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Gov. Ron DeSantis' presidential bid marks the beginning of the end of his national aspirations

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Governor Ron DeSantis made it official. His entry into the race for the White House has been months in the making. On Wednesday, in a Twitter Spaces audio broadcast that included mercurial billionaire Elon Musk (and was riddled with technical glitches), DeSantis announced he will be a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

The former congressional backbencher and Tea Party Republican's political journey reaches its zenith. DeSantis’ eagerly anticipated announcement now pits the culture warrior against his one-time political mentor, ex-president Donald Trump. A battle that will see the former Trump “mini-me” succumb to withering political attacks and unrelenting questions and critiques of his far-right agenda as governor of Florida, the third largest American state.

In the wake of his crushing landslide re-election victory just five-months ago, DeSantis was riding a wave of momentum heading into the nominating contest. A poll back in February 2023 had the governor leading the republican field, which included Donald Trump, 40-31. Yet, as all eyes will be watching the sit-down with the Tesla and SpaceX founder, the latest CBS News poll shows him trailing Donald Trump by 36 points among Republican primary voters.

Making matters worse, a number of high-profile republicans have sharply rebuked the Florida governor for his inexplicable battle with global media behemoth, The Walt Disney Company, over Florida’s "Don’t Say Gay" law. Once seen as the Trump heir apparent and the darling of the donor class, Ron DeSantis is now limping into the 2024 nomination battle.

U.S. presidential campaigns are not for the faint of heart. The searing national spotlight has proven to be blinding for some. When confronted with the unforgiving demands and punishing expectations of a fickle electorate and an overzealous media, some notable presidential aspirants wilted. The Jeb Bush applause plea; the Howard Dean scream; and the tanked (literally) Michael Dukakis photo op are just a (small) cadre of past hopefuls that walked the candidate tightrope -- only to suffer the slightest misstep and fall by the wayside.

Add to this combustible mix, an ex-president whose love for sparring with competitors matches his insatiable appetite for attention and the results can be disastrous. The political graveyard is littered with the epithets of those that sought to reach the highest office in the land only to have those ambitions cut, crash and burn.

Ron DeSantis is the latest contender in what is quickly becoming a crowded GOP field. However, before the launch can commence, his candidacy is already imploding. The governor’s ability to move Florida from a key battleground state to a bastion of MAGA conservatism made him the darling of the GOP. Moreover, a political identity shaped and molded in the image of Donald Trump devoid of the sordid and scandalous personal shortcomings seemed destined for political greatness.

Party leaders and the monied class anointed DeSantis the future of the party without fully vetting the governor's ability to withstand the intense pressure of a long bruising political fight. Now, the whispers have grown louder and the governor’s deficiencies, glossed over during his gubernatorial re-election rout, are now on full display under the national glare.

Even more troubling for the governor and his allies, Donald Trump is acutely aware of DeSantis’ political shortcomings including his on-the-record stances as a national lawmaker calling for the abolition of Social Security, as well as his glaring discomfort engaging in retail politics. Trump is a master of character and political assassination. In fact, he has already begun a precise and strategic campaign at systematically tearing down his former protege with more than US$13 million spent in direct attack ads against DeSantis.

The student, who thought he could outwit the teacher, is learning the hard way. The teacher still controls the classroom. Draconian abortion laws; book bans; attacks on immigrants; lax gun regulations; all meant to capture the MAGA base with an unrepentant move to the right. Only to be met with bewilderment from general election voters and ambivalence from MAGA voters eager to get behind a third Trump candidacy.

TRUMP AHEAD EVEN IN FLORIDA

In this July 31, 2020 file photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, listens as then-president Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion on the coronavirus outbreak and storm preparedness at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Fla. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

As the polls clearly show, it is still Trump that commands the room. Donald Trump, not Ron DeSantis, holds the majority of endorsements even from Florida pols. The indicted former commander-in-chief deftly turns his legal travails into political triumphs, and can still win the news cycle even without command of the bully pulpit. The master, the party left for dead, is reborn and DeSantis, his once proud pupil, quakes at his presence.

Every crisis, debacle, or calamity, Trump has adroitly used to his advantage. Each critical moment further separates him from the field of potential candidates. Meanwhile, for every far-right policy; every political fight against wokeism; every manufactured event signaled to evoke strength,only saw DeSantis poll numbers continue to crater. Disney’s latest decision to halt a US$1billion development project and the NAACP travel advisory are glaring examples of DeSantis’inability to turn these political embarrassments into campaign gold.

Ron DeSantis has worn the culture warrior mantra very well and used it to great effect. Florida is clearly a republican stronghold. His MAGA right policies helped embolden and bolster the right’s ongoing efforts to reshape the political landscape both at the state and federal level. Now, as the governor embarks on a race for the White House, he and his allies are hoping (against hope) that his many battles against the left, against the press, and against wokeism have prepared him for the arduous and grueling fights on the horizon.

To achieve his goal he will have to come face-to-face with the battle-tested ex-president who relishes the fight and a truculent media intent on testing his mettle. However, if the past is prologue, the DeSantis camp and those that see him as the standard bearer of a post-Trump GOP will be left reeling when the dust settles.

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