WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent two planeloads of migrants to the posh vacation island of Martha’s Vineyard this week, to protest the Biden administration’s immigration policies.
It’s the latest provocation by DeSantis, a Republican who is seeking re-election as governor in November and is considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate.
DeSantis, 44, was elected Florida’s governor in 2018 after President Donald Trump endorsed the then-congressman over a more established Republican candidate. His national profile grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he resisted mask and vaccine mandates and argued for the opening of schools.
He has governed Florida with a brash and heavy hand, blasting critics, pushing his priorities through the legislature and punishing his enemies. He recently removed from office an elected Democratic prosecutor in Tampa for what DeSantis called an unwillingness to enforce abortion restrictions.
DeSantis has taken an aggressive approach to illegal immigration despite the fact that Florida does not share a border with another country. He sued Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration over its immigration policies and sought to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” – places that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities – from being established in the state.
“People are wondering, ‘Why are you doing this?,’” DeSantis said earlier this year. “People will say, ‘Let Texas or Arizona worry about that.’ Let me tell you, people trying to come in illegally are trying to get to Florida.”
DeSantis has been the party’s leading figure in fighting “culture wars,” particularly with regard to education. He championed the “Don’t Say Gay” law that prohibits Florida teachers from discussing sexual orientation with young students, sparking a clash with Disney, a large employer in the state.
He has backed restrictions on what teachers can teach about U.S. history and race relations, arguing that public schools “indoctrinate” students with liberal values. He also has seized control of the state Board of Education and supported conservative school board candidates in local races.
As his prominence within the Republican Party has risen, so has talk about DeSantis running for president in 2024. The biggest obstacle in his path is Trump himself, who is expected to seek another term in office.
DeSantis has been cagey about whether he would challenge Trump, who is still the most popular figure in the party. Meantime, DeSantis has proved to be a prolific fundraiser, having raised $172 million for his re-election campaign from sources inside and outside of Florida – on pace to set the record for fundraising in a gubernatorial race.
He has continued to build national recognition, taking time away from the state to stump for other Republican candidates ahead of November’s midterm elections.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)