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Analysis: Ron DeSantis' delicate 2024 dance with Donald Trump

“Me signing this bill says: Florida, your vote counts, your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency and this is a great place for democracy,” DeSantis said in a signing ceremony that was broadcast live on “Fox & Friends.” (Yes, that really happened.)
Among other things, the bill made it more difficult to vote by mail, allowed more partisan observation of the vote-counting process and limited the number of ballot dropboxes in the state.
That was, apparently, not enough. Because DeSantis this week has said he wants to go further — cracking down on so-called “ballot harvesting” and pushing election officials to purge their voter rolls more often. “We’re going to do another package of election integrity reforms that is going to make Florida way No. 1 by a long shot anywhere in the country,” DeSantis promised.

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What, you ask, prompted this second bite at the apple?
Presidential politics, mostly.
See, DeSantis, despite pushing through the election bill earlier this year, has recently come under pressure from Trumpists within the GOP to call for an audit of the 2020 presidential election in the state.
“If Florida governor Ron DeSantis does not order an audit of the 2020 election to expose the fact that there are over 1 million phantom voters on the Florida voter rolls in the Sunshine state I may be forced to seek the Libertarian party nomination for governor Florida in 2022 #ByeRon,” wrote Roger Stone, a one-time adviser to the former President, on a social media site called Gab this week.
Stone’s ridiculous claim — and even more ridiculous threat about running for governor in 2022 — comes less than a month after state Rep. Anthony Sabatini signaled his intent to file a bill for the next legislative session that would “appoint an independent third party to conduct a forensic audit of the general election that took place on November 3, 2020.”
It’s unclear what Stone and Sabatini are talking about. Donald Trump beat Joe Biden by more than 370,000 votes in Florida in 2020. As DeSantis’ office has noted, there was both a pre- and post-election audit. They found no significant irregularity in the vote.
If you think it’s a coincidence that DeSantis announced his intent to push for even more voting strictures on the same week that pressure began to build on him — from the likes of Stone — for a recounting of the 2020 election, well, then, welcome to how politics works. DeSantis doesn’t want to audit the vote (again) but he also knows that his political future depends entirely on staying in the good graces of Trump and those who support the former president.
And so, he throws them a bone on so-called “election security” even while not giving them everything they want.
(It’s this same motivation, by the way, that lead to DeSantis’ announcement Thursday that Florida would sue the federal government over the planned vaccine mandate for companies with more than 100 employees. “I just think people are so sick of constantly being bossed around, restricted, mandated, all these different things,” said DeSantis. “We have had enough of it and we want people to be able to make their own decisions.”)
Stone, never one to leave anything to subtext, was blunt about DeSantis in an interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel this week. “I would also like the governor to declare his support for a 2024 presidential bid by President Trump which he has not done,” Stone said via text message. “I cannot speculate as to why the governor has not urged the former president to run but I feel strongly that President Trump would be the strongest candidate.”
The reason, of course, is because DeSantis wants to run for president himself in 2024. And, if early straw polls and general buzz is to be believed, the Florida governor is, without question, the strongest candidate for Republicans not named “Donald Trump.”
The delicate line he must walk to keep that hope alive is to pay enough deference to Trump to keep the former president from attacking while avoiding total capitulation when it comes to 2024 — as the likes of Nikki Haley and Tim Scott have done.
Trump himself seems to be aware of what DeSantis is doing. Asked last month about the possibility of facing DeSantis in 2024, Trump was hugely dismissive.
“If I faced him, I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else,” Trump told Yahoo Finance. “I think most people would drop out, I think he would drop out.”
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