Who is Ron DeSantis?
It’s official. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is in the race for president. The popular, if polarizing, governor filed his paperwork this afternoon with the Federal Election Commission before announcing his run during a glitch-filled Twitter appearance with Elon Musk.
He also released an announcement called “The Great American Comeback.”
So who is Ron DeSantis?
Upbringing and Faith
Ron DeSantis was born on September 14, 1978 in Jacksonville, Florida. He spent the bulk of his childhood in Dunedin, Florida. The child of Italian American Roman Catholics, DeSantis writes, “Growing up as a kid, it was nonnegotiable that I would have my rear end in church every Sunday morning.” As a child, he attended Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School and then his local public high school.
Growing up, DeSantis was a very capable student and a natural athlete. He particularly excelled and was passionate about history and baseball. He’d major in history at Yale, where he was a starting outfielder on the baseball team all four years and team captain his senior year. He graduated with an impressive batting average of 0.313 (0.336 his senior year).
He graduated from Yale in 2001 (magna cum laude, 3.75 GPA). After a one-year stint as a high school history teacher and coach, DeSantis attended Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude in 2005 with a Juris Doctor.
Soon after, he met Casey, who he’d marry three years later. Their children were all baptized as infants into the Roman Catholic Church. Though he’s not as effusive on faith matters as, for example, Vice President Pence, DeSantis is a practicing Catholic. I’m told that in private he speaks more openly about his faith, and with genuine sincerity. Perhaps it strikes him as unseemly to be gushy about his faith, as if he’d be doing so for political gain (see Matthew 6:1-7). But the country will want to know what makes him tick. So, I anticipate Candidate DeSantis will find a way to share how his convictions and sense of calling to public service are undergirded by, or at least overlap with, his Catholic faith.
In his second of three years at Harvard, DeSantis enlisted with the U.S. Navy, earning a commission as a JAG officer. He completed Naval Justice School in 2005. During his years of active duty service (which concluded in 2010), DeSantis supported operations at the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He also deployed to Iraq as an adviser to a U.S. Navy SEAL commander in support of the mission in the Al Anbar province. He later served in the Navy Reserves until 2019.
DeSantis ran for U.S. Congress in 2012, winning a newly created seat. He served almost three full terms, stepping down in September 2018 to focus on the Governor’s race (having already won the GOP primary). He’d go on to win that race, narrowly defeating Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by just 0.4%.
Please Support The Stream: Equipping Christians to Think Clearly About the Political, Economic, and Moral Issues of Our Day.
Gillum is now disgraced, having been found naked and passed out in a Miami Beach hotel room with drugs and a male escort. But it’s important to remember that in 2018, the Mayor was considered a rising star, in the make and mold of the fast-climbing, charismatic, and smooth-talking Barack Obama. DeSantis beat a tough opponent in a swing state in a year when Dems had the edge.
It’s against that backdrop that DeSantis 19-point reelection win in 2022 is particularly impressive. He won the race by the largest margin in 40 years, beating an opponent with huge name ID. DeSantis won all but five counties, including reliably blue Miami-Dade county. He did so in a year in which Republicans were expected to do well, but largely underperformed in states other than Florida.
Issues — Congressman DeSantis (2012-2018)
Congressman DeSantis was a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, along with Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, Mick Mulvaney, and a few others. He can be remembered for his work on veterans’ affairs and institutional reform. Research had showed that service dogs could be trained to recognize when PTSD in a veteran was most acute, and to respond in calming ways. DeSantis authored a bill to secure this therapeutic treatment for wounded vets. It took a while, but the bill finally became law in August 2021.
DeSantis filed legislation to eliminate pensions for members of Congress and to mandate that members of Congress be subject to Obamacare. Impressively, DeSantis had already declined his congressional pension and healthcare plan. He voluntarily stopped trading stocks prior to assuming office. He sponsored legislation to make it easier for the military to prosecute sexual assault. He authored a bill to end the secret taxpayer-funded slush fund for members of Congress to make hush payoffs for sexual harassment.
Issues — Governor DeSantis (2019-Current)
As Governor, he’s staked territory as an across-the-board champion of conservatism. School choice: An expansion to every child (a la Arizona). Abortion: A six-week ban (that President Trump knocked as “too harsh”). COVID: Florida prioritized the protection of senior citizens, and was the state that bucked the lockdown policies that persisted month-after-month in much of the country. By Executive Order, all public school districts were open for in-person instruction five days per week in the Fall of 2020. DeSantis never imposed a mask mandate; in fact, he issued an Executive Order forbidding school districts from enacting such mandates.
The results? Better educated and more socially adjusted children, of course. But also, ironically enough, fewer per capita deaths than large blue states. Between April 2020 and mid-July 2022, Florida experienced an excess mortality increase of only 15.6%. California? 17.7%. New York? 20%. This despite the fact that Florida has one of the most elderly and vulnerable populations.
Then there’s the plethora of cultural issues related to race, gender and sexuality. DeSantis banned the teaching of critical race theory in schools. This same law also protects employees from mandatory DEI training that assigns guilt to someone due to their skin color. He eliminated ESG considerations from state pension investments. He prohibited school teachers from teaching sexual orientation or gender identity for children through the 8th grade. The Governor signed a bill banning sex reassignment surgery, the use of puberty blockers, or hormone therapy for minors. He signed a bill that forbids biological men from competing in women’s sports, and another that keeps boys out of girls’ bathrooms. He imposed penalties on businesses that admit kids to sexual performances (like “drag queen story hours”). Mr. DeSantis has truly turned Florida into the place “where woke goes to die.”
Beyond the above, the list of DeSantis policy wins goes on: E-verify improvements, tax relief, permitless carry, enhanced penalties for fentanyl dealing, protections for election integrity, and more.
Given his record as Governor, DeSantis is positioned to run to the right of former President Trump on issues such as abortion, COVID response, and traditional values.
Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).