“He wasn’t a friendly guy. He was a personal-agenda-driven guy,” the lawmaker said. “I was with him in the gym every morning and could hardly get him to say hello. He didn’t seem like he liked being here.”
Another GOP lawmaker was even more critical: “Who’s somebody you’d want to have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or a beer? His wife. Never Ron. He is not very collegial. Let me just say he is in the right branch of government, which is the executive.”
A DeSantis campaign spokesperson had no comment for this article.
‘His time is now’
Still, nearly all of the House Republicans interviewed for this article praised DeSantis for how he has led Florida, from quickly reopening the state after Covid restrictions to fighting the liberal “woke” agenda in schools and businesses and highlighting border security issues by flying migrants to liberal Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Many are encouraging him to run for president in 2024.
“I think he’s done a hell of a job as governor of Florida,” said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who was the House GOP campaign chief when DeSantis first won election to Congress in 2012.
“I think that his ability to express himself in a national dialogue has been exceptional,” Sessions said, adding that many Republicans in Texas would support him.
While Sessions hasn’t endorsed anyone for president yet, other House Republicans are openly urging DeSantis — who made his first visit to Iowa over the weekend — to jump into the race against former President Donald Trump. The lawmaker who recently spent time with DeSantis said it’s a foregone conclusion that he’s running in 2024.
“Hell yeah, he’s running,” the lawmaker said.
Moderate Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., a retired Air Force veteran, called DeSantis — a former Navy judge advocate general who was a legal adviser to a SEAL team in the Iraq war — a “good listener,” adding that many of his best bosses in the military were “introverts” like DeSantis.
“I haven’t endorsed anybody, but I would like him to run. I think he should. He’s done a great job down in Florida,” Bacon said, noting that DeSantis won re-election last fall by nearly 20 percentage points in once-purple Florida.
“So he’s winning swing voters, Democrat voters. That’s what we need at the top, because that’s what it takes to win the presidency,” he continued. “And we’ve got to have someone who can win suburbs and vie for the middle.”
A CNN poll out Tuesday showed DeSantis surging in popularity among likely Republican voters and Republican-leaning independents; 36% said they backed DeSantis, while 40% supported Trump.
“I can’t see him waiting for four years any more than a junior Heisman winner playing more college football before entering the NFL draft,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who served with DeSantis in the House, said in an interview. “He continues to impress as governor, but we all know how quickly that can change due to circumstances within and beyond his control.
“His time is now for sure, later maybe.”
Chain of events
DeSantis’ path to the Governor’s Mansion wasn’t a straight line. Along with Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan and Mick Mulvaney, he was one of the nine founding members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, which pushed Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, into early retirement in 2015 and then blocked Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., from succeeding him as speaker.
DeSantis launched a bid for the Senate the same year after Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., jumped into the presidential race. But when Rubio lost his home state to Trump and sought re-election instead, DeSantis decided he would stay put in the House.
The chain of events was fortuitous, setting DeSantis on a course two years later toward the governor’s office, an executive seat that former colleagues say suits him much better. DeSantis had been trailing the GOP establishment candidate, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, for much of the 2018 race, but he surged in the polls after Trump gave his full-throated endorsement. DeSantis squeaked by Democrat Andrew Gillum by 0.4 percentage points in the general election.
With DeSantis now threatening to challenge Trump for the party nomination, Trump is painting him as disloyal and says he “might” regret his past endorsement. “He was dead as a dog. He was a dead politician,” Trump told reporters on a flight to Iowa this week.