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Gov. DeSantis is seen as an heir to Trumpism, strategist David Jolly says


Let's spend the next few minutes talking more about Governor Ron DeSantis. We are joined now by David Jolly. He is a former Republican congressman from the state of Florida, now a political strategist and analyst for NBC. Welcome to the program.

DAVID JOLLY: Hey. Great to be with you, Rachel. Thank you.

MARTIN: What is Ron DeSantis about? I mean, what does he care about besides getting reelected, which is the natural priority for incumbents, we should say?

JOLLY: Broadly speaking, Ron DeSantis has always occupied the most conservative wing of the Republican Party. I think he is somebody, though, that has transitioned himself, through the emergence of Trump, from a, you know, traditional, very hard-line conservative - a member of the Freedom Caucus when he was in the House of Representatives - to now, really, a Trump populist, a culture warrior - kind of the grievance populism that we're seeing in today's Republican Party. I often refer to Ron DeSantis a bit as a mirror of the party. If today's party was a traditional chamber of commerce Republican Party, that's probably what Ron DeSantis would campaign on. But he knows the heartbeat of the party has really gone down this road of culture war populism, so he's positioning himself as a leader of that movement.

MARTIN: I remember when he was running for governor in 2018, he ran these ads where he was teaching his toddler how to build a wall out of blocks. Let's listen to this.


CASEY DESANTIS: Ron loves playing with the kids.

RON DESANTIS: Build the wall.

C DESANTIS: He reads stories.

MARTIN: So this was clearly a reference to Trump's proposed border wall at the time. In practice, like, how closely has DeSantis' agenda reflected Trump's?

JOLLY: Yeah, that's a great question. And I will tell you, that ad, famously, in modern politics never actually aired. It was such a shocking ad to watch a candidate position his toddler children in a room building Donald Trump's wall that the news of the ad itself penetrated the political mind, if you will. But here's the interesting thing about Ron DeSantis and his rise. He probably used Donald Trump - and I mean that as a bit of a pejorative - more successfully than any Republican in the country. As Donald Trump emerged, Ron DeSantis was one of his greatest ambassadors. On Fox News, he was an evangelist. He was a defender. And Donald Trump repaid that. When Ron DeSantis was running for governor, he was behind. He was not the establishment pick, but Donald Trump anointed him - you're going to be the next Florida governor.

Importantly, when Ron DeSantis was elected, shocking conventional wisdom, he then stepped away from Donald Trump and he receded. And he was no longer Trump's defender on Fox News, no longer his evangelist. Ron DeSantis began to focus on Ron DeSantis and what would be his inevitable run for the White House that he's known for years he was going to pursue.

MARTIN: Donald Trump's now a full-time resident of the state of Florida, making him both DeSantis' kingmaker and constituent. What is the governor's personal relationship with him like?

JOLLY: You know, it has gotten a little icy. They are political competitors now - Donald Trump clearly considering a 2024 run, Ron DeSantis already having mapped his out. If he is successful in November, you will see a super PAC named Ready for Ron that will begin the recruiting process for Ron DeSantis to run for president. And maybe in the new year, DeSantis would indicate he's exploring it. Donald Trump knows that. And frankly - and by some estimations - Ron DeSantis has the hottest hand in Republican politics right now. In a primary without Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis is the clear favorite.

So for the last year, they have avoided each other. In fact, when Donald Trump had his very first rally in Florida after having left the presidency, Ron DeSantis refused to show up. He was not going to show up. Donald Trump wanted it to be a bit of a fealty test of Ron DeSantis' loyalty. But DeSantis was not going to be there. And then, tragically, the events of the Surfside Condominium occurred, and Ron DeSantis actually had a legitimate reason not to appear. But that relationship has never healed. They remain divided today.

MARTIN: Let me ask you, then, David, I mean - and this is the big question for DeSantis. He's clearly trying to distance himself from the former president. But as you said, Donald Trump himself anointed DeSantis as the next governor of Florida. So how does DeSantis, you know, differentiate himself in a potential presidential race while still wrapping himself in the MAGA flag?

JOLLY: Well, I think a lot of Republicans say, with Ron DeSantis, you get all of Trumpism without the baggage. But Ron DeSantis did something very importantly that no other leading Republican did, which is he's never crossed Donald Trump. He has hugged Donald Trump closely, his agenda closely. He just hasn't promoted Donald Trump the person. So Ron DeSantis is seen as the heir to Trumpism, and that essentially is how he's positioned himself so successfully as likely the next nominee for president from the Republican Party.

MARTIN: Republican strategist, former Florida Congressman David Jolly, thank you.

JOLLY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.