Four (or two) more years? What a DeSantis second term could look like

Assuming a future presidential run, the popular governor will have to balance the urge to pivot right with staying in the good graces of moderate voters. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at a campaign stop on the Keep Florida Free Tour at the Horsepower Ranch in Geneva on Aug. 24, 2022.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters at a campaign stop on the Keep Florida Free Tour at the Horsepower Ranch in Geneva on Aug. 24, 2022. Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Ron DeSantis hasn’t won reelection yet, but he heads into November with favorable odds to beat Democratic Party nominee and former Congressman Charlie Crist. Florida’s governor is working with an unprecedented campaign warchest of about $128 million in his campaign and political committee accounts, positive poll numbers and a hyper-energized Republican base ready to keep him in Tallahassee for another four years. Or possibly just two, should DeSantis topple Donald Trump as the GOP’s leading presidential contender and then win the White House in 2024. 

With that in mind, how DeSantis governs the Sunshine State during a second term will likely depend on how he positions himself as a national candidate, liberals, conservatives and scholars tell City & State Florida. His opponents see DeSantis marching further to the right and predict he will keep pushing policies and legislation that they say disenfranchises minorities, discriminates against members of the LGBTQ community and erodes women's rights, while ignoring larger concerns that affect all Floridians, such as housing affordability. 

The governor’s supporters counter that he will continue turning Florida into a conservative beacon of freedom for the rest of the country, a place where public education, health care and discourse are protected from a progressive ideology that includes teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to younger public school students – now banned under state law – and providing medical treatment, including surgeries, to transgender children and teens.   

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, says DeSantis is fixated on usurping Trump as the Republican Party’s top dog, so he will keep raising his profile with the conservative base beyond Florida. “To do that, you have to be just as bombastic and extreme as Trump,” she says. “He will feel he has more freedom to take away our freedoms. These are the risks if we don’t win.” 

A second DeSantis term, Eskamani adds, likely will involve more tightening of election laws and the governor has promised next legislative session he will push for a “constitutional carry” measure, loosely defined as the open or concealed carry of a firearm without a state permit. In April, DeSantis was asked about constitutional carry and promised to “get it done”: “I can tell you that before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on that bill.”

DeSantis will push for a full abortion ban too, Eskamani predicts. “He is continuously avoiding the topic,” she says. “It is clear his goal is to mimic Texas and other conservative states that have passed abortion laws that are more extreme than what we already have.” 

Andrew Shirvell, founder and executive director of Florida Voice For The Unborn, has said he’s hopeful DeSantis will “consider a complete statutory ban on all abortions in Florida.” Abortion rights advocates have relied on the state constitution’s privacy provision to argue the procedure must remain available. Shirvell counters that DeSantis and lawmakers “cannot continue to be held hostage by what our state courts may or may not do.” 

The Florida Supreme Court, “like the U.S. Supreme Court, has moved in a much more conservative direction recently and is likely to eventually correct its misinterpretation of the Florida constitution so that Florida can thoroughly prohibit abortion,” he said in a statement. 

A second term means DeSantis will feel emboldened to enact policies and push the Republican led-legislature to pass more legislation like the recent measure ridding schools of textbooks that he believes teach critical race theory, according to Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida. “We hope people understand how , much more damage DeSantis can do in a second term,” Smith adds.  

Yet those in Florida’s conservative movement see a governor who will continue battling against “wokeism” and leftist policies that infringe on individual rights. Tiffany Justice, a former Indian River County school Board member who co-founded Moms For Liberty, says she expects DeSantis will further expand on the Parental Rights in Education law passed earlier this year, derided by its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. “I know there are (draft) bills being kicked around that are about limiting the government’s role in how we act and behave in our lives,” Justice says. “I imagine you will see more legislation that solidifies the role of parents as the chief decision maker in all aspects of a child’s life.” 

That includes education and medical care, Justice says. During a second term, DeSantis will also continue getting involved in local races – such as his endorsement of school board candidates in the Aug. 22 primary – to further spread the conservative ideology that has won over her and other moms across the state and the country, she says. “Ron DeSantis is a staunch defender of parental rights. We are thrilled to have him by our side.” 

Darryl Paulson, a University of South Florida St. Petersburg professor emeritus of government, warns that DeSantis has to tread carefully during his second term if he expects to have a real shot at winning the presidency in 2024. Too hard a turn to the right or engaging in petty insults like Trump will turn off moderate Republicans, moderate Democrats and independents in crucial swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Paulson said. Now a no-party voter, Paulson was a lifelong Republican who left the party when Trump won the 2016 nomination though he still considers himself conservative. 

While he expects DeSantis will continue enacting policies and pushing for laws that serve as red meat for Republican voters, the governor is astute enough to know that he also has to show some ability to be a centrist on some issues, Paulson says. “His fire will not be put out, but it will be toned down. What many people like about DeSantis is that he calls them as he sees them. He went after sacred cows and he’s been just as likely to turn down Republican initiatives as he would Democratic initiatives.”

During a second term, DeSantis likely will advocate for policies that keep Florida’s economy on a positive track so he can contrast it with President Joe Biden’s perceived inability to stop the country from diving into a recession amid record inflation, Paulson says. “DeSantis can certainly say that Florida voters are confident in the job he’s done on that front. If (he) is as smart as his supporters claim, he will realize that he has to change some of his political behavior heading into a second term.” 

Francisco Alvarado is a Miami-based freelance journalist. 

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