He has turned Florida into a laboratory of conservative thought. Governor Ron DeSantis, a rising star of the American right, is expected to see how his hardline positions on immigration, abortion or gender issues carry him to the White House, much to the chagrin of Donald Trump.
The 44-year-old former Navy lawyer is the main obstacle to the former president’s Republican inauguration, a man with whom he shares his core ideas but not his excesses.
DeSantis, triumphantly re-elected as governor of Florida in November, appears almost daily in the US media as one of the main opponents of the conservative crusade against “awakened” progressive ideology.
In recent months, they have embraced several cultural battles around teaching, racism or gender identity. Few issues, other than abortion and toughening immigration laws, have made him a prominent figure for conservative voters.
– Harvard and Guantanamo –
Born into a middle-class family of Italian descent, DeSantis graduated from prestigious Yale University—where he also stood out on the baseball team—and from the demanding Harvard Law School.
He later practiced law in the military, serving as a counselor at Guantánamo and with elite troops in Iraq.
He soon positioned himself on the far right of the Republican Party. In 2011 he published “Dreams of Our Founding Fathers”, a reference to Barack Obama’s autobiography, “Dreams of My Father”. In the book, DeSantis criticizes the former Democratic president for breaking the Constitution because of his “progressive” views.
In 2012, he won a seat in the House of Representatives and was re-elected twice. Six years later, he became governor with a narrow majority after receiving a significant endorsement from then-President Donald Trump.
In a campaign clip, DeSantis, a nearly unknown politician at the time, built a wall out of colored cubes with his daughter, a reference to Trump’s project on the border with Mexico.
His jump to the national stage came during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he promoted the rapid reopening of businesses and strongly criticized sanitary measures imposed by the Democratic administration of Joe Biden.
– ‘Building a personality’ –
DeSantis recently joined the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona in deporting newly arrived immigrants to the United States in Democratic bastions in the country’s north and east.
A stoic position that he adopts without any fuss, like someone doing his job and nothing more.
Together with his wife Casey, a former television presenter who mentors him closely, and their three children Madison, Mason and Mamie, he tries to soften a cold image.
“The problem with DeSantis is he’s going to need to build a persona on himself,” Trump recently joked on the Truth social platform.
An anecdote repeated in the press attests to his taste for solitude; at the Capitol, DeSantis would walk the corridors with wireless headphones in his ears, to discourage conversation of any kind.
He is stern, aloof but pragmatic, his supporters argue, citing his handling of the Hurricane Ian disaster in Florida last year as an example.
To those followers, the governor, a talented and ambitious student, a man who rose through the ranks on his own merit, devoted to his family, is a symbol of needed change for the Republican Party.
A complimentary portrayal that doesn’t impress Trump. A fan of offensive nicknames, the former president has tried giving the Catholic governor something like “Ron the Blessed” or “Ron DeSanctimonius.” So far with little success.