The 2024 Republican presidential primary is due to begin in earnest on Wednesday night with the formal entry of Ron DeSantis, the hard-right Florida governor who is the closest challenger to Donald Trump.
DeSantis is due to announce his long-trailed candidacy in conversation with Elon Musk on Twitter, followed by an interview on Fox News. The governor is reportedly set to hit the campaign trail after the Memorial Day weekend, with visits to early voting states.
One prominent Florida Democratic congressman told the Guardian a DeSantis campaign “should frighten anyone who values democracy, voting rights, civil rights, freedom and the pursuit of happiness”.
In preparation for the launch, DeSantis’s website switched to a sinister image: an alligator lurking in dark water, against a black background.
The implication of such a distinctly Floridian flourish may have been that DeSantis will soon emerge to attack Trump and drag him into the swamp of a truly competitive primary.
But though Trump faces unprecedented legal jeopardy – now including a trial in his criminal case over hush money payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels due to start on 25 March 2024, as the primary rages – he has used that jeopardy to claim political persecution and build huge polling leads.
The man who refused to accept defeat by Joe Biden and incited the deadly January 6 attack on Congress, attempted election subversion for which he could soon be indicted by state and federal prosecutors, leads DeSantis by more than 30 points in most polling averages.
As Trump’s numbers have risen, so those for DeSantis have fallen, even as he has signed into law a succession of hard-right policies meant to appeal to Republican primary voters.
Democrats, pollsters and political observers say DeSantis’s Florida policy agenda – prominently including attacks on LGBTQ+ rights and the teaching of race in schools, loosened gun control laws and a six-week abortion ban – will count against the governor should he win the nomination and proceed to a general election.
Some Republicans, including major donors, have expressed concern over the abortion ban, one of the strictest in the US, and over DeSantis’s high-profile fight with Disney, a huge Florida employer which opposes a so-called “don’t say gay” law concerning teaching in public schools.
DeSantis’s perceived lack of social and campaigning skills has also been relentlessly scrutinised, not least as a succession of Florida Republican lawmakers made early endorsements of Trump. He has made missteps on foreign policy and seen questions raised about his time as a US navy lawyer at Guantánamo Bay.
Still, DeSantis has built a campaign structure and a strong war chest, retaining major donors, and this week spoke confidently of a two-term presidency giving him the chance to cement a 7-2 conservative supreme court majority to last “a quarter-century”. In primary polling, he remains comfortably ahead of other candidates.
They include Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations; Tim Scott, from South Carolina and the only Black Republican in the US Senate; Asa Hutchinson, a former governor of Arkansas; and Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur.
Mike Pence, the former vice-president Trump supporters threatened to kill on January 6, has long prepared a run but has not yet formally declared.
Chris Sununu, the governor of New Hampshire, and Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey who ran in 2016, have said they could launch campaigns aimed at moderate Republicans – an increasingly rare breed in a party dominated by Trump.
Aides and allies to the former president have said they welcome such a widening of the field, given its potential to split the anti-Trump vote and hand him victory. That would be a repeat of 2016, when Trump won the nomination without majority support.
Musk, DeSantis’s host on Wednesday, has not said if he plans to endorse anyone in the Republican race. But on Tuesday, speaking to a conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal, the billionaire indicated a preference for a much more conciliatory candidate than the Florida governor is likely to be.
Musk’s preference “and the preference for most Americans”, he said, “is really to have someone fairly normal in office. I think we’d all be quite happy with that actually. Someone who is representative of the moderate views that most of the country holds in reality.
“The way that it’s set up is we have … people who push people to the edge … that causes a swing to the left or right during the primaries. And a shift toward the center for the general election. A fairly normal and sensible [person] to be the president, that would be great.”
In Florida, opponents of DeSantis denounced his announcement plans and expressed the fear he was preparing to export his extremist agenda to the national stage.
“What’s happened in Florida should scare every single person across the entire country,” Maxwell Frost, a progressive Democratic congressman, told the Guardian.
“Governor Ron DeSantis running for president and even being within striking distance of the Oval Office should frighten anyone who values democracy, voting rights, civil rights, freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
“He’s repeatedly supported cuts to Medicare and social security, a lot of his focus is on toxic culture wars, book bans, attacking LGBTQ+ youth, erasing history … his quote-unquote ‘Florida blueprint’ is actually a disaster for families across the state.
“The next part of his story is to get the far-right, Maga extremist part of the Republican party on his side to out-Trump Donald Trump.
“Ron DeSantis is not fit to be president because he has not once proven he can and will do the right thing for the people he’s supposed to represent.
“As voters across the country see what he’s done in Florida, they’ll take a hard look at the agenda and the freedoms that have been taken away from us, and when presented with the option of Governor DeSantis, they will render a very simple ‘hell no’.”
( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )