Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing the reestablishment of a civilian military force that reports to him rather than to President Joe Biden through the Pentagon, a move clearly aimed at burnishing his credentials and persona for a future presidential run.
In pitching the idea of a defense force separate from the national guard, which has its roots in World War II and many other states have, DeSantis said it would give him “the flexibility and the ability needed to respond to events in our state in the most effective way possible.”
Which, well, ok.
But what’s really going on here is about more than just DeSantis wanting to have people at his disposal if and when disaster strikes. He wants this for 2 major political reasons:
1) It’s a thumb in the eye of the federal government. Republican base voters hate the idea of all power emanating from Washington – especially when Democrats control all levers of power there. DeSantis acknowledged as much in proposing the idea, noting that it would allow the state to “not (be) encumbered by the federal government.” What better way to signal just how committed he is to the rights of individual states to govern themselves than to build a force in his home state that he controls?
2) It’s “presidential.” What better way to help people envision you as commander-in-chief than to, well, install yourself as commander-in-chief of your state? The main hurdle for candidates running for president is that voters struggle to envision them in the the top job, running the country and, yes, leading our military. DeSantis’ move would allow him to take on some of those responsibilities – albeit only on the state level – and, he and his advisers hope, make it that much easier for voters to imagine him in the big job.
Make no mistake: While DeSantis is up for a second term next November, the moves he has made this year are squarely aimed at running for president – and soon. (Democrats have quietly begun to admit they are not likely to beat DeSantis next year.)
DeSantis has used his perch as Florida’s chief executive to take on alleged wokeness in education and to raise questions about the necessity of mask-wearing to deal with Covid-19. He also was handed a gift from the mainstream media earlier this year when an attempted exposé by “60 Minutes” that suggested a link between a campaign donation and vaccine distribution in the state turned into an utter debacle for CBS.
This is all performative stuff for the Republican base. And they have loved every second of it.
At the Western Conservative Summit in Denver over the summer, DeSantis actually got the most votes (275) among attendees when it came to who they would approve of running for president in 2024. Former President Donald Trump came in second, with 265.
While straw polls are not scientific – and have to be taken with a major grain of salt – that result in Denver was far from a lone incident.
At CPAC this year two straw polls were conducted. The former President won the first straw poll. DeSantis won the second, Trump-less one. (DeSantis took 21% in the straw poll with Trump, the only candidate other than the former President to gain double-digit support.)
Trump has take notice – using several media appearances of late to brush DeSantis back.
“If I faced him, I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else,” Trump told Yahoo Finance of DeSantis in October. “I think most people would drop out, I think he would drop out.”
Maybe! But DeSantis’ moves this year – including his latest gambit on a civilian military force for Florida – suggest he is full speed ahead for president.