis is facing growing backlash in Florida as his presidential campaign flails across the country. Analysts and political opponents are seeing signs of a tail-off in his support, and evidence of Republicans recoiling at his extremist positions on slavery, education, abortion and immigration.

Hints at a shift in his standing came towards the end of the recently concluded legislative session in his home state, when several Republican lawmakers defied the governor by voting against new laws restricting abortions or expanding his feud with Disney. They passed anyway.

But observers say the strength of the resistance appears to have gathered pace since DeSantis’s glitch-ridden presidential campaign launch in May, and subsequent missteps on the stump.

They include his prevaricating position over the approval of new Florida curriculum teaching that forced labor during slavery benefited Black people, simultaneously giving it his full backing while claiming, “I didn’t do it and I wasn’t involved in it” during the same press appearance.

This week he fired a campaign aide, only after they were exposed for creating and sharing a video containing Nazi symbolism. And as a property insurance crisis spiraled in Florida, DeSantis was sharply criticized for prioritizing the bolstering of his profile in other states.

Polling by Florida Atlantic University shows DeSantis holding on to his favorable rating among Floridians as governor, but with the 54%-41% marginmuch reduced from his blowout re-election in November.

“What we’re seeing with Florida voters is that DeSantis is still above water, but he’s starting to lose his edge. And people are starting to rethink their support for him,” said state congresswoman Fentrice Driskell, Democratic leader of the house minority in Tallahassee.

“He’s started to stumble more and more nationally. He was squirming at that podium when he had to defend those comments: ‘It wasn’t me, and also, by the way, here’s the bright side.’ No, there is no bright side to slavery.

In Tallahassee, Driskell had a front-row seat to Republican legislators’ conduct during a lawmaking session that passed DeSantis’s “slate of hate” bills cracking down on transgender rights, banning discussions of sexuality and gender identity in classrooms, restricting Black voting and approving permitless carry of firearms.

She jokes it was actually a back-row seat given the Republican supermajority, but said she observed a noticeable weariness among politicians in the governing party as the session drew towards its close.

“We saw crossover where some Republicans, a handful of them, felt those bills were untenable,” she said. “But beyond that, there were quiet conversations, maybe you step to the restroom during a committee meeting and run into a Republican member rolling their eyes and saying how much they’re over it.

“They could be in their office in a meeting and someone from the governor’s office would walk in with an amendment to file on a bill, courtesy of the governor, not giving them a choice or making them feel like they even had a choice. You know, they were tired of it.”

Driskell believes it’s a portent for DeSantis: “If things don’t go well for him on the national stage, I think he comes back as a lame duck,” she said.

None of the elected state Republicans contacted by the Guardian for this article responded, but the party’s former US congressman for Florida and political strategist David Jolly said he had spoken with colleagues who were exhausted.

“I would use the term fatigue more than a drop in his support, because at least from the state legislative standpoint it remains highly gerrymandered where Republicans kind of meet an echo chamber, so the affirmation of the rightwing policies is always there,” he said.

“But you’re looking at a governor who has been running so hot for so long. He does risk burning out and I’ve heard among some Republicans his level of influence in the next legislative session will likely not be what it was this past session.

“He can’t run again and he’s now barnstorming the country leaving Florida behind, so part of it is just the inevitable exiting of an incumbent governor in the second term, but there’s also this element of it’s just been too intense for too long, his agenda and his regime.”

Direct criticism of DeSantis from Republicans in Florida has been mostly muted. Three state representatives who voted for his hardline new immigration policies, which among other restrictions criminalize the transportation of undocumented aliens, attempted to distance themselves at an awkward press conference last month, but did not mention DeSantis by name.

Two who have broken cover are supporters of DeSantis’s rival for the 2024 nomination, former president Donald Trump. State senator Joe Gruters, a former chair of the Florida Republican party, attacked the governor last month, accusing him of vetoing funding for projects in his district as retaliation for his endorsement of Trump.

Meanwhile the US congressman Byron Donalds, who is Black, demanded DeSantis’s education department “correct” its position over the “personal benefits” of slavery. Manny Diaz, Florida’s education commissioner, responded with an insult, slighting Donalds as “a supposedly conservative congressman”.

Donalds, notably, was a former DeSantis ally who, along with several other Florida Congress members, frustrated the governor by switching their allegiance to Trump.

Jolly expects more pushback from Republicans if DeSantis’s presidential run blows up. “I don’t think he will be significantly weakened, but he won’t have the star power that he’s had the last five or six years as a result of all these acts,” he said.

“To say it kindly, he’s resilient. To say it critically, he’s stubborn. He’s not going to leave his ego behind even after losing that presidential race.”

Kevin Wagner, a professor of political science at FAU, who conducted this month’s poll, said DeSantis’s conflict with Trump could affect his future popularity among Republicans. Trump, who has previously taken credit for elevating DeSantis to the Florida governor’s mansion, is now a sharp critic, creating demeaning nicknames such as “Meatball Ron”, and calling him a candidate “with no personality”.

“Assessed independently, DeSantis is actually still relatively popular. In respect of his conflict with the former president, he’s having some issues, and I would suspect that that would cause him to lose some popularity among Republicans,” Wagner said.

“I didn’t see a lot of that but it is something to keep an eye on. It’s important to remember it’s a snapshot in time and sometimes polls can be lagging indicators.”

Source: The Guardian