DeSantis saw Harvard and Yale degrees as 'scarlet letters' when running for office: book

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seen during a press conference to announce the award of $100 million for beach recovery following Hurricanes Ian and Nicole in Daytona Beach Shores in Florida.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seen during a press conference to announce the award of $100 million for beach recovery following Hurricanes Ian and Nicole in Daytona Beach Shores in Florida.Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • DeSantis worried when running for Congress that his Ivy league degrees would work against him.

  • He went to Yale and Harvard, but said he felt out of place.

  • DeSantis makes the comments in his new book, "The Courage to Be Free."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' father told The New Yorker last year that his son getting into Yale University for college was "still the thing I'm most proud of."

But DeSantis is far less fawning about his Ivy League education in his forthcoming book, "The Courage to Be Free: Florida's Blueprint for America's Revival," writing that he thought it might prevent him from getting elected to Congress in 2012. The teachings at Yale, he said, held "hostility to the Almighty and disparagement of America."

DeSantis was in his early 30s when he first ran for office. He had been in the Navy after attending Yale and then Harvard Law School, and was concerned voters would be suspicious of his "elite" educational background, he wrote.

"I viewed having earned degrees from Yale and Harvard Law School to be political scarlet letters as far as a GOP primary went," DeSantis wrote in the book. "The voters valued education and probably assumed that I was a smart guy, but those 'elite' universities had become so synonymous with leftist ideology and a ruling class mentality that most grassroots conservatives were understandably skeptical of those institutions."

In his book, DeSantis credits his extensive door knocking with wife Casey DeSantis for helping him win in a crowded primary. He does not mention that multiple top, well-known Republicans also endorsed him, as Insider previously reported.

He defended his educational background by arguing that if he was able to become more conservative while seeking higher ed degrees then he would also be able resist the pressures of Washington, DC, too.

"I am one of very few people who went through both Yale and Harvard Law School and came out more conservative than when I went in," DeSantis said. "If I could withstand seven years of indoctrination in the Ivy League, then I will be able to survive Washington, DC without going native."

The admission from DeSantis helps to shed light into how his background affected his policies. DeSantis has made a name for himself in part by going up against major educational institutions, including colleges, and dictating what they can and cannot teach on issues from race to gender. He's widely expected to mount a presidential run in 2024.

During an interview that aired Sunday with Fox News' Mark Levin, DeSantis admitted he felt like a "fish out of water" when he arrived at Yale. He shared that he arrived on campus wearing flip flops and jean shorts.

"I didn't even know colleges were liberal," DeSantis said, describing his first day on campus as a "major culture shock."

In his book he described being surrounded by students who attended prep schools and had rich parents. In contrast, DeSantis paid his own way through school including through working at an electric company, parking cars at events, recycling trash, moving furniture, and coaching baseball, he wrote.

Nevertheless, DeSantis would go on to attend another Ivy league to get his law degree. DeSantis provides few details of his time in law school in his book. While traversing Florida as governor, he often extols the virtues of going to a trade school.

DeSantis grew up in the small, gulf-side town of Dunedin, Florida, near Tampa. The town isn't particularly conservative, Insider reported, but DeSantis said his home life shaped his political ideology.

"My father's from western Pennsylvania, my mother's from Northeastern Ohio," he told Levin. "So that is like steel country. That is like blue collar salt of the earth and, as you know Mark, Florida's very eclectic. People kind of come from all over, we do have a culture and so I grew up in that culture, but really it was kind of those Rust Belt values that raised me."

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