From a little league baseball star to the Republican Party’s culture warrior-in-chief, the rise of Ron DeSantis is impossible to ignore. Now showdowns with Disneyland and Donald Trump loom on the horizon as he considers a run for president.
Under his watch, Florida has become a hotbed for so-called anti-woke laws such as the heavily-criticised “Don’t Say Gay” bill and a ban on teaching critical race theory.
The Sunshine State has also introduced restrictions on abortion following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v Wade, enacting a ban on abortion after six weeks.
With it seemingly a matter of when, not if, DeSantis announces his intention to run for president in 2024, Sky News takes a look at five things you might not know about the politician who was once stationed at the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
He’s descended from Italian immigrants
DeSantis, 44, is Italian-American – in fact, all eight of his great-grandparents were born in Italy.
His mother’s grandfather was known as Antonio Rogers in America, but back in Italy he was Antonio Ruggiero – he changed his name after entering the US.
When it comes to immigration policy as governor, DeSantis has taken a hardline approach and has repeatedly and publicly clashed with President Biden.
Perhaps his most high-profile immigration decision was the state paying for 50 mostly Venezuelan immigrants to be flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts to, he claimed, highlight the crisis at the southern border.
He was a talented baseball player before joining the Navy
DeSantis was part of the Dunedin team in Florida that made it to the Little League World Series in 1991 – a version of Major League Baseball’s World Series for children aged 10 to 12 years old.
He then went on to captain the Yale University varsity team where he played as an outfielder and led the team in batting average.
Any designs on turning pro were shelved, however, when he attended Harvard Law School and went on to join the US military as a navy lawyer.
While his service records were redacted upon release to the public, it is known that he worked with detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
One detainee has since alleged that DeSantis was present while he was restrained and force-fed.
DeSantis denied authorising force-feedings of prisoners who were on hunger strike – something he said he did not have the authority to do – in a recent interview with Piers Morgan.
In 2018 he reflected on his time at Guantanamo Bay, saying: “Everything at that time was legal in nature, one way or another.”
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He signed a ‘No Climate Tax Pledge’
It might be the biggest challenge of our time, but when it comes to climate change DeSantis has been inconsistent.
In 2013, shortly after he became a member of the US House of Representatives, DeSantis signed a pledge to “oppose legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue”.
Fast forward eight years and the now-governor of Florida unveiled a plan for the state to start addressing the effects of rising global temperatures, beefing up things such as coastal defences.
Discussing the plan, he said: “What I’ve found is when people start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways.
“And so we’re not doing any left-wing stuff.”
And while he has assigned large amounts of cash towards dealing with the effects of rising temperatures, some point out that he is not doing enough to tackle the root cause: human-caused climate change.
He’s in a feud… with Disney
On 26 September, 2009, DeSantis married his wife, former newsreader Casey Black, at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort. Now Disney World is suing the Florida governor (for reasons unconnected to his wedding).
The feud has been going on for more than a year after Disney, in the face of significant pressure, publicly opposed the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill concerning discussion of sexuality and gender identity in classrooms.
DeSantis said Disney, which is one of his state’s biggest employers and its single biggest taxpayer, was a purveyor of “woke” ideology that shows inappropriate material to children.
As punishment for its opposition to the bill, DeSantis took over Disney World’s self-governing district that it used to run its Florida theme park, through legislation passed by lawmakers and appointed a new board of supervisors.
Disney is now suing DeSantis, claiming that he waged a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” and that the company’s free speech rights were violated.
He’s famed for stoking culture wars – and his ‘anti-woke’ agenda is having an impact
DeSantis’s crusade against all things “woke” has included banning public colleges from using federal or state funding on diversity programs as well as curtailing education about critical race theory, a way of thinking about US history through the lens of racism.
He chose to sign the funding bill into law at New College of Florida, a small, traditionally-progressive school in Sarasota.
A small group of protestors gathered outside the signing ceremony. DeSantis, as well as most of the speakers at the event, ridiculed them.
“You know, I saw some of the protestors out there. I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for more,” DeSantis said with a smile as his supporters clapped.
In May, the NAACP civil rights organisation issued a travel advisory for Florida over what it said was DeSantis’s “aggressive attempts to erase black history and to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programs”.
The governor also signed a bill that will bar trans people from using public facilities that align with their gender identities and another that will restrict “adult” performances in front of minors. He said the latter measure was intended to limit drag performances.
But… does he have a chance at the White House?
It’s often said that the path to the US presidency runs through Florida (due to the state’s hefty weighting in the electoral college). But will it run directly from Florida to Washington DC in November 2024?
Recent polling has DeSantis consistently trailing former President Trump, with some indication that the gap is growing.
This is despite Trump’s various legal problems, including a jury in a civil case finding him liable for sexually abusing a woman in a department store changing room in the 1990s.
In one recent poll by the Harvard CAPS/Harris firm, Trump leads DeSantis 65% to 35% in a hypothetical primary matchup.
“DeSantis is announcing in a much more difficult environment than a few months ago but most voters believe he can still mount a serious challenge to…Trump,” Mark Penn, the co-director of the poll, told The Hill.
DeSantis reportedly told top donors that only he, Trump and President Biden are “credible” candidates to be commander-in-chief.
“And I think of those three, two have a chance to get elected president – Biden and me, based on all the data in the swing states, which is not great for the former president and probably insurmountable because people aren’t going to change their view of him,” DeSantis said, according to the New York Times.