Much like his presidency, Donald Trump’s departure from office has been plagued with scandal. The country is still reeling from the growing legal battle that ensued after the FBI searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence to seize highly classified government documents which were being improperly stored in Trump’s possession, putting national security at risk. Weeks later, New York attorney general Letitia James stated an investigation into the Trump Organization found Trump used fraudulent practices to inflate the value of the company. The former President’s never-ending legal crises are looming over his expected reelection campaign in 2024 and are complicating his support base, leaving the voters wondering: how long can Trump cling to his rule over the GOP?
Even if Trump can extinguish the cases growing against him, they have Republican voters divided over whether he should lead in 2024. In a Washington Post poll, 47% of Republican voters said they want Trump to be the Republican nominee, while 46% said someone else, and 7% were unsure. Undoubtedly, there is strong polarization over the future of Trump’s role in the Republican party–and it has not gone unnoticed by party leaders. Many remain unwavering in their public loyalty to Trump, but whether that reflects genuine support is complicated by the party’s swiftness to depose those who speak out against the former president.
At this time, there is not a clear picture of the field of nominees for either party, but there are several standouts. Arguably, Trump’s biggest competition is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. In a USA Today Poll, out of seven potential presidential candidates, 43% of Republican voters said they would vote for Trump and 34% preferred DeSantis. There are other notable figures in the running, including Ted Cruz and Mike Pence, but none have received the numbers or nationwide attention that DeSantis has. Though he has not officially announced a bid for the presidency at the time of this article being written, his high-profile reelection campaign and record-breaking fundraising point him in that direction. In many ways, DeSantis has a Trump-like persona, but he brings youth and a somewhat less tarnished reputation to the podium.
Many of the actions that DeSantis has taken as Florida’s Governor have sparked national outrage. In March 2022, he law widely known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom. While the law applies to kindergarten through 3rd-grade classrooms, the vague language used leaves room for discussions about the LGBTQ+ community to be prohibited for older students too. Florida Republicans frame this law as a measure to protect parental rights, but to Democrats, it’s a dangerous form of censorship that will cause grave harm to queer youth, especially given that they are already at a higher risk of facing mental health problems. In fact, a survey by The Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. The data also shows that students who feel their school is LGBTQ+ affirming have lower rates of suicide attempts. The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law erases the existence of non-heteronormative history and people, putting queer youth at a higher risk of facing mental and physical health consequences.
DeSantis has also taken actions to ensure the implementation of Florida’s restrictive abortion ban, which took effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade (1973) in June of 2022. The law prevents abortions after 15 weeks, even in cases of rape or incest, something that 61% of Americans oppose. DeSantis even went as far as suspending voter-elected State Attorney Andrew Warren, who vowed not to prosecute violators of the law. In the upcoming November gubernatorial election, abortion will undoubtedly play a major role, with DeSantis’s opponent Charlie Crist publicly affirming his support for a person’s right to an abortion.
In another heavily criticized move, DeSantis participated in the growing Republican trend of transporting undocumented migrants from border states to liberal cities. Inspired by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, DeSantis organized the transportation of 48 migrants from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts in September of 2022. This move was the product of DeSantis’s migrant transportation program, to which he has allocated $12 million to thus far. DeSantis sent Perla Huerta, who served as a counterintelligence agent in the U.S. Army, to recruit migrants in Texas. Huerta offered a free flight to Massachusetts to the migrants, following it up with free meals and a hotel stay, and told the migrants there would be work for them there. The migrants were Venezuealen asylum seekers who had no ties to Florida, but were roped in to be political pawns by DeSantis. In addition to the unethicality of Perla Huerta not disclosing that she was working on behalf of the Florida Government, the scheme violated the guidelines of the program, which calls for the removal of “unauthorized aliens from this state [Florida],” which the migrants were not in. The true goal of this questionable program, though, is not to reduce the number of undocumented migrants, but rather to make the headlines when so-called sanctuary cities fail to handle the unannounced group of people dropped on their doorstep. While Martha’s Vineyard was unprepared to take in the group, residents of the town—stereotyped as a haven for the liberal elite—rallied to support them.
Like Trump, DeSantis clearly has a knack for generating controversy through his actions and policies. As DeSantis increasingly garners attention and support within the Republican Party, he continues to draw on a Trump-like style of governance and a commitment to conservative principles that resonates with a significant portion of the party’s base. With lawsuits, scandals, and time working against him, Trump’s reign over the Republican party is slowly crumbling. There to take his place when it falls will be Ron DeSantis—not necessarily as an opponent, but as an alternative.