From Triumphs to Troubles: A Look at the Ron DeSantis Campaign Journey

By Jason Collins

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced his decision to run for president in May 2023 and, at first, looked to be a strong contender and a viable opponent to frontrunner Donald Trump. However, his campaign saw a descent from triumphs to troubles due to fund shortages, low voter persuasion, and a shaky performance at the GOP debates. 

As the candidates enter the final push to elections, is there still time for DeSantis to turn things around and get his campaign back on track? We’ll take a deep dive into DeSantis and his campaign, so you don’t have to.    

A Brief History of DeSantis 

DeSantis had an interesting life before he dipped his toe into the world of politics. He was a star baseball player throughout school and in college. While studying law at Harvard University, he worked as a history teacher, joined the U.S. Navy, and became a lawyer with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. That’s the job Tom Cruise had in A Few Good Men. 

In 2010, after completing active duty, DeSantis was introduced to the world of American politics. He published a book in 2011, Dreams from Our Founding Fathers: First Principles in the Age of Obama, which was a dig at former President Barack Obama. With that first taste of politics, he ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2012. He won his House seat race and represented District 6 in northeastern Florida.

DeSantis’s Achievements as Governor

It was in 2018 that DeSantis announced his intentions to run for governor of Florida and, with the backing of Donald Trump, who was president at the time, won against Democrat Andrew Gillum. DeSantis has had a relatively successful time as Florida governor and has racked up a number of achievements. Like his fellow Republican candidates such as Trump, DeSantis also has a hard-right stance against controversial issues like abortion, sex education, gun control, and LQBTQ rights in Florida. While DeSantis was a relatively popular governor, it was his strong stance against COVID regulations that made headlines. Many Republicans approved of DeSantis’s rejection of vaccine mandates in Florida, not enforcing mask mandates and allowing Floridians freedom over how they want to treat themselves.  

During his tenure as governor in 2022, DeSantis signed laws banning abortion at six weeks and banned classrooms from teaching sexual and gender orientation for all grades. Other bills and legislation were passed with the intention of “Protecting kids and ensuring parental rights from agendas pushed by WOKE ideologists.” 

What put DeSantis’s name on the presidential map was his fight with powerhouse, Disney. The fight began over an education law DeSantis passed which the media labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. This bill prohibited classrooms from discussing sexual and gender orientation, Disney had a problem with this. In response DeSantis said,

“If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy.”

Long story short, DeSantis won the fight and the law is here to stay. Proving he could take on Democrat ideology, an appealing quality in a Republican presidential candidate. With his many achievements and a personal confidence that matched, DeSantis announced his intention to run for president in 2024.

Off To a Rocky Start 

His presidential bid was not smooth sailing for the Florida governor. In fact, DeSantis’s campaign began with a rocky start, and perhaps this was a sign of what was to come. On May 25, DeSantis announced his bid for president through a campaign video released on YouTube. In a surprise move, DeSantis took to the stage with X owner Elon Musk, perhaps in an effort to gain more attention on an emerging information source while at the same time distancing himself from mainstream media. 

However, persistent technical issues delayed the video by 25 minutes and took the momentum out of the virtual event. During his speech, he told viewers,

“I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback. But we know our country’s going in the wrong direction. We see it with our own eyes. And we feel it in our bones.” 

Trump, who had previously been a supporter of DeSantis, could not resist commenting on the delayed announcement and wrote on Truth Social, “Wow! The DeSanctus TWITTER launch is a DISASTER! His whole campaign will be a disaster. WATCH!” and so the term “DeSunctus” began to follow the Floridian with Trump later coining the phrase, DeSanctimonious to label his now presidential rival.   

While his campaign had gotten off to a rocky start, it had all the makings of success. At the time, his campaign had the most cash available compared to the other Republican candidates, except for Trump, of course. He had the support of powerful donors and represented a younger, less abrasive version of Trump to prospective voters. Polls reflected this giving DeSantis a wide lead over the other non-Trump candidates, so how did it all go wrong? 

