- Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Even before Election Day 2020, the name Ron DeSantis was being murmured by top Republicans as the go-to guy for 2024.

Since then, the Florida governor has calculated every move with one eye on the White House. But has he already gone too far with his rightward swoop to win the general election?

Make no mistake, Mr. DeSantis was already hard right. But in the last few weeks, Mr. DeSantis has made wearing drag in public illegal, signed a bill allowing juries to recommend the death penalty in capital cases on an 8-4 vote, and banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The six-week ban will take effect if the state’s current 15-week ban is upheld in a legal challenge that is currently under review by the state Supreme Court.

The ban drew an immediate rebuke from the White House.

“This ban would prevent four million Florida women of reproductive age from accessing abortion care after six weeks — before many women even know they’re pregnant,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement issued after Thursday’s vote in the Florida Legislature.

“This ban would also impact the nearly 15 million women of reproductive age who live in abortion-banning states throughout the South, many of whom have previously relied on travel to Florida as an option to access care,” President Biden’s spokesman said.

The ban has reportedly prompted at least one big-money donor to hold back support for Mr. DeSantis — and, in a highly unusual twist, talk openly about it. Billionaire Republican donor Thomas Peterffy said he and a “bunch” of his friends have paused their support for the governor following his signing of the Heartbeat Protection Act.

The Hungarian-born businessman told the Financial Times that he is “reluctant” to commit to Mr. DeSantis, saying that he believes the governor has lost “some momentum,” Mediaite reported.

“I am more reluctant to back him. We are waiting to see who among the primary candidates is most likely to be able to win the general [election], and then put all of our firepower behind them,” Mr. Petterfy told the British newspaper. “Because of his stance on abortion and book banning  … myself, and a bunch of friends, are holding our powder dry.”

Of course, that’s only one person. But New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman wrote on Twitter that “a major donor finally goes on record with what has been a whisper: donors are getting worried.” Maybe there are more, but Ms. Haberman didn’t name anyone else.

As for Mr. DeSantis — who has not yet declared his run for the Republican nomination in 2024 — he doesn’t seem to have been slowed down. On Saturday, he sold out a Republican dinner in New Hampshire and hauled in more than $250,000 — breaking the record for the state party’s largest fundraiser.

Mr. DeSantis also isn’t backing away from contentious battles. The governor on Monday moved to void a stunt by Disney that effectively stripped the governor’s newly installed oversight board of authority.

“What they tried to do is an embarrassment,” a senior DeSantis administration source told the New York Post. “The narrative the left is spinning is that Gov. DeSantis was outmaneuvered. But this is far from over, and he’s going to have the last laugh.”

And that’s the thing: Mr. DeSantis is seldom outmaneuvered by the left. He always seems one step ahead. In the wake of the Bud Light scandal — just a few days after it broke — Mr. DeSantis released a spoof Bud Light ad targeting the “real men of women’s sports” in the wake of transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney’s partnership with the beer company.

Of course, there are more than 560 days until Election Day 2024. And Mr. DeSantis is clearly gunning for the base with his recent politics. He’s targeting former President Donald Trump’s base, and they’re well right of center.

But the base doesn’t win elections. Sure, it wins nominations, but not general elections — just as that Hungarian billionaire knows. The question remains as to whether Mr. DeSantis will be able to tack back toward the middle to have a shot to win in November 2024.

At this point, he’d have a pretty long way to tack.

• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at josephcurl@gmail.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.

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