"Most Americans instinctively know that something has gone wrong with our country over the past generation."
That’s how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R.) opens his new book, The Courage to Be Free. He identifies the malefactors as a collection of elites who have "alienated vast swaths of Americans," a Democratic Party that has "transformed into what can only be described as a woke dumpster fire," and a bipartisan D.C. establishment riddled with inaction and ineptitude that has left many Republican voters feeling "unrepresented by the GOP."
This is, in case there were any illusions, a campaign book. It allows DeSantis to introduce himself to readers and make the case for himself as a presidential contender.
DeSantis grew up in the Tampa Bay area, his childhood shaped by youth baseball and the cultural values of his "blue-collar, working-class" parents, who hailed from western Pennsylvania and northwest Ohio.
For DeSantis, baseball was his gateway to the wider world, "the engine that expanded my horizons." A turning point in his childhood, he writes, was the realization that his team could make it to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., where they would face off against a team from Taiwan.
Baseball was also the engine of DeSantis’s advancement in another way: His performance put him on the recruitment map for Ivy League schools, and DeSantis recounts his journey from Yale University to Harvard Law School, and from the U.S. Navy into the political arena.
Yale was a culture shock. DeSantis says students were "led to believe that communism was superior," while at Harvard Law School, faculty "sought to manipulate the law to achieve their preferred political outcomes."
Those who have read about the influence of DeSantis’s wife Casey in his political operation won’t be surprised to read his description of how they met—hitting golf balls, something he describes as "my life’s most fortuitous moment." She is the star of the book’s acknowledgments, where DeSantis writes that he "would not have had much of a story to tell in the first place without her support, as I would not have had nearly as much success in my career, especially as governor."
This is about as personal and emotional as it gets, however, with many details other politicians would include notably missing. We don’t learn the names of DeSantis’s parents, for example, or hear about the tragic and sudden death of his younger sister Christina in 2015.
Here, the 44-year-old Florida governor previews some of the arguments we can expect to see on the campaign trail. He makes a tacit case for a governor as president, arguing that "legislators play an important role in our system, but they are not really required to lead—they cast votes that reflect their philosophies, but the buck does not stop with them."
A governor, by contrast, "must have a strong sense of true north to guide him, but that sense must be coupled with the ability and willingness to lead with conviction."
But DeSantis doesn’t take his potential 2024 GOP rivals head on—unlike, say, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who savaged former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley and took on former president Donald Trump in his own campaign book published earlier this year.
Those hoping for gossip about Trump—particularly given the escalation of tensions between the two camps in recent weeks—will be left wanting.
In fact, DeSantis presents himself as a rare ally of Trump during his time in Congress, condemning the rejection of early treatments to combat COVID-19 as a "clinical case of Trump Derangement Syndrome" and noting his vocal support for Trump’s decision to relocate the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
The only veiled criticisms of the former president come in the contrast he draws with his own leadership. DeSantis writes that he has "no desire to be flattered" and that his "office could not run effectively if it had habitual leaking of information." He expresses frustration "with all the missed opportunities of the Republican Congress after Donald Trump became president."
DeSantis’s own political origin story dates back to 2012, where he describes campaigning as an underdog, arguing that his victory as a political unknown hinged on the hours spent campaigning door-to-door learning about "the concerns of voters in an unfiltered way."
This is a theme, an explanation of his own strength and a criticism of his opponents’ weaknesses. "Republican messaging failures have been rooted less in messaging techniques than in failing to advocate policies that address the concerns of the voters," DeSantis argues. Immigration, he says, is a case in point.
"Of all the issues on which GOP leaders had ignored their voters, on no issue did they do so more consistently and more flagrantly than on the issue of immigration," DeSantis writes, condemning "Beltway Republicans" who have supported immigration reform in the service of "corporate interests."
DeSantis is also not afraid to appear too modest. He describes the 2018 race in which he was elected governor of Florida as "the most consequential election in the history of our state," adding that Florida has engaged in every important political and cultural battle in recent years, from critical race theory to the "defund the police" movement—and won.
Unsurprisingly, the Florida governor also tears into the legacy media, decrying their use of a deceptive strategy to elevate their political agenda: "Smear first, ask questions later, and the consequences be damned." He includes the full exchange of a now-infamous interview with CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi, part of which aired on 60 Minutes.
The story alleged DeSantis had conspired with grocery chain Publix to grant them "exclusive rights" to distribute COVID-19 shots, "citing a Publix donation of $100,000" to DeSantis’s political action committee. However, the majority of DeSantis’s comments are marked in bold. Why? That’s the relevant part 60 Minutes selectively edited out.
With The Courage to Be Free, DeSantis presents the American people with his political résumé. His self-defined blueprint for success explores his rejection of Dr. Anthony Fauci and COVID-19 authoritarians, his battle with Disney and the woke assault on education, and his policy-focused resistance to the left's own "Praetorian Guard," the legacy media.
A common theme throughout the book is one of tipping points—whether political or even personal, such as DeSantis leaving a congressional baseball practice early, unwittingly escaping the mass shooting that occurred just moments later.
Just one question remains: Will 2024 prove to be another tipping point for the underdog from Jacksonville, Florida?
The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival
by Ron DeSantis
Broadside Books, 288 pp., $35
Ian Haworth is a writer, speaker, and former Big Tech insider. He also hosts Off Limits with Ian Haworth.