Ron DeSantis put his presidential hopes in ‘anti-woke’ attacks – and it failed

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who once was a top candidate in the 2024 Republican presidential race, has a forlorn expression on his face as he stands in front of the red and white stripes of the US flag

Florida governor Ron DeSantis – once thought to be Donald Trump’s biggest challenger for the Republican presidential nomination – has ended his attempt to bring the ‘war on woke’ to the White House. 

The decision comes after DeSantis narrowly beat out his nearest rival, Nikki Haley, who previously served as a governor of South Carolina and former UN ambassador, at the Republican Party’s Iowa caucuses earlier in January

Both DeSantis and Haley trailed far behind Trump, who scored a record-breaking victory and remains a frontrunner in the Republican primary polls. 

The Florida governor announced the decision to suspend his campaign in a nearly five-minute long video posted to X/Twitter on Sunday (21 January). He also quoted Winston Churchill as saying: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal – it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

However, the former British prime minister never said that, according to the International Churchill Society

DeSantis said, following the Iowa results, that he couldn’t see a “clear path to victory” in the Republican race, and he endorsed Trump for president. 

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“If there was anything I could do to produce a favourable outcome, more campaign stops, more interviews, I would do it,” he added. 

DeSantis also endorsed Trump for president, saying he is “superior” to Biden. Trump will most certainly go up against Biden in the November general election. 

Speaking at a New Hampshire rally Sunday, Trump described his once-bitter rival as a “very gracious” and “really terrific person” that he looked forward to working with in the future. 

So where did it all go wrong for the Florida governor, considered just months ago to be a fitting replacement for Trump in the White House because of his war on so-called ‘woke’ ideology and strong anti-LGBTQ+ political track record?

Ron DeSantis campaign began with a rocky livestream and tired anti-woke attacks

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who once was a top candidate in the 2024 Republican presidential race, points with one finger as he speaks to supporters in front of a red, white and blue flag
Ron DeSantis hedged his campaign on promoting his anti-woke, anti-LGBTQ+ policies as a blueprint for the rest of the US. (Getty)

Seven months ago, DeSantis began his 2024 Republican presidential nominee campaign not with a bang, but with a glitch-filled stream with X/Twitter CEO Elon Musk

In May, he claimed the US is “going in the wrong direction” because of a “woke mind virus” that has to be replaced with “reality, facts and enduring principles”. He then promised to lead the great “American comeback”.

Not that long ago, DeSantis was billed as a less problematic version of Trump. He beat Trump in some polls, he drew a good chunk of support from conservative voters and he offered a strong track record of implementing right-wing, anti-LGBTQ+ policies in Florida

Instead, America’s most promising Trump alternative became its most awkward and underwhelming contender in the GOP race. 

DeSantis’ odd facial expressions and mannerisms along the campaign trail turned into jokes and memes on social media – not mass support for his campaign. 

His attempt to make Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies go nationwide didn’t win votes

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who once was a top candidate in the 2024 Republican presidential race, smiles awkwardly as he stands in front of the red and white stripes of the US flag
Ron DeSantis’ facial expressions along the campaign trail became memes on social media. (Getty)

DeSantis once offered his blueprints for beating Democrats in elections and for expanding a right-wing agenda across the US: “Make America Florida.”

Since taking office as governor of Florida in 2019, DeSantis accurately assessed what the right was most passionate about: panicking about ‘groomers’, pushing back against trans rights, complaining about big corporations, lambasting critical race theory and denouncing more liberal views. 

So he banned trans students from participating in school athleticslimited access to trans healthcare in the state and targeted drag performances in front of under 18s

He signed Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill to restrict classroom instruction on LGBTQ+ topics in certain grades, then launched a lengthy campaign against Disney when the company objected to the legislation. 

During the Republican debates, he claimed Disney was “transing” kids.

He also repeated the anti-trans dog whistle that gender-affirming healthcare is ‘child abuse’ in other debates. 

Republican primary voters saw these hateful attacks, which DeSantis took along with him on the campaign trail, and shrugged. 

His anti-trans dog whistles didn’t result in the Florida governor overtaking Trump in recent national polls, and he wasn’t positioned to perform any better in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday (23 January). 

Ron DeSantis’ downfall happened because he faced a more charismatic opponent

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who once was a top candidate in the 2024 Republican presidential race, stands at a podium next to former president Donald Trump
Ron DeSantis ended his 2024 Republican presidential nominee campaign by endorsing Donald Trump. (Getty)

Book bans and belligerent attempts to stoke culture wars didn’t get DeSantis over the finish line with Trump still in the race. 

Trump maintained a wealth of support within GOP voting circles despite dozens of criminal charges against him as well as politicians and organisations saying he shouldn’t be able to run because of his role in the 6 January 2021 Capitol Riots.

DeSantis does have time on his side though. He’s still just 45 years old and has time to grow his political fanbase, while Trump, 77, and Biden, 81, only have so long before they retire.

DeSantis recently claimed that Trump voters in Iowa told him that they’ll back him in four years’ time, potentially cementing another White House bid in 2028. He told reporters: “They were coming up to me saying: ‘We want you in 2028, we love you, man.’”

Perhaps the timing of his withdrawal and endorsement of Trump is more strategic than anything else. 

It frees more conservative voters to bolster the former president against Haley in New Hampshire and South Carolina. The endorsement also could earn DeSantis a few more points in MAGA world and maybe even a top spot to be Trump’s 2024 running mate

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