Jerry Kremer

Beware the lure of DeSantis


Former President Donald Trump has been hit with a barrage of bad news in the past few weeks. It’s also clear that his popularity is taking a hit due to the failure of his anointed candidates to win a number of contests around the country last month. With each passing day, more Republican voices are raising their fears of a potential wipeout in 2024, and are promoting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a possible presidential candidate. Having closely followed the actions of DeSantis, my advice to the party is to be careful what you wish for.
There is no question that DeSantis is a true conservative, and that he is outspoken on many issues. My friends who spend their winters in Florida rave about him. A number of them have chosen to become permanent residents, primarily to avoid New York state taxes. But I have yet to find one fan of DeSantis who can spell out specifically what they like about him. Some call him “tough” and others describe him as “forceful,” but none of his admirers are able to articulate what makes him so great.
There is no question that he comes off as a bold leader of his state. He embraces issues that he thinks will eventually make him popular beyond Florida, but he has been careful not to announce any presidential ambitions. If you take a close look at his record, you will find him to be anti-business, and reckless in his views on public education. One good example of his anti-business attitude is the way he has treated Florida’s two biggest money generators.
At the height of the Covid scare, DeSantis decided that it was good politics to be anti-mask and impose no government health restrictions. Florida residents liked the idea that there should be no mandates, but many tourist industry leaders felt differently. The heads of the three biggest cruise lines insisted that their passengers wear masks when they were in public areas of the ships. DeSantis made numerous threats over this issue, and cruise ship owners were forced to shut down for months.
The Walt Disney Company fiasco is another example of DeSantis’s poor judgment. Disney is the largest taxpaying business in the state, and its top attraction. The former Disney chief executive Bob Chapek criticized DeSantis for his position on gay education restrictions. DeSantis decided that Disney had no right to speak out and had the company’s special legislative status revoked. In the end, it isn’t Disney that will suffer as much as the communities that surround the park, which will be forced to pay for costly fire, police and health facilities in 2023.

DeSantis has decided that his administration must be the only voice on the education of Florida’s students. His education commissioner has recommended all types of restrictions that have frightened teachers around the state. Numerous teachers have left the Florida system for fear that they might be punished for teaching subjects that are not state-approved. Next year, Florida will have a shortage of thousands of teachers, and may be forced to hire people who are unlicensed and have no formal training.
And, of course, DeSantis was anxious to get in on the program of sending immigrants to liberal northern cities as a protest against the Biden administration. In September he approved a plan to fly 50 immigrants who were detained in Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. They were not on Florida soil, and DeSantis used unauthorized federal funds for the trip. Even Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called the stunt a “terrible idea.”
There are countless other DeSantis actions that merit some daylight, but it’s fair to say that most people outside Florida have no clue as to how reckless he is. You can bet that the national press corps will have a field day when he throws his hat into the ring of the presidential campaign sometime next year. For now, his is just a name being used by the “anyone but Trump” faction of the party, but if he’s the ultimate choice to run, the DeSantis story will not be a pretty one.

Jerry Kremer was an Assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s ways and means committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?