Who is Ron DeSantis? The Republican 2024 presidential candidate rivalling Trump

US Correspondent Dan Rivers reports on the man challenging Trump for the Republican nomination

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign.

The 44-year-old is an outspoken cultural conservative long seen as former president Donald Trump’s leading rival for the Republican nomination.

But many people in the US and beyond are only just getting to know DeSantis and what he stands for.

Some protesters have already made their opinions on the father-of-three and his politics known.

DeSantis' position on key faultline issues in American politics include his support for laws making it easier to own a gun, efforts to hinder abortion access in Florida, and his stance on 'Don't Say Gay' laws.

Once allies, DeSantis and Trump have quickly become rivals in the race to the White House. Credit: AP

Early life and career

Florida native DeSantis was a standout baseball player in his younger years.

He was the captain of Yale University’s team and after a short stint teaching high school, went on to Harvard Law School.

He soon became a Navy Judge Advocate General officer, a position that took him to Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

DeSantis ran for Congress in 2012, won his Orlando-area district and became a founding member of the far-right Freedom Caucus on Capitol Hill.

He pushed for changes to Medicare and Social Security, including one measure that would have raised the retirement age to 70.

He served in Congress for three terms before launching what was considered a long-shot bid for governor in 2018, and won that race by less than 1 percentage point before securing a dominant reelection in the autumn.

He married his wife, Casey DeSantis, a former journalist and television show host, in 2009 and the couple have three children.

The anti-'woke' warrior

DeSantis has backed policies that enflame the nation's cultural divisions, from gun control to LGBTQ+ rights - calling it his war on “woke.”

He signed and then expanded the Parental Rights in Education bill — known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans instruction or classroom discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in Florida public schools for all grades.

He also signed a law that bans state and federal funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programmes at state colleges and universities.

This spring, he signed a law banning abortions at six weeks, and single-handedly removed an elected prosecutor who pledged not to charge people under Florida’s new abortion restrictions or doctors who provide gender-affirming care.

DeSantis also enacted a law recently allowing Florida residents to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.

He pushed new measures that experts warn would weaken press freedoms and also took control of a liberal arts college that he believed was indoctrinating students with leftist ideology.

DeSantis has publicly taken on Disney. Credit: AP

A battle with Disney

Described as a fighter by press in the US, there may be no better example than DeSantis' feud with the entertainment giant Disney, one of his state's largest employers.

The fight began last year after Disney, beset by significant pressure both internally and externally, publicly opposed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

In retaliation, DeSantis took over Disney World’s self-governing district and appointed a new board of supervisors that would oversee municipal services for the sprawling theme parks and hotels.

He has even threatened to build a state prison near park property.

The dispute has drawn condemnation from business leaders and his Republican opponents.

Disney has filed a lawsuit against the DeSantis administration, a legal battle likely to follow DeSantis through the 2024 presidential contest.

Amid the fight, Disney announced last week that it was scrapping plans to build a new campus in central Florida that would have employed 2,000 people.

Protesters have already made their opinions on DeSantis and his politics known in the US. Credit: AP

From Trump ally to bitter rival

There may be bad blood between DeSantis and Trump now, but it wasn't always that way.

DeSantis has acknowledged that he likely would not have become the Florida governor without Trump’s endorsement in 2018.

DeSantis is also noted to have adopted Trump's fiery personality, populist policies and even some of his rhetoric and mannerisms.

But in recent months, Trump has has been almost singularly focused on undermining the Florida governor’s political appeal - perhaps because Trump and his team believe that DeSantis may be his only legitimate threat for the Republican nomination.

Trump has referred to DeSantis as "Ron DeSanctimonious” and “Meatball Ron,” among other derisive nicknames.

During his rallies, Trump questions DeSantis' loyalty.

In paid ads and social media posts, Trump has also taken aim at DeSantis' record on Social Security and Medicare.

He has even questioned DeSantis' sexuality while sharing social media posts suggesting that DeSantis behaved inappropriately with underage students when he briefly taught high school in his early 20s.

DeSantis was slow to defend Trump after he was indicted earlier by New York prosecutors earlier in the year.

More recently, he has gone after Trump's record on abortion.

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