Later, he reacted against protesters for racial justice and blasted President Joe Biden over immigration. He also joined the fight over transgender athletes, signing sweeping legislation to tighten voting rules.
However, after the deadly building collapse the Republican governor is now largely putting an end to the culture wars.
DeSantis has been soberly present with local officials and Democrats as they assess the damage in the two weeks since the collapse of a 12-story condo building in this coastal community. When Biden visited, he nodded in agreement and noted that their appearance together was a sign of how people with opposing political views can come together in times of crisis. He even skipped the rally in Sarasota that was being held by former President Donald Trump. His endorsement was critical in DeSantis's victory in 2018.
DeSantis has taken many cues from Trump since that win. As he prepares to run for reelection next year, which could see him in a presidential race, Surfside's tragedy is exposing voters a different side. He is still a conservative populist who will not give up on Trump. DeSantis, however, is showing that he can moderate some of his extreme partisan rhetoric in the face of disaster.
"The governor was decisive. He has been consistent. He's been cooperative," Miami-Dade County Mayor Danielle Levine Cava said in an interview. Cava is a Democrat who once fought with DeSantis. "We are grateful to the governor for his support during this crisis.
Charles Burkett, the nonpartisan mayor for Surfside, described the level of cooperation as "astonishing, even surprising".
DeSantis doesn't intend to usher in a new era for bipartisanship, or a Republican return back to reality-based rhetoric. Direct questions from DeSantis about whether Biden's win in last year's election were fair have been avoided by the governor. DeSantis, who was promoting an unusual plan to send officers from Florida to Florida's southern border, suggested the move one day after the crash. Democrats dismissed it as political theater.
Yet, DeSantis' actions are a stark contrast to Trump. Former president threatened to withhold aid for Democratic officials who criticised him, including governors. Gavin Newsom from California and Andrew Cuomo from New York. Sometimes he was insensitive and clumsy when he responded to the suffering of others. Trump, for example, threw rolls of paper towels at a crowd of Puerto Rican residents during a hurricane-damaged visit.
Former Republican campaign strategist Mac Stipanovich said that DeSantis is "less scary than Trump" for some voters, even though he continues to court the former president's base.
Stipanovich stated that DeSantis has a "finely tuned sense" of the best red meat to throw at the MAGA base on any given day and that he does this with no shame. "Everyone will soon be at each others throats again, as soon as we get beyond this tragedy."
The debate could quickly move to how local and state governments manage aging infrastructure. Miami-Dade County officials are moving forward with a 30-day audit on buildings older than 40 years. DeSantis questioned the need for a state-wide review of older buildings.
Although effective responses to disasters can be a great way to boost a governor's reputation, they can also sometimes be short-lived. Former governors. Former governors. Trump, however, was able to defeat both of them for the Republican nomination 2016.
Some Democrats were caught off guard by DeSantis' handling, and they didn't have a united response.
Rep. Charlie Crist is a Democrat who hopes to challenge DeSantis next Year. He didn't respond when asked for comment about the governor's response. Nikki Fried (Florida's Democratic Agriculture Commissioner) praised Biden, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and local officials. She criticized DeSantis, however, for entering the politically charged immigration debate and sending Florida law enforcement officers to the Mexican border.
"While the Florida Division of Emergency Management worked around the clock to support rescue and search efforts, it was regrettable that Governor DeSantis diverted first responseers to the southern frontier during this incredibly difficult period for the Miami community as well as our entire state," she stated.
Rep. Val Demings is a Democrat who wants to challenge GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. She said that she was happy to see a productive partnership between federal, state and local officials in order to save lives.
She stated, "In times of crises," that "we must put aside partisanship and do what is right for our communities."
Rubio, for his part, has been at the scene of the condo's collapse several times with local officials including Democrats and has worked with Biden to expedite visas in order to visit family members of victims.
At a crucial moment for Republicans, DeSantis is drawing national attention. Trump is deciding whether to run for reelection in 2024. However, others with presidential ambitions are aggressively positioning themselves to be his successor if he does not opt for a campaign.
Trump is happy to remain aligned with DeSantis for now. However, several people who were in touch with Trump and his team stated that he has been paying close attention to how DeSantis has attracted donors to Trump's Mar-a-Lago club and gained some traction in conservative circles. Many Republicans expect Trump to retaliate against DeSantis if his popularity increases and he threatens Trump as the party's undisputed leader.
The public saw the friction between them for the first-time last week, when Trump rejected DeSantis' requests to delay the rally in Sarasota. Trump opened his remarks by expressing condolences to the Surfside victims and their families. He told Newsmax that he had "mutually accepted" that DeSantis should not attend the rally.
Trump has tried to maintain control of the relationship by bringing up DeSantis' early endorsement in several interviews. Trump also stated that he would consider DeSantis a running mate should he decide to run for president again.
DeSantis, for his part, has stated that he is more focused on winning reelection next election than the 2024 election. DeSantis is among the few prominent Republicans to have not visited Iowa yet, the state where the leadoff presidential caucuses were held and which is dominated by evangelical conservatives who are able to influence the GOP's direction.
Instead, DeSantis spent part of his summer travelling to political fundraisers in California and Pennsylvania. Tony Krvaric was the one who organized the San Diego event for DeSantis. He said that the excitement around the governor was "sky-high" and that his reaction to the collapse has only helped his reputation.
Krvaric stated that Krvaric handled the situation professionally and with empathy.