The same instincts that drove Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to make unorthodox decisions during the pandemic also motivated him to announce his candidacy for president on Twitter on May 24. “Do you go with the crowd, or do you look at the data yourself and choose to cut against the grain?” he said.
The Republican’s robust, aggressive social-media team that often takes snipes at reporters has not escaped the notice of the media. He was slated to announce his candidacy for president at 6 p.m. Eastern on May 24. But the Twitter Spaces event—what John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, said earlier in the day on a podcast was to be the DeSantis version of Donald Trump descending the Trump Tower golden escalator in 2015—hit several snags.
As more than half a million people appeared to listen in, they were met with dead air or occasional comments cutting in like “We’re just trying to get it going because there are so many people.” When the online event finally began—with Twitter boss Elon Musk instead hosting it through the handle of technology entrepreneur David Sacks, who was to be the moderator—DeSantis was congratulated for “breaking the Internet.”
“I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback,” the candidate finally managed to say to what was then a little more than 100,000 live listeners. DeSantis said he would respect U.S. borders, fight “woke” bias, take on drug cartels that are “poisoning” the public with fentanyl, reverse progressive ideology in the military and re-establish integrity in institutions.
“We must return normalcy to our communities,” he said.
“We will never surrender to the woke mob, and we will leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history,” said DeSantis.
In addition to Sacks and Musk, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford Medicine, who rose to national prominence during the pandemic for opposing lockdowns and mask mandates, also spoke during an ensuing conversation, as did Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.).
Israel’s right to exist
DeSantis, 44, who was re-elected governor of Florida last November by nearly 20 percentage points, has a reputation for being pro-Israel and sensitive to rising antisemitism. On a visit to Israel—his fourth—in April, he signed a “public nuisances” bill, making it a felony to harass others based on their “wearing or displaying of any indicia relating to any religious or ethnic heritage.”
“We must reject those who reject Israel’s right to exist,” he said on the trip. Jewish claims to the historic lands go “back thousands and thousands of years,” he added. “There’s never been a Palestinian Arab entity.”
He also urged the Biden administration to refrain from intervening in Israeli judicial reform. “You’re a smart country. You can figure it out. We shouldn’t butt into these important issues,” he said.
In March, the governor signed a bill establishing a state school voucher program. “Florida is just an example of what can be accomplished across the country,” Rabbi A.D. Motzen, Agudah’s national director of government affairs, said at the time. Earlier in the year, DeSantis proposed allocating $5 million to secure Jewish day schools.
Last year, DeSantis said that Judea and Samaria are “disputed,” not “occupied.” In 2019, he tweeted that he rejects “attempts to target Israel for disfavored treatment and will enforce the anti-BDS provisions vigorously. This whole enterprise of targeting Israel for economic harm is such a fraud and merely a cover for antisemitism.”
BDS is “dead on arrival” in Florida, he added.
The native of Jacksonville, Fla., a Harvard Law School alumnus, is married to Casey DeSantis. They have three children. DeSantis is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, having served at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. DeSantis has also worked as a federal prosecutor and he served in Congress from 2013 to 2018.
DeSantis, who has drawn criticism for a public spat with Disney, and who signed the Parental Rights in Education Act in 2022 that opponents dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”—is polling behind former President Donald Trump but ahead of the other Republican candidates.