10 things to know about Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, has officially announced his candidacy for the GOP’s 2023 presidential nomination. DeSantis joins a field currently dominated by Donald Trump, the GOP’s most popular candidate, and is widely expected to become his chief contender.

Here are 10 things to know about Ron DeSantis:

DeSantis is Italian-American and comes from ‘blue-collar roots’

DeSantis, 44, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, to an Italian-American family. Described as a “native Floridian with blue-collar roots”, DeSantis was raised in Dunedin, a city on Florida’s Gulf coast by his mother who worked as a nurse and his father who installed Nielsen TV ratings boxes.

DeSantis received an Ivy League education

DeSantis graduated from Yale in 2001 with a BA in history. During his time at Yale, DeSantis was captain of the varsity baseball team. After graduation, DeSantis briefly taught at Darlington school, a private boarding school in Rome, Georgia. In a New York Times story published last November, a former student at Darlington said that while teaching civil war history, DeSantis had tried to “play devil’s advocate that the South had good reason to fight that war, to kill other people, over owning people – Black people”. After Darlington, DeSantis went on to attend Harvard Law School and graduated in 2005 with cum laude honors.

DeSantis served in the navy and was deployed to Guantánamo Bay and Iraq

At Harvard, DeSantis earned a commission in the US navy as a judge advocate general’s corps (JAGs) officer. In 2006, DeSantis was stationed at the detention center in Guantánamo Bay. In an Al Jazeera op-ed published last month, former Guantánamo detainee Mansoor Adayfi claimed that DeSantis was present and was “smiling and laughing” while Adayfi was being force-fed by guards in an attempt to end his hunger strike. DeSantis contested Adayfi’s accusation, calling it “totally BS”. In 2007, DeSantis was deployed to Iraq and served as a legal adviser to Seal Team One. He was later awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Iraq Campaign Medal.

DeSantis was little known when he served in the US House of Representatives

In 2012, DeSantis ran for Congress and went on to serve three terms before retiring in 2018 to run for governor. In 2015, DeSantis helped form the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus with the aim of shifting Republican leadership and policies as far right as possible. As the representative of Florida’s sixth congressional district, DeSantis routinely supported budget cuts to social security and Medicare. In 2013, DeSantis voted on a failed budget resolution that proposed raising the social security retirement age to 70.

DeSantis became a national figure when he aggressively opposed Covid measures

Throughout the pandemic, DeSantis remained staunchly opposed to Covid-19 precautionary measures including lockdowns and mask mandates. He has also widely spread Covid-19 vaccine denialism. In 2021, as Florida experienced record-breaking surges in Covid-19 cases, DeSantis dismissed the spikes as “seasonal” and called the growing struggle faced by states’ hospitals “media hysteria”. Earlier this year, DeSantis announced a proposal to permanently ban Covid-19 mandates in the state. The governor’s aggressive stance has since earned him a variety of nicknames online including the “Pied Piper”, “Deathsantis” and “DeSatan”.

DeSantis is waging a war against ‘woke’ culture, attacking minority groups in his state

Since becoming governor, DeSantis has launched a war against “woke” culture in Florida and signed into law a slew of bills that civil rights organizations have widely condemned as violations of individual freedoms. In 2022, DeSantis approved the so-called “don’t say gay” ban which prohibits discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity at school across all grade levels. In January, DeSantis banned African American studies from the state’s high schools, saying that the course “lacks educational value”. He also signed a bill approving a six-week abortion ban in the state and has announced plans to block state colleges from having programs on diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory.

Following DeSantis’s fight against LGBTQ+ rights in Florida and pressure from its own employees, Disney – one of the state’s biggest employers – publicly opposed the so-called “don’t say gay” ban last year. DeSantis retaliated by seizing control of Disney’s self-governing special district near Orlando and assumed new powers which allow him to appoint members of the development board that supervises the theme park. DeSantis has proposed building low-income housing on land next to the theme parks and also touted building a state prison in the area.

DeSantis’s police program is luring officers with violent records

As an incentive to attract police officers from other states who are frustrated by Covid-19 vaccination requirements, DeSantis launched a new law enforcement relocation program on which he has spent $13.5m to date. The program offers a one-time $5,000 bonus for new recruits. However, a recent study of state documents found that among the nearly 600 officers who relocated to Florida, a “sizable number” have a slew of complaints against them or have since had criminal charges filed against them. Those charges include murder, as well as domestic battery and kidnapping.

DeSantis’s wife, Casey, has played an influential role in his campaign

A former television host and mother of three children, Casey DeSantis has been described as her husband’s “biggest asset”, from helping him contour his face to playing a high-profile role by her husband’s side during recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. In 2019, Casey DeSantis was reported to have helped push out staff members of Florida’s Republican party who were seen as more loyal to Donald Trump than to her husband. Not unfamiliar with the public eye, Casey is widely regarded as being responsible for reshaping her husband’s public persona, which has been described as “insular and standoffish”, to a “warmer” demeanor.

DeSantis will face off against former ally-turned-rival Donald Trump

With DeSantis officially in the presidential race, the governor is widely expected to become the chief challenger to Donald Trump, the GOP’s main contender and a former ally of his. Last year, Trump warned DeSantis not to run for president and threatened to reveal information about him should he run. Meanwhile, DeSantis, who has largely framed himself as “Maga without the mess”, has taken veiled jabs at Trump, who is embroiled in his own legal scandals. “We must reject the culture of losing that has impacted our party in recent years,” DeSantis said earlier this month.