Ron DeSantis has now formally announced he is running for president — but the Florida governor has been preparing a campaign for months, rolling out his vision for America on a book tour and through legislative actions that detail his views on policies expected to define the upcoming race.
On some issues, that record puts DeSantis far to the right of any past Republican presidential nominee, including his chief rival, former President Donald Trump, who maintained relatively moderate positions on social issues throughout his first two campaigns.
Trump has already launched a third campaign for the GOP nomination, and polling suggests that DeSantis, 44, is his most formidable competitor.
Here’s a rundown of where the Florida governor stands on key issues.
(This article will be updated as DeSantis continues his presidential campaign.)
A relative novice on foreign policy, DeSantis has said he would attempt to project American strength abroad while also appealing to an increasingly isolationist wing of the Republican Party.
▪ Russia and Ukraine: The Florida governor has equivocated on his support for Ukraine. As a congressman, DeSantis repeatedly advocated for U.S. defense assistance to Kyiv, after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and fueled a separatist movement in the eastern Donbas. But over a year after Moscow’s full-scale invasion in 2022, he surprised his party by characterizing Russia’s illegal invasion and occupation of parts of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute” — a nationally unpopular position that has gained steam on the far right. DeSantis walked back his comments within a matter of days amid widespread Republican criticism. But then weeks later, he appeared to reverse course yet again, calling for a ceasefire that would have solidify Russia’s gains on the heels of an anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
▪ China and Taiwan: DeSantis has consistently said the People’s Republic of China is America’s chief geopolitical rival, characterizing Beijing as a stronger foe than the Soviet Union was at the height of the Cold War. Distinct from his remarks on Ukraine, DeSantis has referred to Taiwan as a “critical interest” of the United States — a position that has puzzled foreign policy experts who see Beijing learning lessons from the world’s response to Russia’s assault on Ukrainian sovereignty. On a recent visit to East Asia, DeSantis said he would formulate a strategy that would make the costs of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan too great for Beijing to incur, without offering details. He has not said whether he would defend Taiwan. He signed a bill into law targeting Chinese investments in real estate and academia across Florida that Chinese Americans criticized as discriminatory.
▪ Israel and Iran: DeSantis’ stance on Israel is consistent with his Republican colleagues. He doesn’t criticize the Israeli government publicly and has supported robust U.S. defense assistance to Israel, the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords. He opposes efforts to target Israel at the United Nations and the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction the Jewish state. DeSantis opposed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, but has not said what steps he would take to ensure Tehran does not acquire nuclear weapons, or how close the Iranians would be allowed to get under his leadership before he would take action to stop them. On a visit to Israel weeks before announcing his campaign, DeSantis declined to comment on the country’s brewing constitutional crisis over a proposed overhaul of the Supreme Court, promising not to “butt in” to domestic Israeli affairs.
▪ Cuba and Venezuela: DeSantis opposes sanctions relief on the Cuban government and says he would have put “additional pressure” on Havana in the wake of a surge in protests across the island nation in 2021. He opposes any foreign investment in the country, dismissing the notion that a private sector exists under the communist regime, and said he would support the provision of satellite internet for Cubans by American companies — a proposal researched and dismissed as unrealistic by the Biden administration. DeSantis has similarly criticized what he has characterized as Biden’s “attempts to legitimize the brutal Maduro regime in Venezuela,” after the White House first engaged with Caracas to secure the release of Americans wrongfully detained there in 2022. Some in the Venezuelan-American community have criticized DeSantis for flying dozens of Venezuelans seeking refuge in America from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
DEMOCRACY, RULE OF LAW, AND FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
The Florida governor has walked a fine line on matters of “election integrity,” stopping short of either criticizing or supporting former President Trump’s assault on democratic norms and the 2020 presidential election. But he has repeatedly elevated election deniers and attacked prosecutors throughout his governorship.
▪ The 2020 election and Jan. 6: DeSantis didn’t explicitly endorse Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen — but he also hasn’t challenged or condemned them. In the 2022 midterms, he supported and campaigned for election deniers, including Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania who attended the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. He rejected the characterization of Jan. 6 as an “insurrection.” DeSantis selected Cord Byrd to serve as Florida’s secretary of state, overseeing the state’s elections, after Byrd had spoken at an event promoting election denial and refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Biden’s victory. In 2022, DeSantis said that Florida ran “an efficient, transparent election that avoided the major problems we saw in other states,” without specifying what problems other states had. Yet, while seemingly courting Trump supporters who believe the lie that the 2020 race was rigged, he has still compared their records at the ballot box by noting that, unlike Trump, he was victorious in his reelection bid.
