November 20, 2023 - 7:30pm

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s political momentum has faltered in recent months. Once seen as a legitimate electoral threat to Donald Trump, according to the RealClearPolitics average he’s currently polling between 7 and 20 points and losing to Nikki Haley

In DeSantis’s home state of Florida, where he won reelection by nearly 20 points in 2022, Trump was nearly three times as popular in an early November poll, and the Governor’s approval rating has fallen from 54% to 50% in recent months.

It’s not just his campaign that’s facing difficulties. Several of DeSantis’s headline-grabbing culture war plays are facing major legal challenges. The conservative-dominated Supreme Court upheld a court injunction on Thursday blocking a law that would have made it a criminal offence to admit a child into a sexually explicit adult performance — a measure that opponents labelled “anti-drag”. 

It’s one piece of a larger problem DeSantis faces. He became a poster child for the anti-woke crusade in 2022, taking on then-popular cultural issues such as restricting sexually explicit LGBT-themed content in schools. But the Republican base is losing its appetite for cultural battles, especially in light of electoral disappointments for the GOP which many blame on the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

A Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine is now suing DeSantis for ordering state universities to shut down their chapters of the organisation in October. The DeSantis administration had argued that, by publicly supporting Hamas’s 7 October attacks, the group violated the state’s antisemitism law. Pamphlets from the national chapter which made supportive references to the attacks and stated that “Palestinian students in exile are PART of this movement, not in solidarity with this movement”, were of particular concern to the administration, the Daily Signal reported, but opponents are arguing that DeSantis has violated students’ free speech rights.

Earlier this year, meanwhile, DeSantis’s Stop Woke act was blocked in court over concerns that it violated the First Amendment. The measure restricted the teaching of critical race theory, the hiring of CRT consultants and other business and educational practices viewed as discriminatory, but opponents have argued that it stifles academic freedom and free speech. 

Before the anti-woke push, DeSantis found popularity by going against the grain on Covid issues beginning in 2020, and he has since been credited with attracting a massive wave of moves to Florida from blue states and turning the longtime purple state solidly red. 

With the Iowa caucuses weeks away, DeSantis has been courting the state’s religious conservatives and touting his Catholic faith and commitment to his wife and children, a point of contrast between himself and thrice-married Trump, who has distanced himself from his own administration’s anti-abortion victories since leaving office. 

Whether this is enough to turn the tide in the Governor’s favour remains unlikely. Despite DeSantis bringing in $2 million in a 48-hour period last week, he still has considerably less cash to hand than Haley and Trump, who have about two and seven times as much, respectively.

is UnHerd’s US correspondent.