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Dear Gov. DeSantis: Don’t let Trump ruin your future. | Editorial

The governor should put his aspirations first and not let an embattled president drag him down.
Governor Ron DeSantis. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] ["OCTAVIO JONES | TIMES" | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 3

It’s entirely appropriate that Gov. Ron DeSantis joined President Donald Trump Thursday at the Villages for an official White House visit on health care policy. DeSantis likely would not have been elected governor without the president’s endorsement, and it’s good manners for any governor to join the nation’s leader when he visits their state. But for the sake of his own political future, DeSantis would be wise to loosen his embrace of the embattled president.

The House impeachment inquiry is appropriately moving forward, and Trump’s July telephone call with the Ukranian president in which he pushed for an investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Biden’s son has focused Americans’ concerns about his judgment. The chaotic defense by Trump and his supporters has been fueled by anger and misdirection, and the president’s fiery news conference on Wednesday was particularly unsettling. He did not help himself Thursday by suggesting China also investigate the Bidens, a stunning defiance of constitutional norms and another dangerous invitation to a foreign competitor to interfere with U.S. elections.

As Trump fumes and flails, it should be instructive for DeSantis that most Republican senators have become awfully quiet. There are exceptions such as Sen. Rick Scott, who is particularly tone-deaf and has been praised by Trump for his criticism of the impeachment inquiry on Fox News and elsewhere. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent the right message by saying the Senate would fulfill its constitutional obligation and take up impeachment articles if they are passed by the House.

While DeSantis was a regular defender of Trump on cable news shows as a U.S. House member, that would not be helpful to his long-term political prospects now or serve the best interests of the state. He set the right tone initially by deflecting reporters’ questions about impeachment with a general criticism of Washington. But DeSantis erred in a fiery fundraising email sent last week by the Republican Party of Florida, where he announced the "Presidential Protection Fund to fight back against this disgusting attempt to overturn a legitimate U.S. election.'' That is not what the impeachment inquiry is about, and those words could be used against him in a future election where he needs to appeal to voters beyond Trump supporters.

DeSantis is widely considered to be off to a good start as governor by Republicans as well as many Democrats. He appointed a lawyer and two respected judges to the Florida Supreme Court -- and the latter two already have been tapped by Trump to move up to the federal 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. He moved to pardon the Groveland Four, the four black men wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a white woman in 1949. He recognized climate change and appointed the state’s first chief resilience officer, and he is expected to soon propose significant raises for teachers. It would be a shame to tarnish that record with an overzealous defense of an unstable president facing an impeachment inquiry.

It’s clear DeSantis has aspirations beyond the Governor’s Mansion. Opinion polls show he is the state’s most popular Republican. He ranks ahead of Sen. Marco Rubio, who has one failed campaign for president, and Scott, who used his personal fortune to win three statewide elections without ever capturing more than 50.1 percent of the vote. So the potential for aiming higher is obvious.

DeSantis has a bright future. He should not cloud that by tightly hugging Trump, who has put the nation’s national security at risk and continues to dig his political hole even deeper. In the long run, it won’t be worth it.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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