Giorgio Viera/ AFP via Getty Images
- Florida lawmakers sent DeSantis a bill that would let him stay governor while running for president.
- Some ex-governors say that’s a bad plan because Florida needs a full-time leader.
- Others said it was up to voters to decide.
As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears likely to mount a presidential campaign, he’s contending with a reality that most other Republicans in the contest don’t have to worry about: staying engaged with his already demanding job.
To some former governors, that reads like a recipe for failure. Running for president involves tons of travel outside the state for rallies and fundraisers, rolling out policy promises, responding to incoming attacks, and preparing for debates — with, in DeSantis’ case, the added burden of governing the third most-populous state in the US.
The topic has come to a head in recent weeks, after the legislature sent DeSantis a bill to change Florida’s so-called “Resign to Run” law. The change, part of a broader elections reforms package, is awaiting the governor’s signature. It would allow DeSantis to remain governor while running for president or vice president, and has the added benefit of permitting him to keep his job just in case he loses the nomination race or the presidency.
The prospect of doing both jobs raised eyebrows among some former governors who are now serving in the US Senate. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who was governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010 and was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, told Insider that White House runs don’t leave a lot of room for much else.
“I think it would be impossible to do it and be a good governor,” Kaine told Insider while rushing to a Senate vote.
Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper, who was governor of Colorado from 2011 to 2019, stressed that being governor was taxing on its own.
“It’s a 70-hour-a-week job in the best of times,” he said. “And when you’ve got a wildfire or tropical storm or something, it can easily turn into 100 hours a week.”
The pile-on against DeSantis’ attempt at multitasking as already begun. DeSantis received some criticism from Florida Democrats following flooding in Fort Lauderdale, which occurred while he was out of state on his book tour. The Trump campaign similarly seized on the argument in an email circulated to reporters, which contained an image that read, “Never in Town.”
Scrutiny aside, the legislature moved rapidly to tee-up wins on DeSantis’ agenda across a range of policy issues, from public safety to tax cuts and illegal immigration. All of this happened as DeSantis was stopping in numerous states for the book tour and then on an international trade mission.
“I don’t think we have seen a six-month stretch that has ever been this productive in the history of our state,” DeSantis said at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee on Friday. “And I would put us up against any state in the modern history of our country.”
Should DeSantis be successful in a presidential run, he would follow in the footsteps of Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George W. Bush. Both were sitting governors in Arkansas and Texas, respectively, when they were elected president.
Republican Sen. John Hoeven, who was governor of North Dakota from 2001 to 2011, described the gubernatorial post as “a very demanding job,” but also a very good one.
“Serving your constituents as governor of the state is a tremendous job,” Hoeven told Insider between votes at the US Capitol. “And that needs to be his priority — working hard for the citizens of Florida.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida holds a copy of his new book as he speaks to a crowd at the Adventure Outdoors gun store in Smyrna, Ga., on March 30, 2023.
AP Photo/John Bazemore
Other governors have stayed on while running for president
For this story, Insider spoke to two-thirds of the dozen-plus former governors currently serving in the US Senate about how DeSantis’ anticipated next move would affect Sunshine State residents.
Some, like Kaine and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who served as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, had first-hand experience with presidential campaigning via their involvement in the 2016 and 2012 contests, respectively.
Others, like Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, who was governor of Delaware from 1993 to 2001, and Republican Rep. James Risch, who was governor of Idaho from 2006 to 2007, shied away from passing judgment on DeSantis for the possibility that he’ll be seeking a promotion.
When asked whether juggling a 2024 presidential run and fulfilling his day-to-day duties as governor was feasible, Romney bristled a bit and said history was on DeSantis’ side.
“There’ve been a number of governors who’ve done the same thing. Mike Dukakis comes to mind,” Romney said, citing the two-term Democratic governor of Massachusetts who flamed out rather spectacularly during the 1988 presidential race.
But other governors struggled. One example was Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, GOP Sen. Pete Ricketts, the former governor of Nebraska, said when asked to comment on DeSantis.
“I don’t know if it’s easy to do both at the same time — might want to ask Scott Walker,” Ricketts said. “I think he found it was challenging to run for president and be governor at the same time.”
Walker did receive backlash — even before making a run official — as did then-Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. Republican primary challengers even attacked GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for missing votes in the upper chamber. The 2016 GOP presidential candidates John Kasich of Ohio and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana both kept their jobs as governor and returned to them after losing the nomination to Trump.
Frustration about gubernatorial job performance can often come more from home states than from outside observers. Ben Wilcox, research director and co-founder of the government ethics organization Integrity Florida, said the intent of the “Resign to Run” law was to ensure a governor “is fully focused on the job he was elected to do, and not the job he aspires to.”
“I would argue he owes that to the people who elected him,” Wilcox told Insider. “He was asked repeatedly during the 2022 campaign for governor if he was going to run for president and his answer was evasive in that he said he was running to be governor. He should be held to that and resign if he’s changed his mind.”
Republican Sen. Rick Scott, who was governor of Florida from 2011 to 2019, clasped together his hands and took a beat before weighing in on what the “Resign to Run” law change meant for the state’s residents. He didn’t resign as governor during his Senate race.
“Well, the legislature made that decision,” he told Insider. “Now the voters will get to decide.”
Ron DeSantis speaks during an election night watch party at the Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, on November 8, 2022.
GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images
DeSantis continues to play coy on 2024 decision
Should DeSantis enter the presidential race, he’d face off mostly against Republicans who aren’t officeholders, including Trump, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Former Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to enter the contest.
Sen. Tim Scott, who himself just won reelection in South Carolina, recently announced an exploratory committee. It’s not yet clear whether he’d resign his seat or juggle both, as Rubio, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky did in the 2016 primary.
DeSantis has not definitively said whether he’ll run for president, but is widely expected to do so sometime after Florida’s lawmaking session, which closed out Friday, though an announcement may not come until June or even later.
During a press conference in Panama City, Florida, on Thursday, DeSantis continued to play coy about his intentions. “You’ll get there, one way or another, very soon,” he said when a reporter asked him about the 2024 race.
The governor stressed that he was focused on “making good” on promises he made during his gubernatorial reelection campaign while the legislature was in session. He still has to review Florida’s budget and sign bills into law. “I’m not going to short-circuit any of the work that we have done,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re thorough.”
DeSantis has acknowledged the challenges of running for president while also leading the third-largest state in the US, along with being a spouse to Florida first lady Casey DeSantis and parent to three children ages 6 and younger. He alluded to the difficulty in an interview with British TV personality Piers Morgan in March.
“I’ve got different obligations and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to go through and I also want to make sure that I have a very clear rationale for doing what I’m doing,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis resigned from the US House when he ran for governor. If he were to resign the governorship then Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez would replace him, becoming the first woman to become governor of Florida.
Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, who served as governor of South Dakota from 2003 to 2011, concluded that presidential bids were political leaps of faith.
“Every governor has to decide for themselves how much they can do themselves and still do their job,” Rounds told Insider while riding the elevator to Senate votes.