Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a press conference in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Monday, April 17, 2023. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came to Washington this week to try to woo lawmakers ahead of his likely White House run, only a dozen reportedly showed up.That was no surprise to one of the Florida governor’s former House colleagues.Former Michigan Rep. Dave Trott reached out to Politico, without prompting, to describe exactly what DeSantis was like in person.“I sat right next to DeSantis for two years on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and he never said a single word to me,” Trott emailed. “I was new to Congress, and he didn’t introduce himself or even say hello.”
Trott was even blunter in a phone call with the publication.“If you’re going to go into politics, kind of a fundamental skill that you should have is likability. I don’t think [he] has that,” Trott told Politico. “He never developed any relationships with other members that I know of. You’d never see him talking on the floor with other people or palling around. He’s just a very arrogant guy, very focused on Ron DeSantis.”“I think he’s an asshole,” he concluded. “I don’t think he cares about people.” Trott’s sentiment seems to be pretty widely shared among the Republican lawmakers who know DeSantis well—or at least, the ones he should have befriended along the way if he wanted to run for president.DeSantis has only three endorsements from sitting members of Congress so far. Hard-headed iconoclastic Reps. Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky have both backed him, and freshman Florida Rep. Laurel Lee, who DeSantis had previously appointed Florida’s secretary of state, endorsed him this week.Compare that to former President Donald Trump, who has already pulled in nearly 50 congressional endorsements. That includes seven Florida lawmakers, whose endorsements his team gleefully timed to announce during DeSantis’ “hey guys, remember me?” trip back to D.C., where he served three terms in Congress.
His stilted style and disinterest in talking to those who could help him is obvious at any public event. His awkward personality has been well-covered for months. The major GOP donors he’ll need to woo in order fill his campaign coffers have found it deeply off-putting. And while his landslide 2022 win and lengthy record of policy wins is powering his support with the GOP base nationally, the more voters see of him, the more they’ll see of his personality.Trump and his allies are already looking to paint DeSantis as a weird, arrogant geek. Trump’s allies’ first ad attacking DeSantis leads with the cringey report that he eats pudding cups with his fingers:
Being an asshole isn’t a fatal flaw in politics—if it were, we’d have a very different set of politicians in office on both sides of the aisle— and the recent history of the GOP shows that it can actually be an advantage to needle the people your base hates. DeSantis won the governorship in one of the nation’s largest states by winning a primary against a guy who was well-liked and had deep connections across the party. DeSantis has risen to fame on the GOP side much the same way Trump did: By showing he could piss off the left and own the libs more effectively than anyone else. He won the GOP primary in 2018 with a slew of Fox News appearances and an endorsement from Trump himself. He raised boatloads of money for his 2022 reelection without brown-nosing with megadonors.
His personality and disinterest in making friends hasn’t kept him from becoming the only guy to emerge who has any realistic chance of defeating Trump in the GOP primary.And it’s not like Trump is Mr. Rogers either—he won the GOP nomination in 2016 even though most of the party’s donors and lawmakers actively hated him, or perhaps because they did. They quickly fell in line.But as abusive as he can be to perceived enemies, Trump has used the carrot as much as the stick to get Republicans to fall in line. He constantly works the phones with lawmakers and regularly invites them to dinner at Mar-a-Lago. He’s actually put the effort into back-slapping and posing for thumbs-up pictures with anyone who’ll have him.If DeSantis is going to pull off a wild upset over Trump, he’ll need to make friends and allies throughout the GOP, winning over early-state kingmakers, major donors, and lawmakers who will go on TV to be surrogates for him even on bad days. He’ll need to make voters who haven’t ruled out Trump want to actually vote for him, too, which is harder if they think he’s a weird dude.It’s very early in the presidential race—DeSantis hasn’t even announced yet—and a lot can change. But first impressions tend to stick around, and DeSantis isn’t exactly overwhelming people with his charm.Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.