Thursday’s news that Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska would likely become the next president of the University of Florida further fueled speculation of a looming showdown between former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“Great news for the United States Senate, and our Country itself. Liddle’ Ben Sasse, the lightweight Senator from the great State of Nebraska, will be resigning,” Trump wrote in a pair of posts on his social media site, Truth Social. “The University of Florida will soon regret their decision to hire him as their President ... We have enough weak and ineffective RINOs in our midst.”
If Sasse is confirmed for the job, which is expected, he will be leaving office two years into his second six-year term.
Trump’s ire was predictable, given Sasse has been a prominent critic of the former president. Sasse voted to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection during the U.S. Senate impeachment trial following the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
Trump’s commentary on UF’s next possible president came shortly after praise of Sasse from DeSantis’ office. In a statement, DeSantis’ office said that “as a successful former university president, national leader, and deep thinker on education policy, Ben Sasse has the qualifications and would be a good candidate.”
DeSantis’ office did not address an emailed question asking whether the governor was consulted about the pick prior to the announcement. It’s been clear, however, that DeSantis has exerted increasing control over the state’s universities while in office. That control led to questions about the independence of the University of Florida, specifically, from his administration in a series of high-profile controversies over the past year.
DeSantis and Trump were once close allies but are now considered the top contenders for the GOP nomination for president in 2024.
Other reaction from Florida politicians included former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who congratulated Sasse on Twitter, writing: “Ben Sasse is brilliant, a consensus builder and will be a great leader of a great University. Ben and family, welcome to Florida!”
Meanwhile, others took the opportunity to bring up how Florida recently passed a new state law shielding much of the search process for university presidents from public view. The University of Florida’s search committee named Sasse as the sole finalist for the role, and have not revealed the names of any other candidates it interviewed.
“Remember when the Florida Legislature said making the presidential search process for universities private & inaccessible to the public would lead to better candidates? I give you the results,” wrote Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, on Twitter.
Sasse, who was once rumored to be considering a presidential run, has said he sees massive opportunity at the University of Florida and is excited to leave politics behind for a while.
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“I’m excited, frankly, about the opportunity to step away from politics and onto a team of big-cause, low-ego people who want to build stuff and serve students and plan for the future,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “I just think that Gator Nation is going to have a massive global impact.”