On May 24, Florida governor Ron DeSantis announced his presidential run on a Twitter Space with Elon Musk, delayed by technical difficulties and crashes. He is entering a growing GOP field, one in which he currently trails Trump in the polls by about 28 points. His introduction, as well as responses in the Q&A portion, featured his “war on woke” and populist rhetoric railing against the “legacy media,” “big tech,” the Federal Reserve, and “woke” financial institutions.
DeSantis made several jabs at Trump without directly mentioning him. Regarding immigration, he proclaimed that “others tweeted and talked about it but couldn’t follow through.” Later that night on Fox News, he promised to build a “full” border wall. He said he doesn’t need any fanfare or adulation, and that he’s not about building a brand but delivering results. This ties into comments he made earlier in May at an event in Iowa:
We must reject the culture of losing that has impacted our party in recent years. The time for excuses is over. If we get distracted, if we focus the election on the past or on other side issues, then I think the Democrats are going to beat us again.
At the same time, the campaign launch video from the DeSantis 2024 campaign is very similar to a Trump ad, calling for “Our Great American Comeback.” These aren’t the only similarities. Trump and DeSantis agree on a whole host of issues, from their anti-China xenophobia to their anti-trans and anti-woke policies to their disparagement of “the elites.” In most key ways, Trump and DeSantis are politically aligned. But this didn’t stop DeSantis from (directly this time) attacking Trump for “going left on a lot of the fiscal, he’s going left on culture,” by “turning the country over to Fauci” in 2020, growing the deficit, and not supporting Florida’s recent six-week abortion ban.
Where they differ most significantly, however, is on the Republican Party establishment and the regime. While Trump has made a name for himself by “draining the swamp” and has been remarkably bipartisan in his attacks on key figures and the regime’s institutions, DeSantis is more friendly to the status quo. The elites he’s decrying are “woke” corporations and the Democrats, not his fellow Republicans, the military, Congress, and all the other key capitalist institutions that Trump attacked.
In this sense, DeSantis’s presidential run reflects a desire among some Republicans to move beyond Trump toward a “Trumpism without Trump,” which DeSantis alluded to with his comment about “looking forward not backward.” DeSantis has been viewed as better at maintaining capitalist stability than the erratic Trump, “MAGA without the mess”; however, DeSantis’s recent battles with Disney are eroding the idea that he is the “responsible” candidate. And as polling shows, Trump is still very popular among the Republican base, though that could change as the election inches closer and Trump’s legal woes drag on. Meanwhile, DeSantis has raised more money than Trump, quite a bit of it from big donors. And he did raise $8.2 million in the first 24 hours.
His tenure as governor of Florida highlights his Bonapartist tendencies — he has often governed with an expanded use of executive power and used that power to pressure or get around other elements of the regime. He has used this power to directly attack democratic rights. For example, he created an Election Crimes Agency last year to suppress voting; so far, 20 people — who had been issued voter registration cards — have been charged with felonies for “illegally voting.” Most of them are Black.
The central point of DeSantis’s 2024 campaign, his ongoing “war on woke,” was on full display during his announcement. “We will leave woke ideology to the dustbin of history,” he declared. He emphasized the need to “replace the woke mind virus,” and added, “We will never surrender to the woke mob.” Distinguishing himself from the current president, he said “Biden takes cues from the woke mob.” A key part of this “war on woke” is DeSantis’s attacks on “gender ideology,” a continuation of the many attacks on trans people that he has carried out in Florida, including a recent bathroom bill, expanding the “Don’t Say Gay” bill to the 12th grade, banning gender-affirming care for minors, and banning nurse practitioners from administering gender-affirming care regardless of age. He frames his attacks as protecting “parental rights.” These attacks on “wokeness” do not, however, stop with the attacks on trans rights. As with many Republican-controlled states after the fall of Roe, DeSantis recently signed a six-week abortion ban. He has also been leading the fight on “critical race theory” by banning books, attacking the AP African American History Course (causing the College Board to make inexcusable concessions), and firing teachers for being openly queer.
Regarding immigration, he proclaimed that he would “shut the border down.” He fearmongered about “open borders” and fentanyl, even though Joe Biden himself is also pushing harsh anti-immigrant policies, such as further restricting migrants from seeking asylum and sending more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. The recent anti-immigrant bill in Florida has instilled fear among immigrants, many of whom are considering leaving their homes to avoid harsh penalties and restrictions. The bill requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask about a patient’s immigration status, which will lead immigrants to avoid health care. It invalidates undocumented immigrants’ out-of-state driver’s licenses, opening the door to racial profiling. The bill has already led to worker shortages before even going into effect, which has angered capitalists that rely on the hyper-exploited labor of undocumented immigrants. DeSantis’s battle with Disney is also having economic consequences, which could hurt his support among capitalists and which other Republicans have already attacked him on.
In his Fox interview he showed himself to be hawkish on China, continuing the bipartisan policy on economic and military competition with China, and he specifically called for a 21st-century Monroe Doctrine to halt China’s influence in Latin America. He also recently signed a bill banning Chinese citizens from buying land in the state.
DeSantis bragged that Florida was a bastion of freedom during the height of the coronavirus pandemic (though really it was “freedom” to force workers back into dangerous workplaces to keep profits flowing for the capitalists). His anti-worker radicalism doesn’t stop there; he recently signed legislation that severely attacks public sector unions — with the exception of police unions, of course.
The right-wing attacks by DeSantis (and his Republican colleagues) need to be fought in the streets, where they can be defeated. Regardless of who wins the Republican nomination, we cannot fall into “lesser-evilism” by supporting Biden and the Democrats. Both DeSantis and Biden are awful, and we need to fight them both in the streets and in our workplaces by building class-independent organizations for struggle.
We need a working-class party with a socialist program that will actually fight for workers and the oppressed. Such a working-class party, independent of capitalists, can mobilize the forces needed in the streets and our organizations. We cannot rely on the Democratic Party, which is a party of the bourgeoisie along with the Republicans. Remember that other than some performative comments, Democrats have generally stood by and allowed DeSantis and right-wing laws across the country attacking trans people — and that Biden only gave nine seconds to talk about the attacks on trans people in his State of the Union address. DeSantis is a reactionary monster, but monsters of his ilk can be defeated only by the power of the working class and the oppressed, standing together in their own organization, fighting for socialism.