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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Trying to ‘stay relevant,’ DeSantis keeps bashing Biden, DC ‘ruling class’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks on Jan. 26 at NeoCity Academy in Kissimmee, Florida.  (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
By Steven Lemongello Orlando Sentinel

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2024 presidential campaign barely lasted into 2024, but he sounds as if he’s still in the thick of the race.

The governor isn’t addressing pressing state issues such as soaring homeowners insurance rates or the need for more affordable housing.

On Jan. 29, for instance, he pushed for a national constitutional convention to add term limits and balanced budget amendments.

“One thing Florida has always taken the lead on … is holding Washington accountable,” DeSantis said before a cheering crowd in Naples, Florida. “We are going to work with other states to rein in this ruling class in Washington.”

On Thursday, he announced that a thousand more Florida National Guard troops are headed to the U.S. border with Mexico, as well as an unspecified number of Florida State Guard troops. He blasted President Biden for what he called an “invasion” at the southern border and called on other states’ governors to help Texas defy a U.S. Supreme Court order.

DeSantis took an opportunity to knock Washington during a news conference Tuesday at Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County called to praise Florida’s efforts to restore manatee habitats and springs.

“We do the things folks actually want to see their government do,” DeSantis said, adding that federal leaders complain but never do anything.

Asked on Monday why his attention has been on such issues, DeSantis responded, “I haven’t taken a couple of weeks to digest and reflect, I got right back in the saddle. … You’re not going to see me go on some hibernation, where I’m saying, ‘Oh, woe is me.’ That’s just not how I am.”

Political analysts say DeSantis is still in campaign mode but for the next presidential race in four years.

“He clearly is running for 2028,” said Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. “He is looking for ways to stay relevant in the national conversation. … reminding [GOP] voters that, ‘Hey, I’m still here. I’m still aligned with you, and I’ll be back in 2028. So don’t forget me.’ ”

Whichever major party candidate likely wins in November, Biden or former President Donald Trump, would be at the end of their second term in 2028 and would be barred from running again, making it an open race for the White House that year.

The uncertainty over Trump’s four separate criminal trials for his 91 indictments, as well as his advanced age at 77, also could play a role in the governor maintaining a high profile. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is the only major GOP candidate left as a potential nominee this year if needed. DeSantis endorsed Trump upon dropping out.

Still, DeSantis likely won’t have as much prominence in the GOP as he did when he began his presidential run last year in the wake of a landslide reelection. His stock has fallen as his campaign and affiliated PAC spent nearly $160 million to ultimately come in a distant second in the Iowa caucuses and drop out before the New Hampshire primary.

Susan MacManus, a professor emerita at the University of South Florida, said DeSantis’ relative youthful age for politics – he’ll be 50 on Election Day 2028 – means the governor remains a viable future candidate despite his campaign’s implosion. But his continuing to press a national message may not entirely be based on a future run.

“Right now, I think he’s just trying to help Republicans across the country,” MacManus said. “But he’s a hard read, let’s face it.”

J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said it was likely that 2028 was the ultimate goal.

“At this point, if he’s not focusing on Florida issues, I would say he’s probably looking towards the long haul,” Coleman said.

Jarvis called DeSantis’ border deployment and constitutional convention advocacy “all a publicity stunt” for 2028.

“Let’s not normalize it,” Jarvis said. “… It’s very clear that if you had a normal governor, none of this would be happening. DeSantis is simply doing this to continue to grab national headlines.”

But even if DeSantis keeps acting like the self-described “most active governor in America,” staying on that pace will be difficult. His second term ends in January 2027, one year before the first caucuses and primaries, and he can’t run again due to term limits.

“He’s kind of in the same boat as Gov. Glenn Youngkin,” Coleman said of Virginia’s Republican governor, also term-limited in 2026. “… They’re going to be out of office at roughly the same time. They can just use their last remaining years in office to try to get as much visibility as they can, maybe heavily campaign in the 2026 midterms.”

MacManus said governors’ last years in office are usually when they try to establish a legacy.

“At the back of most governor’s minds, and I’ve talked to a number of them, when they’ve left office they’re still thinking about the things they’ve done best for the state,” MacManus said. “I think there’s a lot of balls in the air as to what he’s going to end up doing. I still think he’s genuinely focused on the environment.”

But, she said, “He’s still very much focused on the ‘anti-wokeism.’ Some might wonder, does he just want to show that he’s consistent on that issue and his ideological beliefs? Because a lot of the post-[Iowa] analyses of him across the country focused on the fact that anti-wokeism had died off or started to be minimized in terms of the priorities of Republican voters.”

Coleman said any potential 2028 candidate needs to start laying the groundwork for it now. Even ones still dealing with the aftermath of a failed 2024 campaign.

“It does seem like a long time off,” he said. “But four years is not that long in politics.”