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Not a week seems to go by without Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposing or signing some bill that aggravates progressives, worries civil rights leaders or penalizes politically correct corporations.
He’s a generational talent at seizing headlines. This is the stuff presidential ambitions are made of.
This week, it was Florida’s second major election overhaul in as many years, in which DeSantis created a new election police force focused on election fraud. It would be under his control, even though he’s up for reelection in November. Read more from CNN’s Fredreka Schouten.
But what kind of president would DeSantis be?
Heir to Trump. With the exception of former President Donald Trump, who wants his old job back, no single person has generated more major campaign inevitability than DeSantis.
But while Trump is cloistered at his private clubs and doing some rallies and fundraisers, DeSantis has turned his state position into a national platform – more than any governor in recent memory.
DeSantis has to win his reelection campaign in November before he can really start thinking about a run for the White House in 2024, which he hasn’t yet officially announced. But everything he’s doing seems focused on endearing him to conservatives.
Isn’t it too early to talk about 2024? President Joe Biden’s approval ratings are stubbornly underwater, the country is as divided as ever and at least one major bank is girding for a recession in the near future.
It’s not crazy to think these three things – disappointment, division and the threat of a downturn – create a difficult environment for Biden’s reelection.
Granted, we’re not yet halfway through his presidency.
But it’s important to consider the alternatives since you can be sure they’re already plotting campaign strategies.
The Fox candidate. As DeSantis was turning on Disney for its opposition to a new Florida law many consider to be anti-LGBTQ, CNN’s Chris Cillizza noted that the political move – like many of DeSantis’ policy proposals – had followed days of squawking by Fox personalities.
Cillizza wrote: On everything from Covid-19 mitigation measures (or a lack thereof) to critical race theory to the mental acuity of President Joe Biden, DeSantis has used Fox as both a guidepost and an amplifier of where to stand on these issues.
DeSantis understood, rightly, that the vast majority of conservatives in the country get their news from – and solely from – Fox. (In a 2020 Pew poll, 65% of Republicans said they trust Fox for political coverage – 30 points higher than any other network; 6 in 10 Republicans said they got their politics and election news from Fox.)
The imperial governor. CNN’s Maeve Reston noted recently that DeSantis’ rise puts him on a collision course with Trump. His ability to mold the state government around him is something Trump could only dream of, and that would never work in Washington.
Reston wrote: DeSantis’ imperial governorship reached new heights (last week) when the actions of the Florida legislature demonstrated how he is not only bending state government to his will, but also to his whims.
In a special session, lawmakers approved a new congressional map proposed by his office that appears all but certain to dilute the voting power of Black Floridians. On the same day, the legislature carried out DeSantis’ threat to punish Disney for speaking out against the law he recently signed that limits certain classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity.
I asked CNN’s Steve Contorno, who covers Florida and DeSantis, what we know about how DeSantis might act as president, since a series of recent actions seem designed to stoke divisions.
I brought up the election security laws, his “parental rights” campaign that also stokes divisions on LGBTQ rights and the fights he’s picked with big business. Here’s what else Contorno mentioned:
Anti-mandate. Beyond reopening Florida before most other states and generally dismissing expert guidance, he also called lawmakers into a special session last year to ban any entity – from schools to private businesses – from requiring vaccines and threatened violators with fines.
He also banned governments from enacting pandemic mitigation measures, and he has gone after schools that have attempted to require students to wear masks.
And he has surrounded himself with people who have pushed questionable Covid-19 remedies and eschewed prevention measures, most notably appointing Dr. Joseph Ladapo as surgeon general.
Anti-woke. He has been at the forefront of attacking “wokeness” and critical race theory, signing a new law that bans businesses and schools from teaching about White privilege.
His administration also recently rejected math textbooks from publishers, claiming some included elements of critical race theory and emotional and social learning.
Anti-tech. Last year, he championed a bill that goes after Big Tech companies for supposedly censoring Trump and other conservative voices, and allows Floridians who feel they are wronged by social media companies a path to sue for retribution. A federal judge blocked the law.
Anti-protest. In response to the killing of George Floyd, while other states reviewed policing policies, DeSantis called for and signed a so-called anti-riot bill that opponents said targeted peaceful protesters. A court blocked that law as well.
DeSantis has also rejected the entire concept that there was an insurrection at the US Capitol and called the commemoration of January 6 this year “nauseating,” blaming the media for focusing too much on the effort to block counting of the electoral votes.
Presidents have more power than just about anybody in the world, but less total control than most people realize. Without a sea change in the Senate, DeSantis – if elected president – would have trouble getting much sweeping change accomplished in Washington, just like Biden has and Trump did.
But it’s easy to imagine very different uses for the massive federal apparatus if someone with such talent for the politics of division were to assume the office.