A possible new DeSantis vs. Trump battle, this time for 'DeFuture' of Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was riding high after his landslide reelection, when the New York Post’s front page declared him “DeFuture” of the Republican Party. He was crowned a national star on a trajectory to battle Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.

That didn’t quite work out for him. But now, forming on the Florida horizon are all the dramatic elements of another epic showdown between himself and Trump — this time to rule the Sunshine State and its Magic Kingdom after his second term has ended.

Last week, the stage was set for this possibility by an eye-popping Florida Atlantic University poll showing that 38 percent of registered Republican voters in Florida would choose Casey DeSantis, Ron’s wife, as their nominee.

If Casey were to declare herself a candidate for the 2026 Republican gubernatorial nomination of the nation’s third-most populous state, it could lead directly to a second major confrontation with Trump-world.

In the same poll, another 16 percent selected Trump acolyte Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — the media firebrand famous for ousting House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Gaetz wrote on X in February, “I have no plans to run for governor.” But if Trump encourages Gaetz to run, the congressman will likely bow to Trump’s wishes, especially since DeSantis and Gaetz have long been at odds despite being allies initially when DeSantis was elected governor in 2018.

With the governor’s race two and a half years away, FAU only polled a Casey DeSantis-Matt Gaetz primary matchup, with 20 percent indicating they would choose some other candidate. Other notable potential GOP contenders are Attorney General Ashley Moody and Team Trumper Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.).

Another important finding from FAU’s poll is DeSantis’s 54 percent job approval among Florida voters. Apparently,  “Ron Desanctimonious” has more than adequately recovered from the national humiliation that Trump dealt him in the presidential campaign.

If DeSantis remains popular into 2025, then wife Casey could be well positioned to win his “third term” in a state that has not elected a Democratic governor since 1994.

It isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Casey was his closest adviser and greatest asset on the presidential campaign trail. Her Emmy-award-winning television career facilitated her easy-going, relatable stage presence and polished showmanship. She contrasted with her husband’s awkward, rigid, and widely mocked policy-wonk personality.

Mrs. DeSantis also received sympathy for surviving a fight with breast cancer. She is the mother of three young children and known for her elegant fashion flair, reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy. And Casey was a dedicated wife who stood by her man as their stage crashed and burned.

Casey and Ron’s first mistake in the presidential race was to underestimate Trump’s strength and resilience among primary voters. In June 2022, the Washington Post reported, “The couple believes that the governor’s skills are uniquely matched to the current political climate and are wary of waiting six years” to run for president in 2028, “by which time the tides may have shifted.” Instead, the tides nearly drowned them both.

But candidates can often learn from failure and emerge as future winners. Ron and Casey could follow that pattern with a 2026 gubernatorial race, a 2028 presidential run, or both. But first, they must defuse, neutralize, and successfully cross a Trumpian minefield without taking permanent damage.

With the Republican presidential nominee exercising total control over the Republican Party at all levels, Trump’s 2024 fate will heavily affect the DeSantises’ future. It begins when he anoints a running mate. Whether Trump wins or loses, that person will have the inside track for the Republicans’ 2028 presidential nomination if he or she performs well and stays in Trump’s good graces.

In the near term, that scenario would seem to leave Ron’s presidential prospects melting like an orange popsicle in the Florida sun. But another set of circumstances could keep DeSantis from the unemployment line in January 2027. What if Trump wins the White House and taps Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for his Cabinet? In that case, DeSantis could appoint a “caretaker” to Rubio’s seat and run for it himself the subsequent special election to serve out the remainder of Rubio’s term. Conceivably, Ron and Casey DeSantis could appear on the same 2026 ballot — a political power-couple achievement.

Anything is possible, but don’t forget that Trump has a long memory and lingering animosity toward Ron and Casey. Even though DeSantis’s best showing was third place in Iowa, and he dropped out before the New Hampshire primary, Trump was still furious that he had the gall to run against him at all.

The former president repeatedly bragged that he “made” DeSantis’s career, warned the governor against entering the 2024 race, and boasted about destroying DeSantis for the “disloyalty” of daring to be his primary rival.

Trump’s anger stemmed from his primary endorsement of the obscure congressman from northeast Florida, which he first gave in December 2017. DeSantis, who had trailed initially after announcing his candidacy, flogged the endorsement to anyone who would listen and gained his first polling lead shortly after that. Trump subsequently reiterated that endorsement in June 2018, to much greater public notice, at which point DeSantis immediately surged to a consistent polling lead and never looked back until he had won the nomination in a 20-point landslide.

Future-former President Trump therefore believes, and not without reason, that he has the power to derail Ron and Casey’s political DeFuture. 

Myra Adams served on the creative team of two Republican presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008.

Back to top button