Florida Gov. DeSantis begins second term with spotlight on presidential ambitions

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Tallahassee, Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis swore an oath to a second term in office on Tuesday, trumpeting the state under his watch as “a promised land of sanity,” and pledged to make Florida a beacon for freedom across the country.

“We are proud to be citizens of the great, free state of Florida,” DeSantis said at the conclusion of a 15-minute address that he delivered from the steps of the Historic Capitol in Tallahassee.

The speech was as much a sweeping national address as a blueprint for DeSantis’ plans in Florida. While the governor did not explicitly mention his wider ambitions, including a potential 2024 Republican presidential bid, his words carried clear themes of his political fight ahead.

“We reject this woke ideology. We seek normalcy, not philosophical lunacy,” DeSantis said. “We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where the woke goes to die.”

The strength of DeSantis’ reelection victory in November – the widest margin a Florida governor’s race has seen in four decades – has made him a guide for Republicans in a year filled with missed opportunities and disappointments. And at 44, he remains one of the party’s youngest prospective White House hopefuls, with his national ambitions on full display during two days of inauguration festivities in Tallahassee that are playing out under the slogan, “The Free State of Florida.”

Monday played host to a candlelight cocktail hour and dinner, while Tuesday will mark an inaugural ball, aides say, where donors who contribute between $50,000 and $1 million to the Republican Party of Florida will be given special access to the governor and VIP treatment. After the swearing-in, first lady Casey DeSantis is scheduled to lead “A Toast to One Million Mamas” to honor the women who worked and volunteered on the campaign.

While the inauguration is taking on greater significance than a typical second-term swearing-in ceremony, a senior aide to DeSantis told CNN that the governor he has made no firm decisions about his future and is in no rush to jump into a 2024 campaign.

“He is focused on his second term. In his eyes, there’s no rush,” the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations in DeSantis’ closely controlled orbit. Any potential announcements are not expected until after the Florida legislative session ends in May.

The cross-state rivalry with former President Donald Trump hangs over every move DeSantis makes. Their relationship traces back to the future governor’s 2018 primary campaign, when an endorsement from Trump helped the little-known lawmaker leapfrog early frontrunner Adam Putnam, then the state agricultural commissioner, to win the nomination. A viral ad featuring DeSantis and his family, including two young children, highlighted his allegiance to Trump.

But as talk of 2024 swirled in recent months, the pair grew increasingly at odds. Before and after the midterm election, Trump derided DeSantis as an “average governor” and mocked him with the would-be nickname, “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

For his part, DeSantis has sought to downplay Trump’s criticism, describing the comments as “just noise.”

There was no mention of Trump on Tuesday afternoon – though the former president was notable by his omission.

DeSantis, as he closed his remarks, cast his administration as inheritors of the legacy of famous Republican presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

“It’s the fire that burned at a cemetery in Gettysburg when the nation’s first Republican president pledged to this nation a new birth of freedom,” DeSantis said. “It’s the fire that led a resolute president to stand in Berlin and declare, tear down this wall. Staring down the communists and winning the Cold War.”