DeSantis enters US presidential race with second largest war chest
GOP's 'backup option' if Trump cannot run due to legal woes
Published: May 25, 2023 09:09 PM
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Photo: VCG

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Photo: VCG

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced he will run for US president on Wednesday local time. Chinese experts said the Republican politician has similarly hostile and extreme views toward China as Donald Trump, but likely serves as a "backup option" for the GOP if Trump cannot run for election next year due to his legal woes.

After technical glitches delayed the start by 25 minutes, DeSantis on Wednesday local time announced on Twitter that he is entering the Republican presidential primary, setting up a clash with the current GOP frontrunner Trump, CNN reported.

"I am running for president of the US to lead our great American comeback," he said during an event with Twitter owner Elon Musk and tech investor David Sacks. "But we know our country's going in the wrong direction. We see it with our own eyes. And we feel it in our bones."

With those remarks, DeSantis, who won reelection as governor in resounding fashion last fall, opened a new chapter in the campaign to take on US President Joe Biden in 2024. DeSantis steps into the Republican primary later than other contenders, but begins his bid with more campaign cash and support in the polls than anyone except for Trump, CNN reported.

Diao Daming, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday that Trump's popularity increased greatly after a civil trial verdict said he was "liable for sexual abuse" earlier this month, and the gap between him and DeSantis is more than 20 percent, so at this moment DeSantis can hardly be seen as someone who could possibly challenge Trump. 

According to latest polls on who's ahead in the Republican race published by Five Thirty Eight, a US website that focuses on opinion poll analysis, on Wednesday, Trump is on 54.3 percent, cementing his position as frontrunner, while DeSantis is in second place with only 20.6 percent. Former vice president Mike Pence was in third with 5.3 percent and Nikki Haley, former US ambassador to the UN during Trump's term, trailed in fourth with 4.2 percent. 

The verdict from a federal jury earlier found that Trump sexually abused former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll in a Manhattan luxury department store nearly 30 years ago in the spring of 1996, making him the first US president deemed liable for sexual assault, US media reported. Carroll was awarded about $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Many Trump supporters see this case as proof that Democrats and pro-establishment elites have launched a "witch-hunt" against Trump to end his chances of running in 2024, as Trump's legal troubles have made more people, especially conservatives and those who dislike the Biden administration, choose to stand even more closely with him, said experts. 

Diao said it's too early to predict the impact of DeSantis' candidacy on the Republican primaries or the presidential election, as in the coming months, if DeSantis can effectively get more support and reduce the gap to below 10 percent, then he will be a serious challenger.

Lü Xiang, an expert on US studies and a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also believes the Republicans are using DeSantis as a "spare wheel" or "backup option" if Trump gets into major legal trouble next year before the election, as DeSantis is the Republicans' best alternative to Trump. 

According to New York Times, Trump's trial has been scheduled for March 25, 2024, the judge presiding over his Manhattan criminal case said at a hearing on Tuesday. 

Lü said that as the trial will take place just ahead of the election, if Trump receives a prison sentence, then he will not be able to run, leaving DeSantis as the replacement for Republicans.

Just like most other US conservative politicians, DeSantis holds a hostile view against China. On May 8, DeSantis signed legislation that would ban the use of TikTok and other Chinese apps on school and government servers and limit land purchases by citizens from China, media reported.

The three China-related bills that DeSantis signed, passed with bipartisan support by the Republican-controlled legislature, also include one that prohibits universities in the southeastern coastal state from accepting any funds from China.

Once the US enters the election period, politicians like DeSantis, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, will all try to adopt a hawkish stance against China and even compete with each other over who is more hawkish, and it's hard to imagine how bad China-US relations will be at that time, as bilateral ties currently have already become extremely intense, said experts.

Lü said the Biden administration is seeking engagement and communication with China at this time, as Washington also sees the danger of losing control over China-US relations and Biden might also need China to help the US out of its messy economic situation, "But Biden only gets a short window from now to August, and once the US enters the election period, it will be much more difficult to fix or manage China-US ties."