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Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor since 2019, is fast-becoming a name in international politics, and for good reason: he may very well be the next president of the US. In fact, the Harvard-educated attorney and former military officer is being billed as ‘DeFuture’ by Rupert Murdoch’s media empire (and a vast array of other commentators and Republicans too).

Theirs is the belief that DeSantis is the only person who can, as things stand, beat Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign to become the Grand Old Party’s presidential nominee. The ‘Trump, but with the IQ of Ronald Reagan’, as DeSantis is frequently described, has what it takes, they believe. While no showman and TV personality, not by a long stretch, DeSantis is an Ivy-league graduate with what is said to be a photographic memory and razor sharp attention to detail. But the differences between Trump and his successor as the darling of the right-wing media goes beyond that.

Trump comes from economic privilege, business entertainment and the high church of scandal. DeSantis is an adorned military veteran with a blue-collar background and what seems to be a happy (first) marriage. Yet they share the “same enemies”, as described by the Financial Times: amoral tech oligarchs, Big Pharma, ESG-endorsing finance, the corporate media and liberal-elite universities.

In these key areas, a DeSantis presidency would indeed act as a more intelligent, less dramatic version of Trump’s. More boring but arguably more effective – a terrifying prospect for Democrats and the anti-MAGA world. However, DeSantis would differ from Trump in two important ways: his Christianity is not just for show but his foreign policy will often be just that.

DeSantis: Trump but not Trump

Much has been made of the ideological similarities between Trump and DeSantis, which is why Investment Monitor sat down with someone who cites their differences. 

Steven Blitz, chief US economist at macroeconomic forecasting consultancy TS Lombard, describes DeSantis as, in many respects, “very unlike Trump”. 

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“Trump was much about tariffs and restricting trade to protect the American industry,” he says. “Desantis is far more focused on the traditional low-tax, small-regulation type of government that defines Florida. He might talk about tariffs in China and ‘China killing us’ because he has to, but you see his priorities in how he runs his state: little to low tax, few social services, low regulations and big benefits to firms that open or relocate to Florida, but without bending over backwards for globalisation.” 

The Floridan will not be the bomb-dropper that Trump was in terms of foreign policy, but he will, by default, maintain the US’s position on China, as solidified by Joe Biden and initiated by Trump. At this point, it is cross-party cannon.

“DeSantis, like any incoming president in 2024, will know that restricting immigration is not going to get us back to the glory days of globalisation for the US,” says Blitz. “His focus will be on how to get American economic policy to favour domestic over global production in key industries.”

Out of reflex, DeSantis has to root against the green agenda, rhetorically, lest he sound Democrat and gain the ire of the GOP’s anti-ESG movement. “But it will be difficult for him to turn down opportunities for high-quality green jobs in the US, like with Ford’s recent facility to produce their electric truck domestically, in partnership with a South Korean company,” says Blitz.

DeSantis knows how to attract corporate investors, but thanks to Florida’s economic heft, he is also unflinching in his ability to curtail companies, as shown by his showdown with Disney, the cruise liner industry and the pharmaceutical sector (while still bringing in corporate campaign contributions). DeSantis has proved that fighting woke capitalism is not necessarily a vote (or financial) killer but often a lucrative way to tap the culture wars. However, due in large part to his faith, DeSantis is even more committed and dogged in his anti-abortion, anti-vaccination and anti-all-things-woke stance than the likes of Trump.

To achieve these ends, DeSantis is not afraid to use government powers. He has systematically investigated Big Pharma’s “wrongdoings” in overselling the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. His successful efforts to take Florida out of lockdown shocked the mainstream medical establishment, which said he was causing thousands of excess Covid deaths. Meanwhile, DeSantis banned schools from imposing mask or vaccine rules, and gave parents the right to take schools to court for breaking Florida’s “don’t say gay” law (which bars teachers from mentioning sexual orientation with children aged nine or below). 

But is DeSantis a real contender?

Presidential campaigns are littered with shooting stars. Can anyone forget the huge hopes that were pinned to Michael Bloomberg’s inning? While initially popular in his own city and state, Bloomberg went on to flop on the national scene. 

“It is of course impossible to know if DeSantis has what it takes,” says Blitz. “Yes, he is arguably the frontrunner right now for the Republicans, but we don’t yet know how well the DeSantis brand will play across the whole country. Meanwhile, Trump is a known quantity.

“The Democrat candidate will also determine his fate. If DeSantis goes up against a doddering and old Biden, he will probably win.”

If we are to trust polls, than we are to be confused at this stage. The Morning Consult says that Trump has a wide lead. Others, like a December survey from YouGov/the Economist, show DeSantis far ahead, despite the fact that he has not yet officially launched a campaign (he is expected to do so at any moment).

The data does show, however, that Trump would beat other Republican runners unless they coalesce behind one ‘not-Trump’ alternative such as DeSantis. Splitting his Republican opposition, therefore, will be key for Trump.

Should DeSantis unite enough of the Republican Party around him, and then go on to beat the Democrats, then one thing is for sure: he will not be a revolutionary – but he will not be a peacemaker either, domestically, especially. The culture war will likely grow even more toxic while foreign policy may grow, tonally, more isolationist. In terms of the economy, get ready for the Florida-isation of the US.