With the formal commencement of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign on May 24th, all eyes turned to his presence on the national stage as he makes stops in key primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. While political pundits speculate the ways his bid for the White House could influence the American political landscape, few are looking back towards Florida, and how the multitude of potential outcomes for DeSantis could impact state politics.
Welcome to the DeSantis multiverse of madness, where we explore the different potential outcomes of DeSantis’ presidential campaign. These scenarios range from winning the nomination and general election to outshining other Republican candidates but falling short against President Joe Biden, or even deciding to withdraw from the GOP primary before next year, each of which carries its own distinct consequences. By analyzing these possibilities, we can gain insights into the potential future direction of Florida’s political landscape and its implications for DeSantis himself.
Ron DeSantis becomes the 47th President of the United States
The Republican primary field is perpetually growing, with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu all rumored to soon enter the race, joining former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Tim Scott. By and large, however, the challenger to Biden is expected to be DeSantis or former President Donald Trump — the latter of which holds a healthy polling advantage in all fifty states.
In the case that DeSantis prevails in both the primary and the general election, a vacuum would immediately open in the Floridian political world, with the governor’s mansion occupied by someone new for the first time since 2018. With DeSantis’ departure from state politics, so goes his proprietary brand of politics from the halls of the state Capitol, as his potential successors attempt to create a brand for themselves.
First and foremost, Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez would take over as governor for the duration of DeSantis’ second term — a noteworthy accomplishment in and of itself as she would become the state’s first female governor. Nuñez’s path to becoming Lieutenant Governor of Florida began in 2010 when she was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where she represented District 119 for eight years. During her time in the House, she garnered a reputation for her focus on healthcare reform, education, and protecting the rights of individuals and groups. Her work in these areas helped her gain the support of her colleagues, as well as DeSantis, a then-gubernatorial candidate.
Matching many of DeSantis’ conservative ideologies, a Nuñez governorship would likely look similar to the last six years in Florida politics, with continued support for DeSantis platform-toppers like Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives in higher education, which she previously referred to as “the biggest threat infiltrating our universities,” and anti-human trafficking legislation.
Of order would also be the appointment of a new Lieutenant Governor. According to the Florida Constitution, in the event of a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor, Nuñez would have the authority to appoint a successor, subject to confirmation by both chambers of the Florida Legislature.
In all likelihood, the selected Lieutenant Governor would come from either the state House or Senate, with individuals like Senators Jay Collins and Blaise Ingoglia, both allies of DeSantis, having the potential to be chosen. Other contenders could shape up to be Rep. Alex Andrade, Sen. Erin Grall, or Rep. Kaylee Tuck, who all passed meaningful pieces of legislation of late.
Looking further into the future, one must consider who DeSantis’ 2026 successor may be. In what will undoubtedly shape up to be a fiercely contended election by both parties, Republican heavyweights are rumored to be awaiting their chance to lead the state. U.S. Representatives Byron Donalds and Matt Gaetz have both been mentioned as favorites, as have the three members of DeSantis’ Cabinet — Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson. For the Democrats, we could potentially see tenured lawmakers like Senators Jason Pizzo and Lauren Book throw their names into contention.
As far as federal policy goes, a DeSantis presidency could see Florida’s commercial space industry supported and expanded even further. According to Space Florida’s 2022 Annual Operations Report, as of July 1 of last year, Space Florida had 85 total projects in development with an estimated value of $2.4 billion in capital investment and provided $4.3 million in funding for 30 research projects, partnerships, and grants.
Given DeSantis’ relationship with SpaceX founder Elon Musk and his adoption of recent legislation that shields privatized aerospace companies from liabilities in the event of an accident, explosion, or crash, it’s clear that he sees a strong future in aerospace investment and could divert more federal resources to Cape Canaveral and the Space Coast.
More prominent, however, would be the use of Florida as a national template for the other forty-nine states. DeSantis, who was speculated to help craft state legislation to boost his national standing among national Republicans, would spare no effort in trying to adopt Florida laws to the federal level that eradicate elements of Critical Race Theory in universities and K-12 education, ESG spending formulas in federal or local-level investments, and vaccine mandates.
Stateside, Governor Nuñez could spend the back-end years of DeSantis’ second term introducing legislation focused more on hardline economic and statute elements of the Florida political scene in a shift away from the ever-prominent culture war talking points that DeSantis shaped his rhetoric around.
DeSantis wins the GOP nomination but loses the General Election
Should DeSantis best Trump and the remainder of the Republican field in the primary, he would likely see favorable polling numbers, but risk the incumbency factor of Biden, who will tout his national recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a study conducted by Yale political scientist David R. Mayhew, in-office parties have kept the White House two-thirds of the time when they have run incumbent candidates, posing a demonstrably real challenge that DeSantis faces in squaring off against the sitting President.
If Biden is elected to a second term, DeSantis would return to Florida to finish out his second term as governor, positing a multitude of pathways that he could ride into a potential 2028 presidential run, but several factors matter here.
