On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis filed paperwork to run for president, formalizing his thinly veiled presidential aspirations, which have already taken him across the globe and made him one of the best-known politicians in the United States.
DeSantis’ campaign launch is the latest benchmark in his meteoric ascent from a largely unknown congressman to the face of “anti-wokeness.” He now commands conservative audiences around the country and, for the moment, carries the hopes of those Republicans eager to nominate someone other than former President Donald Trump as the party’s choice to unseat President Joe Biden.
Still, despite DeSantis’ highly publicized tenure, his biography isn’t necessarily well-known. Here are five things you may not have known about the presidential hopeful:
1. He wed at a Disney park
Despite his ongoing feud with Disney, DeSantis actually has a close connection with the Happiest Place on Earth. He and wife Casey DeSantis married at Walt Disney World and had their reception at Epcot in 2009.
In his book “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival”, DeSantis writes that his wife comes from a family of Disney enthusiasts — though he limited how much influence Disney could have on his wedding.
“My only condition was that no Disney characters could be part of our wedding,” he says in his book. “I wanted our special day to look and feel like a traditional wedding.”
The couple has three kids: Madison, 6, Mason, 5, and Mamie, 3. The DeSantises are the first family with young children to live in the Governor’s Mansion in more than 50 years.
2. He grew up in Florida but has Midwestern roots
From about age 6 to 18, DeSantis grew up in Dunedin, a city on the Gulf Coast near the Tampa Bay area. He was a youth baseball standout who has described his ’80s and ’90s upbringing as “blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth.”
Though born and raised in the Sunshine State, DeSantis considers himself a Midwesterner at heart. DeSantis’ father is from western Pennsylvania. The two most important women in his life — his mother and his wife — are native Ohioans.
“I was geographically raised in Tampa Bay,” he writes in his book. “But culturally my upbringing reflected the working-class communities in western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio — from weekly church attendance to the expectation that one would earn his keep. This made me God-fearing, hard-working and America-loving.”
3. He’s an Ivy League grad
Though critical of elites and their ivory towers, DeSantis attended some of the world’s most prestigious institutions. The governor studied history at Yale University, graduating in 2001. He attended Harvard Law School after a brief stint as a teacher at Darlington School, a private boarding school in Georgia, and graduated in 2005.
In a Fox News interview, DeSantis said he felt like a “fish out of water” when he arrived at Yale. He showed up at campus wearing Florida appropriate attire — jean shorts and flip flops — and felt “major culture shock” when he witnessed how his classmates spoke negatively about the U.S.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” he said. “I didn’t even know colleges were liberal.”
4. He was a three-term congressman
In 2012, DeSantis was eyeing an open congressional seat in the Jacksonville area. He joined the crowded Republican primary, which had better-known candidates, and emerged victorious. He was able to garner support due to his military record, Ivy League connections and conservative bona fides from a 2011 book he authored: “Dreams From Our Founding Fathers: First Principles in the Age of Obama.”
He took office in 2013 and was re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives until he ran for governor in 2018. In 2015, DeSantis was key to forming the Freedom Caucus, a coalition of archconservatives that forced Speaker John Boehner into retirement.
DeSantis primarily kept to himself while in the House and mostly stuck with members of the Freedom Caucus. However, he furthered his political career by charming conservative media figures and wealthy donors.
He criticized the investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election and became one of former President Donald Trump’s allies, catapulting when the president endorsed him for governor. DeSantis boosted his popularity in conservative circles, frequently appearing on Fox News to slam Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
5. He served in Guantánamo and Iraq
In 2004, DeSantis joined the Navy and was assigned to the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He later became a prosecutor at Naval Station Mayport Jacksonville before being sent to Guantánamo.
He spent at least six months in Cuba, working directly with detainees at the Guantánamo Bay facility. Several detainees allege that DeSantis witnessed and received complaints about forced-feeding sessions.
In 2007, DeSantis deployed to Iraq, where he was a legal adviser to SEAL Team One. His military accolades include the Bronze Star Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Iraq Campaign Medal.
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