WASHINGTON: Florida governor Ron DeSantis said on Wednesday he would seek the 2024 Republican nomination for president, setting up a showdown with his one-time ally, former president Donald Trump, that will shake up the race for the White House.
DeSantis made the announcement in a video ahead of an audio interview on Twitter with its CEO, Elon Musk.
“We need the courage to lead and the strength to win,” DeSantis said. “I’m Ron DeSantis, and I’m running for president to lead our great American comeback.”
The event was beset by technical issues that prevented listeners from hearing DeSantis, an inauspicious start for a campaign predicated on the governor’s executive competence.
With a rising national profile and what are expected to be deep financial resources, DeSantis, 44, immediately becomes Trump’s biggest rival for the Republican nomination.
But polls show Trump with more than a 2-to-1 edge over the Florida governor, who has long been considered a Republican rising star and the herald of a new generation of leaders in the party. Trump, who announced in November, has also had a head start in organising his campaign in key early voting states.
Supporters and donors will be keenly watching to see if DeSantis now takes the fight to Trump, who has been relentlessly attacking him with little reaction, much to the frustration of some DeSantis allies who wanted him to respond more forcefully.
Musk, the CEO of Tesla and Twitter with 140 million Twitter followers, said earlier that his presence at Wednesday’s event would not constitute an endorsement but would reflect his desire to make the service more of a town square.
DeSantis on Wednesday was also expected to convene a meeting of his top donors at a Miami hotel, where they will immediately launch his fundraising efforts.
DeSantis’ central argument for his candidacy likely will be that he is the only Republican who can defeat Democratic President Joe Biden, the winner over Trump in the 2020 election.
Mainstream Republicans will be watching DeSantis carefully to see if he can recover from his missteps on foreign policy, such as his initial reluctance to express support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.
In the weeks leading up to his presidential bid, DeSantis has toured the country, visiting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire that will hold early nominating contests. He has boasted of his record as Florida’s governor, including his battles with the federal government over pandemic policies.
DeSantis and his advisers were determined to wait to enter the race until the Florida Legislature could hand him a series of policy victories – and lawmakers have done just that.
He signed measures that severely restricted abortions in the state, made it easier for residents to carry concealed weapons, expanded a voucher program to allow students to attend private schools and eliminated funding for diversity programs at public universities, among other things.
DeSantis remains in a pitched battle with Walt Disney Co over the company’s criticism of laws prohibiting the teaching of gender identity concepts in public schools. The company has filed a federal lawsuit accusing DeSantis of weaponising state government to punish its operations.
Other declared Republican candidates include Nikki Haley, former US ambassador to the United Nations, and Tim Scott, a US senator from South Carolina.