Initial High in The Polls 

During the start of his campaign, DeSantis had been doing well in the polls, maintaining a decent lead against his rivals. In August, DeSantis led the pack of contenders, including Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and Tim Scott. 

NBC News shared a poll highlighting DeSantis’s decline from April through August this year, and the results must worry the Floridian hoping to become president. In April, he had a 24% approval rate, and by August, it was sitting at 13%, whereas Trump, Haley, Ramaswamy Christie, and even Pence saw an improvement in ratings. 

DeSantis Strategy 

DeSantis’s starting campaign strategy took a different approach than it is now. When he first began his campaign he presented himself as a version of Trumpism, an alternate choice to the former President who was embroiled in legal troubles. But why would voters choose him if they already had Trump? He praised Trump and backed him up during the Russia collusion conspiracy theory. In fact, in 2021 Trump even suggested DeSantis should run for president in 2024, saying, “You know, I’m just saying what I read and what you read. They love that ticket. But certainly, Ron would be considered. He is a great guy.” 

However, this year that relationship has changed, and perhaps DeSantis realized this strategy wasn’t going to work. How could he win over Trump’s loyal support base if he couldn’t give them a compelling reason to vote for him over the former President?  

Campaign Reset

One of the major reasons why DeSantis’s campaign has not been performing well could be his campaign resets. Yes, we used the plural. In July, DeSantis had to lay off about a third of his campaign staff due to financial struggles, which did not inspire much confidence in the governor. 

In September, the campaign underwent yet another reset as DeSantis replaced his campaign manager, Generra Peck, with James Uthmeier. This second reset for the struggling campaign further eroded confidence in Ron’s struggling presidential bid and had Trump posting on Truth Social,

“DeSanctimonious is CRASHING! Perhaps Party should come together???”

This led to a descent in the polls. 

Financial Struggles 

DeSantis’s biggest enemy right now is ultimately a lack of funding. Without the vast reserves of donor money needed to run for president, the DeSantis campaign has begun flailing. In a significant blow to the Floridian’s campaign bank account, the super PAC called “Ron To The Rescue ” that had initially backed DeSantis announced in September that it would be distancing itself from him and would support Trump. 

This lack of funds means DeSantis has not been able to hold enough town hall events and has struggled to gain voter confidence due to what many concerned voters believe is campaign mismanagement and chaotic messaging. DeSantis has been forced to focus his limited pool of resources in Iowa. Without a first or second-place finish in the Iowa primary, the DeSantis campaign is finished.  

Trying Out New Tactics 

In an effort to revive his struggling campaign, DeSantis has upped his tactics and turned the heat on former supporter, now rival, Trump. DeSantis began criticizing rival Trump during the second GOP debate, saying, “He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt.” In another statement, DeSantis spoke about how unimpressive the number of Trump supporters who show up to his rallies is when you compare them to the number of supporters who show up to keep Trump outside of the White House. 

Another new tactic DeSantis is hoping will result in higher polling is his recent media blitz. DeSantis is set to appear on MSNBC’s Morning Joe as well as CNN, platforms outside the demographics of the Trump base. These appearances are an attempt to reach swing voters and never-Trump Republicans.  A spokesperson for DeSantis, Andrew Romeo, has said this tactic will help “drive his message across a diverse swath of media to share his plans for what he will do as president to reverse America’s decline.” This also could be seen as an acknowledgment that DeSantis cannot make inroads with Trump supporters. He has realized that his only path to the presidency now is to consolidate what anti-Trump sentient there is among Republicans around him instead of rivals Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and Chris Christie.

Is this media blitz enough to combat the damage done by a lack of funds and low voter persuasion? In the past, his combative press conferences and exchanges with reporters won him overwhelming support as governor, and perhaps this may offer a second chance for his struggling campaign. As other candidates rise in the polls they are taking votes away from DeSantis, not Trump. Ron has to reverse this trend, pick up momentum, and score a top-two finish in Iowa. Otherwise, he will be heading back to Florida to spar with Disney.