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Ron DeSantis, rising star of the Republican hard-right

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is widely tipped to be a Republican presidential candidate in 2024./AFP
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Nov 10, 2022 - 03:33 AM

NEW YORK — He talks tough on immigration, attacks abortion rights and pulls no punches in America’s endless culture wars: Florida’s combative governor Ron DeSantis has used the Sunshine State as a petri dish for right-wing policies that could propel him to the presidency in 2024.

The 44-year-old rising star has spent his four years in office railing against hot-button issues that fire up US conservatives, like pandemic restrictions and the teaching of gender identity, sexual orientation and critical race theory in schools.

But the some-time Donald Trump acolyte also cuts a more balanced figure than his likely rival for the White House job, showing a political pragmatism and respect for protocol unfamiliar to the ex-president.

“Ron DeSantis is Donald Trump with brains and without the drama,” summed up the Financial Times last month.

DeSantis’s thumping reelection victory over Democrat Charlie Crist in America’s midterms propels him to the front of the race for the 2024 Republication presidential nomination.

“DeFuture” screamed the front page of the right-wing New York Post tabloid Wednesday, alongside a photo of DeSantis celebrating his win with his ex-TV show host wife and their three children.

DeSantis was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on September 14, 1978 to a middle-class family with Italian roots.

He went to Yale University, where he was a standout baseball player, before attending Harvard Law School.

DeSantis practiced law in the US Navy, serving as an advisor at Guantanamo Bay and with troops in Iraq, rising to lieutenant.

He hinted at his future political direction in 2011 with the publication of a book, “Dreams From Our Founding Fathers,” a play on ex-president Barack Obama’s memoir “Dreams From My Father.”

In the book, DeSantis accuses Obama of having betrayed the US constitution with a “progressive” agenda.

DeSantis entered politics in 2012, winning a seat in the House of Representatives, to which he was twice reelected.

He narrowly won election as governor in 2018 after receiving Trump’s endorsement. In one campaign clip, DeSantis and his daughter built a wall of toy blocks in reference to Trump’s border wall with Mexico.

In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic shot him to national prominence when he fiercely opposed mandatory vaccination and masks, and allowed Florida businesses and schools to reopen well before many other areas of the country.

Uncharismatic 

Earlier this year DeSantis signed the so-called “Don’t say gay” bill, which prohibits discussing LGBTQ topics in classrooms, and went on to revoke Disney’s special status as a local government in Orlando after the company criticized the bill.

And DeSantis recently sparked delight among many Republicans by sending dozens of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in the Democratic-led state of Massachusetts.

The Republican is not averse to an insult, once referring to America’s chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci as a “little elf” and calling President Joe Biden “quasi-senile” and “doddering.”

But he has also shown that he can be civil when it suits him politically. He recently welcomed Biden to Florida where the president praised the governor’s response efforts to deadly Hurricane Ian. DeSantis thanked Biden for sending federal aid.

Trump, appearing uneasy about DeSantis’s ascent, has branded his fellow Republican “Ron DeSanctimonious” — though there is little sign of the nickname catching on.

Detractors accuse DeSantis of lacking exuberance and sometimes appearing uncomfortable in public.

One way he tries to soften his image is through appearances with his wife Casey — whom he married in 2010 and who recently recovered from breast cancer — and his young kids.

“He has no great natural charisma, but that’s not his brand. His brand is more competence and toughness and he’s not bad at projecting those things,” political pundit Lincoln Mitchell told AFP.

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