Most pertinent of which is the way DeSantis lost the race. Already facing criticisms surrounding his recent push to the right, which included the signing of a six-week abortion ban, some of the strictest education laws in the country, and accusations of book bans, Biden will most likely try and paint DeSantis as an extremist.
If the President can find success in creating, but more importantly, sustaining, that image, it could have palpable effects on the legislation DeSantis pushes for upon his return to Florida. Whether in 2028 or further into the future, DeSantis is going to want to shake the notion of being too far on the right, which could see him press lawmakers to enact popular policy initiatives like recreational marijuana legalization in order to sway state and national voters back into his favor.
Realistically, 2024 is Trump’s last hurrah due to his age, establishing a route DeSantis can take to become the usher of right-wing policy in years to come. But keep in mind, DeSantis’ second term runs through 2026, while the next presidential election takes place in 2028, meaning that DeSantis would have to do a lot of heavy lifting on his own end to rehab his political image.
This could include playing nice with state lawmakers via the authorization of local municipal projects or initiatives in future state budgets or even an uptick in election endorsements. The same can be said for Florida’s delegation of U.S. representatives, who have largely endorsed Trump for the current election cycle.
On the contrary, if DeSantis is able to introduce himself to American voters as a competent, capable, and proven politician, though narrowly loses, he would be setting himself up for a long political career that could potentially see him in the U.S. Senate after Rick Scott retires from his position.
At just 44 years old, DeSantis is very young for the political world. Compared to the ages of Trump and Biden, who are both pushing 80 and DeSantis becomes a young, spry alternative to two of the oldest presidential candidates in the nation’s history.
DeSantis loses the GOP Primary to Trump, who loses the General Election
In a head-to-head poll in Iowa published last week, DeSantis leads Biden by seven points but trails Trump by 42 points (62 percent to 20 percent), with similar scenarios seen in other critical battlegrounds.
According to an American Greatness survey conducted on May 17 and 18, Trump holds a 21-point advantage over DeSantis in New Hampshire., while in South Carolina, DeSantis trails Trump by seventeen points.
With DeSanits’ recently-sagging poll numbers, a loss to Trump in the primary seems to ostensibly be the most likely outcome for DeSantis’ campaign. As with the other scenarios we’ve looked at, such a result could have immediate effects on the state of Florida politics.
More specifically, how will the MAGA voter bloc receive DeSantis? Is he the Trump protégé waiting in the wings, biding for his time to fully capture the base? Or will Trump humiliate him with repeated name-calling and ad hominem attacks? The difference between the two could mean life or death for DeSanits’ political future.
If the former scenario plays out, DeSantis can be considered dead on arrival in any national race, so long as Trump holds any political clout. For historical context, we can look back to Marco Rubio, who Trump dubbed “Little Marco,” a name that has stuck with him since. By the way, Rubio, who ran for President in 2016, emphatically stated that he wouldn’t run for president during this cycle if Trump did. I wonder why?
If DeSantis suffers a character-bashing loss, a world of opportunity opens up back home for those looking to succeed him in 2026. Political attacks may become more commonplace in the state House and Senate, with powerful lawmakers carrying more sway in their legislative priorities. In other words, DeSantis will be working for the politicians, rather than the politicians working for him.
However, if the latter scenario takes place and the MAGA base sees DeSantis as Trump’s next of kin, it could serve to embolden him in the culture war front, digging deeper into his vows to “defeat leftism” and fight back against the “woke mob,” which presents a scenario that sees…
DeSantis loses the GOP Primary to Trump, who wins and becomes POTUS
Of all the presented scenarios, Trump defeating DeSantis and Biden could have the largest impact on state politics. The once-allies-turned-rivals may be lobbing potshots at each other right now, but there was once a time the two operated lock-in-key with each other, working in tandem through the pandemic and offering public support for their respective priorities. One can harken back to a 2018 DeSantis political ad that featured a “build the wall” proclamation.
We can make the argument that DeSantis wouldn’t have been able to win the 2018 Florida Gubernatorial Primary over Adam Putnam without Trump’s endorsement, which propelled him from underdog to favorite, ultimately defeating Democrat Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial election to become Florida’s governor.
In pointing that out, it exemplifies the relationship Trump and DeSantis once held, and would likely rekindle should the primary fight not prove to be too bloody. In this case, DeSantis would assume the role of spiritual successor to Trump, slowly but surely winning over his base and lining up his ducks in a row for a future, likely successful, presidential campaign.
In this scenario, there even stands a chance that DeSantis doesn’t return to Florida, mirroring a move Biden made when he appointed former election rival Pete Buttigieg as his Secretary of Transportation. Whether or not DeSantis would accept an administration role is yet to be seen, but could emerge as a possibility.
If he does return to Florida, operating on the assumption his campaign’s closure was amicable and supportive of a Trump victory over Biden, expect more of the same from DeSantis, with legislative pushes to enact open carry laws, stricter immigration regulations, and further crackdowns on diversity, equity, and inclusion measures in an attempt to establish himself as Trump 2.0.