WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The race for president has a new big-name candidate.
Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis officially announces his campaign today in an anticipated audio interview with Elon Musk on Twitter and on this online video.
RON DESANTIS (R-FL), Presidential Candidate: In Florida, we have proved that it can be done.
We chose facts over fear, education over indoctrination, law and order over rioting and disorder.
We held the line when freedom hung in the balance.
We showed that we can and must revitalize America.
We need the courage to lead and the strength to win.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Republican governor is a headline-generating machine, shaping national fights over COVID policies, education, corporate speech, and immigration.
But he faces an uphill climb against his former ally, now turned antagonist, Donald Trump.
Lisa Desjardins reports.
RON DESANTIS: Florida is where woke goes to die!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) LISA DESJARDINS: He heard cheers early as a Florida kid making it to the Little League World Series.
A baseball player at Yale as well, he then went on to Harvard Law School.
From there, DeSantis chose the military.
As an officer with the Navy's Judge Advocate General, he worked at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
One former detainee alleges DeSantis oversaw beatings and forced feedings of prisoners, which he has denied.
He also served in Iraq and was awarded a Bronze Star.
In 2012, DeSantis rode the Tea Party wave into Congress, where he opposed Obama administration policies, but rarely stood out.
That changed in 2018.
NARRATOR: They call him a conservative's conservative.
LISA DESJARDINS: Then 39, DeSantis made his move, running for governor of the Sunshine State.
Initially trailing in the primary, DeSantis launched an all-out blitz for then-President Trump's endorsement, putting his young family in the most famous ad of the year.
RON DESANTIS: Then Mr. Trump said, "You're fired."
I love that part.
LISA DESJARDINS: He won Trump's endorsement, the primary and then a razor-thin victory in November to become governor.
RON DESANTIS: All I can promise is the sweat off my brow, a full heart, my best judgment and the courage of my convictions.
LISA DESJARDINS: Governor DeSantis made a national name for himself in the COVID pandemic, quickly ending stay-at-home orders and opposing mask and vaccine mandates.
The state saw a wave of deaths, but a boom to the economy.
RON DESANTIS: If you are trying to lock people down, I am standing in your way and I am standing for the people of Florida.
LISA DESJARDINS: That kind of cultural confrontation has become his brand.
In 2021, the state's Department of Education enacted a ban on teaching Critical Race Theory in schools, though it had not part of state curriculum.
He used state resources to fly migrants from the Southern border to places like Martha's Vineyard.
In 2022, he signed the Parental Rights in Education Act, banning talk of sexual orientation and gender identity before fourth grade.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) PROTESTER: We say gay!
LISA DESJARDINS: Critics call the law don't say gay.
When the Walt Disney Company, Florida's largest employer, openly opposed the law, DeSantis launched a new fight.
RON DESANTIS: This state is governed by the interests of the people of the state of Florida.
It is not based on the demands of California corporate executives.
LISA DESJARDINS: Disney and DeSantis have wrestled ever since, with the company recently pulling out of a billion-dollar development in the state.
This year, he signed a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and has questioned the U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine.
Through it all, his policies became a blueprint for other Republicans.
But one ally has turned cold.
DONALD TRUMP, Former President of the United States: The problem with Ron DeSanctimonious is that he needs a personality transplant.
And those are not yet available.
LISA DESJARDINS: Time will tell if the governor who has driven conversation on the right can steer his way to the White House.
For more on how Ron DeSantis' campaign launch could shake up the GOP primary race, I'm joined by another Florida man, Republican Carlos Curbelo, who served in Congress with DeSantis.
Congressman, let's start with this unique announcement, audio only, on Twitter.
Why do you think it's not a rally or something more traditional?
REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R-FL): Well, I think Ron DeSantis wants to create a generational distinction between him and Donald Trump, his main rival in this Republican primary.
So this is his way of saying: I'm different.
I'm a younger, better version than Donald Trump.
I'm someone who can appeal to the rising generations of voters, which Republicans will increasingly need to rely on if they're going to win national elections.
LISA DESJARDINS: About a year ago, when I was talking to Republican voters.
The name Ron DeSantis, was echoing, but not so much now.
And even we have seen in the last few days some of those running against him, like Nikki Haley, are mocking him.
She had an ad out today where she shows his hands next to Donald Trump hands.
They're saying he's Trump-light or a fake Trump.
What is his path?
Is there one for him to beat Donald Trump?
REP. CARLOS CURBELO: Well, one of the challenges for Ron DeSantis, Lisa, is that he peaked in November of last year.
He had a big reelection here in Florida winning, nearly 60 percent of the votes, something unheard of in this perennial swing state.
And a lot of people will make the argument that he's actually pushed Florida into becoming a red state now, at least a pink state.
So DeSantis was on top of the political universe.
And, yes, a lot of people would call that peaking too early.
He had some stumbles.
Former President Trump started aggressively attacking him.
And he was kind of making the case for a long time that he was basically the same as Donald Trump, just a little better, a little more disciplined.
And it does seem that that would be a difficult argument to make.
If you want to make a compelling case for change, if Donald Trump is so popular in the Republican primary electorate, and you want to convince people that they should choose you, instead of him, that argument DeSantis was making really wasn't resonating.
LISA DESJARDINS: But he has certainly become a cultural warrior on issues like what teachers can say about race in their classroom.
He has targeted the LGBTQ community.
He's a lightning rod.
What does that mean for his campaign?
Certainly, that's helped him with some people.
But what do you think about that?
REP. CARLOS CURBELO: So, ironically, DeSantis has been telling people for a while that he needs to be the nominee because Donald Trump can't win.
And now Trump and his campaign have kind of flipped that argument, saying, DeSantis has gone so far to the right on a lot of these social and cultural issues, that he's the one who would have trouble gaining centrist voters support in a general election.
So, just to give you an idea of how far on DeSantis went to the right, Donald Trump is criticizing him on abortion.
Donald Trump is criticizing him for his brawl with Disney, which has now convinced the company -- or dissuaded the company from investing a billion dollars in the state and creating 2,000 new jobs here.
So, certainly, what Ron DeSantis did during this last legislative session to build his record for a primary electorate could end up hurting him in a general election.
And his chief rival, his former mentor and ally, Donald Trump, is making the same argument.
LISA DESJARDINS: Who do you think Democrats should be most afraid of in the Republican field for president?
REP. CARLOS CURBELO: Well, conventional wisdom is that a new fresh Republican face that can bring in new people into the Republican coalition, that won't scare away critical suburban swing voters is the most dangerous type of candidate for President Biden, because there would be a huge contrast in terms of age, in terms of generational differences.
Can Ron DeSantis be that candidate?
It did seem that way six months ago.
Now he does seem more human.
His feet are certainly on the ground.
And in these first few weeks of the campaign, it's going to be critical for him to prove himself again and to show he can be that Republican candidate that consolidates Republican support, brings all Republicans together, and can also reach to the left and bring in some swing voters and even maybe some moderate Democrats into the Republican coalition.
LISA DESJARDINS: Former Congressman Carlos Curbelo, thank you so much for talking with us.
We will keep in touch with you over this interesting election season.
REP. CARLOS CURBELO: Thank you.