Ron DeSantis Is Back at Home and Back on Top

ANALYSIS: In the wake of his failed presidential bid, Florida’s Catholic governor has renewed his focus on enacting conservative policies that are popular with state voters.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference held at the Santorini by Georgios restaurant on March 20, 2024 in Miami Beach, Fla. DeSantis talked about preventing unauthorized camping and public sleeping during the event and signed Florida House Bill 1365, which addresses homelessness.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference held at the Santorini by Georgios restaurant on March 20, 2024 in Miami Beach, Fla. DeSantis talked about preventing unauthorized camping and public sleeping during the event and signed Florida House Bill 1365, which addresses homelessness. (photo: Joe Raedle / Getty )

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ abrupt end to his presidential campaign in January has put him back where he’s most effective: at the helm of the Sunshine State.

With his focus solely on the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2027, DeSantis is back to quietly and competently enacting conservative policies — often with little fanfare, but nonetheless putting Florida back in the political conversation and drawing admiration from conservatives nationwide. These include a tax-free summer, allowing chaplains in public schools, and ensuring a peaceful end to the academic year as anti-Israel protests engulf universities around the country. 

And all this while gearing up for what might be the first pro-life political win since Roe v. Wade was overturned and making nice with former President Donald Trump after their rival campaigns pitted the two GOP superstars against each other. 

In short, DeSantis is back in his groove, according to several analysts and insiders. 

“The majority of Floridians want Trump for president and DeSantis for governor, and they still see DeSantis, at least on the Republican side, as probably the best governor in the modern history of Florida,” Florida Republican analyst Ford O’Connell told the Register. 

“Florida voters both see them as ‘America First.’  Obviously, Florida voters see DeSantis as a little bit more ‘Florida First,’  but both are in the same vein.”

The rift between Trump and DeSantis is at least publicly healed after they met for breakfast at the end of April. Trump, who poked fun at “DeSanctimonious” while the two were rivals, wrote on Truth Social, “We had a great meeting yesterday. The conversation mostly concerned how we would work closely together to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”

Neither Trump nor DeSantis benefit from continuing their rivalry, according to Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, a political advocacy organization that supports Trump’s candidacy.

“Ron DeSantis needs Donald Trump and Donald Trump needs Ron DeSantis,” Burch told the Register. “And given the stakes of this election, I am confident that DeSantis will play a big role in helping Donald Trump get reelected. And Ron DeSantis needs to help bring apprehensive Trump voters along because many people trust him.”

O’Connell said that being back in Trump’s good graces restores DeSantis’ “lost luster” from his often-rocky presidential campaign. Meanwhile, Trump gets to tap into DeSantis’ deep network of fundraisers and supporters that will be crucial to grabbing the state’s 30 electoral votes.


Popular Policies

DeSantis, who is Catholic, has shown what conservative policy looks like in practice, and that has built trust among his constituents, according to Burch. His leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic proved so effective that DeSantis’ margin of victory in the 2022 election was exponentially higher than his first win in 2018 — almost 20 points in 2022, versus less than half a point in 2018.

DeSantis’ leadership approach has extended past the pandemic and become somewhat revolutionary in the arena of conservative politics. Burch points toward his emphasis on addressing not just the problems in society, but what leads to those problems. 

“I think for Catholics in particular there is a renewed understanding of the purpose of politics, given the particulars of our moment,” Burch said. “And the priority of reinvigorating what I would call the pre-political institutions, things like family and protecting childhood innocence and religious liberty — essentially, those critical institutions that exist between the individual and the state that make democracy possible.” 

This manifests in initiatives like requiring public and charter schools to have chaplains available for student’s spiritual needs. The new law will take effect on July 1 and was welcomed by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

DeSantis also refused to allow anti-Israel protesters to disrupt classes at Florida’s universities.

“You have a right to support or not support Israel; that’s the First Amendment. You don’t have a right to pitch a tent in the middle of campus and commandeer some of the property,” DeSantis said during a press conference in Naples last month, before standing by the University of Florida and Florida State’s use of lawn sprinklers to put a damper on the encampments. 


Abortion Ballot Measure

DeSantis has managed to do all of this while navigating the touchiest political issue of the day: abortion. 

For the next few months, Florida will have one of the strictest abortion laws in the country. The Florida Supreme Court untied a six-week ban that went into effect on May 1, but at the same time allowed a pro-abortion ballot measure to move forward.

The ballot measure, known as Amendment 4 and titled the “Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion,” would enshrine the right to abortion in the Florida Constitution. 

The text reads, “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider. This amendment does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.”

Viability of an unborn child’s ability to survive outside the womb is typically gauged at 22 to 24 weeks of gestation, although one child was born in July 2014 at a gestational age of 21 weeks, 1 day. But the vague language around health could be used to perform abortions much later. 

Pro-lifers have been on a ballot-initiative losing streak, having lost all seven campaigns since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, making Republican politicians hesitant to touch the issue.

But some are hopeful that Florida, under the leadership of DeSantis, might change that. For one, changing the Florida Constitution requires that 60% of voters be in favor rather than the typical 50%. In Ohio, a swing state like Florida, the pro-abortion initiative passed with about 56% of the vote.

Lynda Bell, the president of Florida Right to Life, said she was confident DeSantis understands the risks the amendment poses to Florida’s women.

“He’s a strong pro-life conservative,” Bell told the Register between a whirlwind of speaking engagements mustering opposition to the amendment. “He should do whatever he can in his capacity as governor to work to defeat these ridiculous amendments, knowing how destructive it would be.” 

Bell estimates the pro-abortion side will throw $100 million at the campaign and said pro-lifers need to expose the lies the campaign is based on.

“For little girls and for women, this is dangerous. It takes out all safety standards: Parental consent would be gone, our women's right to know [law] would be gone, our 24-hour waiting period would be gone,” she said. “And so being the chief executive officer of the state of Florida, DeSantis realizes the damage Amendment 4 will do to women and children.” 

Abortion ballot initiatives can bolster enthusiasm among Democratic voters, but Trump holds a solid lead in the state. Trump is 10 points ahead of President Joe Biden, according to the current FiveThirtyEight polling average.


Building the Cultural Infrastructure

CatholicVote’s Burch said that DeSantis’ focus on fixing the problems that lead to problems may serve him well as Florida plunges into an abortion battle. 

“People behave badly when an economy and a culture are in decline, and so abortion is a tragic fix,” Burch said. “In cultural circumstances where people perceive the need to ‘solve the problem,’ they only make the problem worse. So, in some ways, a thriving economy and a robust moral and religious culture don’t need abortion like other states do. He’s building the cultural infrastructure to make the case that the only choice left for women shouldn't be to destroy their child.” 

Those who support DeSantis’ policies assert that they have largely benefited families and the working class. During the pandemic, he kept schools and workplaces open and continues to push additional popular policies. Florida’s “tax-free summer,” for example, aims to make summer activities more affordable for families during July. 

This voter-friendly approach could encourage voters to stand with him even on an issue as divisive as abortion.

“People trust him because they believe he cares about them,” Burch said. “It’s not some political manipulation. He genuinely cares about the needs and livelihood of his people.”