▪ Attacks on judges and prosecutors: During the coronavirus pandemic, the governor’s office attacked a Florida judge for ruling that DeSantis had overstepped his authority in trying to ban mandatory mask use in schools. In 2022, DeSantis took the extraordinary step of removing an elected prosecutor from office after a concerted campaign by the governor’s team to find justification for his firing. And after Trump was indicted by a Manhattan district attorney on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, DeSantis targeted the prosecutor as a tool of George Soros, a wealthy booster of progressive causes often used as a boogeyman of the far right.
▪ Voting rights and election security: In 2019, Desantis signed Florida up to a bipartisan system to weed out dead voters from the rolls and identify individuals who attempt to vote twice in a single election. He reversed course in 2023 and pulled Florida out of the program amid far right misinformation about the system, called ERIC. In 2022, DeSantis launched an “election crimes office” that arrested 20 felons in Florida who had voted despite their convictions — nearly all of whom were confused or misled on their voting rights, according to the Brennan Center. That year, he attempted to redraw the map of a Florida district that would have eliminated the only majority Black district in the state.
DeSantis’ political persona has heavily relied on a “culture warrior” reputation that has entailed using the powers of his office and an exhaustive willingness to dive into battles over cultural and social issues — many of which have come to define the modern Republican Party.
▪ Abortion: In 2022, DeSantis signed into law a 15-week ban that included no exceptions for rape and incest. This year, DeSantis signed a law that would ban most abortions after six weeks and include the exceptions for rape and incest. Polls show the six-week abortion ban is a challenging one for the governor among women, including Republican women. A coalition of advocacy groups has launched a petition drive to put an amendment on the 2024 Florida ballot that would protect the right of a woman to have an abortion up to the point where the fetus could survive outside the womb.
▪ Gun control: DeSantis signed into law this year a measure that repeals a requirement that people carry a permit and receive training before carrying a concealed weapon in a public place, but in the process faced criticism from gun-rights advocates for not going far enough. The governor said he supported a measure to allow Floridians to openly carry guns in public, but was forced to pull back in the face of law enforcement opposition. Gun advocates also attempted to persuade legislators to lower the age of purchasing a gun from 21 to 18, but the measure died and DeSantis did not take a position.
▪ Death penalty: In an effort to burnish his record on crime, DeSantis signed into law a measure that makes it easier for juries to sentence someone to death for capital murder and rape. A jury can now sentence a convicted murderer to death on an 8-4 vote, giving Florida the lowest death penalty threshold in the nation. DeSantis also signed into law a bill to allows the death penalty in child rape convictions, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that banned capital punishment in such cases.
▪ Instruction on race: DeSantis’ war on so-called “wokeness” has led to legislation that has restricted certain instruction on racial issues in K-12 schools and will soon prohibit Florida universities and colleges from using state funds on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. The state university system’s Board of Governors will be the enforcer of those new regulations to ensure public institutions do not teach that “theories based on systemic racism, oppression and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political and economic inequalities.”
▪ LGBTQ+ rights: DeSantis has pushed for restrictions in what Florida schools should teach about sexual orientation and gender identity. His administration has barred explicit instruction on those subjects from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. And DeSantis has signed into law new restrictions for schools on how they go about teaching about trangender issues. He has also backed legislation to restrict school staff from referring to students with pronouns that differ from those assigned to them at birth.
DeSantis likes to call Florida the “education state,” and in many ways, education is where his most high-profile fights have been fought. He led the largest expansion of school vouchers in state history and pushed far-reaching policies in K-12 and higher education that are likely to have long-lasting effects on what students learn, how teachers teach and who can have sway over school and university decisions.
▪ School vouchers: DeSantis has led the largest expansion of school vouchers in Florida’s history. He first came into office with the goal of creating the Florida Empowerment Scholarship program to increase eligibility for school vouchers by tens of thousands. Today about 1.3 million children receive their education from someplace other than their assigned public school, according to the governor. That includes private schools, home education and charter schools, as well as the largest segment — school district programs like magnet schools. Starting on July 1, eligibility will be expanded to every Florida school-aged student, regardless of income.
▪ Book selections: With the help of Republican state lawmakers, DeSantis has enacted rules and laws that have given community members more of a say on what books schools should and shouldn’t have in libraries, and what topics should be appropriate for children. Educators have been told to “err on the side of caution” when selecting books, which has resulted in more local book objections. The country’s largest publisher has sued the state to block challenge efforts to remove books from schools.
▪ Teacher pay: In 2019, DeSantis made it the state’s priority to invest in teacher pay. His goal was to raise the minimum teacher salary to at least $47,500 a year. Since then, the state has invested more than $3 billion into teacher salaries and bonuses. The state, however, continues to struggle with recruiting and retaining teaching in K-12 schools. As of August 2022, there were 6,006 advertised teacher vacancies tallied by the Florida Education Association — a count that has increased by the hundreds since DeSantis took office in January 2019.
SOCIAL SECURITY, MEDICARE AND CORPORATE AMERICA
DeSantis’ fiscal agenda has undergone at least a partial evolution since his days as a congressman, when he held many traditional GOP views about the economy, reining in government spending and limiting government’s influence on the private sector. The governor more recently has backed off changes to entitlement programs and shown an increased willingness to intervene with private businesses whose actions he disagrees with.
▪ Social Security and Medicare. As a congressman, DeSantis voted three times for a non-binding budget resolution that called for raising the Medicare and Social Security retirement age. It also called for shifting Medicare to a premium-support model, in which seniors would receive a monthly stipend to pick their own insurance, and reducing cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security. More recently, DeSantis has said Republicans will “not mess with Social Security” and dismissed criticisms that he wants to cut entitlement programs as unfair political attacks.
▪ Federal Reserve: DeSantis has singled out Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell for criticism, saying he helped fuel surging inflation by funneling too much money into the economy, failing to recognize rising costs soon enough, and then being forced to raise interest rates that crippled businesses. Powell has been a “total and complete disaster,” DeSantis has said. The governor has also backed legislation that would prohibit the Federal Reserve from pursuing a Central Bank Digital Currency.
▪ Corporate America: DeSantis has said he would fight “woke” policies no matter where he thinks they emerge, including in the corporate boardroom. In his book, he wrote that the libertarian instinct of many past Republican elected officials to stay out of the private sector is no longer sufficient to combat liberalism, saying that his aim was to use the power of the state to curb the left in all sectors of society.
The Republican governor has promoted a hardline stance on immigration over the years. He has implemented far-reaching policies that have tested how far the state is willing to act on immigration-related issues within and outside of the state’s boundaries.
▪ Migrant relocation program: At the request of DeSantis, Florida has a state-run program that allows his administration to relocate migrants anywhere in the country. To date, the state has flown 48 mostly Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Some of the migrants said they were tricked into taking charter flights with false promises of jobs and other aid, which led authorities in Texas to open a criminal investigation. Florida is expected to relaunch the migrant program in the near future with the help of three vendors.
▪ E-Verify: As a gubernatorial candidate in 2018, DeSantis vowed to mandate all Florida employers to use E-Verify, a federal electronic system, to check the immigration status of all new hires. His first attempt fell short, with the Legislature approving legislation that only made it a requirement for Florida public employers and their contractors. He tried again this year, and Republican state lawmakers delivered a mandate for all employers with at least 25 employees to use the system. Employers do not need to use E-Verify to check the immigration status of independent contractors under the law, which would be enforceable starting July 1, 2024.
▪ Unaccompanied minors: In the last two years, DeSantis has cracked down on Florida shelters that care for thousands of migrant children every year. Through his administration’s rule-making authority, the governor has directed state child care regulators to not renew the licenses of facilities that contract with the federal government to house migrant children and teenagers who are waiting to be reunited with families or vetted sponsors. Shelters have housed unaccompanied migrant children in Florida for years, one as far back as the early 1960s during Operation Pedro Pan, a massive exodus of unaccompanied Cuban children who were sent primarily to Miami out of fear by parents on the island that the communist Cuban government would forcibly indoctrinate children.