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10 reasons to vote for Ron DeSantis instead of Nikki Haley, Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Pray Vote Stand Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on September 15, 2023, in Washington, D.C. The summit featured remarks from multiple 2024 Republican Presidential candidates making their case to the conservative audience members.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Pray Vote Stand Summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel on September 15, 2023, in Washington, D.C. The summit featured remarks from multiple 2024 Republican Presidential candidates making their case to the conservative audience members. | Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The more I learn about Ron DeSantis, the more I believe he is a much stronger candidate than Nikki Haley or Donald Trump. In fact, I believe he is the strongest candidate for president that Republicans have had in decades.

I’m writing this as an evangelical Christian because I’m afraid that evangelical voters are about to make a huge mistake in voting for Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president. (I speak as someone who voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020.) I am convinced that nominating Trump for the third time would be a political disaster. I do not think that evangelical Trump supporters have seriously “counted the cost” of losing the presidency to a younger Democrat in the general election.  

Jesus appealed to people’s common sense wisdom of counting the cost before embarking on a large project:

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For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish'  (Luke 14:28). 

As I will explain below, I think people supporting Trump in the primary elections are like the foolish man who had enough to lay a foundation (by analogy, enough votes to win the Republican nomination) but didn’t have enough to finish the tower (that is, enough votes to win the presidency in the November election).

But before I talk about the problems with Trump, I want to list ten reasons why I believe DeSantis is the strongest candidate in the race by far:

1. He is a veteran

DeSantis was an active duty officer in the United States Navy for 6 years, from 2004 to 2010.  He also served 9 more years in the US Navy Reserve, ending his career with the rank of lieutenant commander (the rank equal to a major in the US Army).

During his active service in the Navy, DeSantis was assigned to SEAL Team One as a legal advisor. Part of his time in the Navy was spent at Joint Task Force Guantanamo, and he also served as legal advisor to the  SEAL commander in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2007-2008.

One of the roles of the president is to serve as Commander in Chief over the US armed forces. It is a great advantage to have a Commander in Chief who has a combined total of 15 years of military experience. It is especially important now that we have a Navy veteran as president because our Navy urgently needs massive expansion to regain superiority over the gigantic Navy that has been built by communist China.

Nikki Haley has never served in the military.

Donald Trump has never served in the military.

2. He is a lawyer

DeSantis is a graduate of Harvard Law School, one of the best law schools in the nation. He is also a graduate of America’s Naval Justice School.

When a president has to work with Congress to pass legislation, wants to propose new legislation, needs to decide whether to go to court over some issue, or tries to think of a new legal solution to an old problem like border control, it is a great asset to have a president who is himself a lawyer.

Nikki Haley is not a lawyer.

Donald Trump is not a lawyer.

3. He is a former congressman

DeSantis served as a member of the US House of Representatives from the 6th District of Florida from 2013-2018, for a total of nearly 6 years. Because of this time, he understands from the inside how Congress works, and he personally knows many members who are still in Congress.

DeSantis was a reliable conservative in Congress and was even a founding member of the solidly conservative Freedom Caucus. While in Congress, he served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee and was chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security.

In our American system of government, it is a great advantage to have a president who has served as a member of Congress and understands the workings of Congress as only an insider can.

Nikki Haley has never been a member of Congress.

Donald Trump has never been a member of Congress. 

4. He beat his last Democrat opponent by a huge margin, far outperforming the polls

He was first elected governor of Florida by a razor-thin margin of 0.4 % in 2018. But then, after he had been in office for four years, he ran again for governor in 2022. The polls predicted he would win by 2%- 3%, but he won the election in a landslide 19.4% victory, receiving 59.4% of the votes while his Democrat opponent (former governor Charlie Crist) received only 40%.

This is significant for three reasons:

(1.) It shows that the more people get to know Ron DeSantis, the more they appreciate his leadership. That was certainly what happened in Florida from 2018 to 2022.

(2.) If DeSantis wins the presidency in the 2024 election, he is likely to follow the same pattern as he did in Florida and win a second term by a huge majority in 2028. By contrast, if Donald Trump wins the presidency in 2024, he will not be allowed to run for a third term in 2028.

(3.) In that same 2020 election, Trump carried Florida, but by a much smaller margin. Trump received 51.2 percent of the votes while Biden received 47.8%, a Trump win of only 3.4%, which is small compared to DeSantis’s 19.4% landslide victory.

This is a significant indicator that Ron DeSantis would be a stronger candidate than Donald Trump in the general election: on the same election day with the same voters, Trump beat his Democrat opponent (Biden) by 3.4% while DeSantis beat his Democrat opponent (Crist) by 19.4%. DeSantis received many more votes than Trump did from Hispanic and independent voters. This suggests that in the 2024 general election for president DeSantis would do much better than Trump.

5. He is exceptionally intelligent

DeSantis was accepted in 1997 as an undergraduate at Yale University, one of the oldest and most selective universities in the nation. (In 2023, they accepted only 4.4% of applicants.) Yale undergraduates are some of America’s smartest students.

DeSantis majored in history, graduating magna cum laude (“with great honor”), a distinction that is only awarded to something like 15% of the graduating class. 

After Yale, DeSantis was accepted at Harvard Law School, one of the most selective law schools in the nation. He graduated from Harvard Law School cum laude (“with honor”).

Every president is surrounded by brilliant people. For that reason, it is an advantage to have a president who is just as smart or smarter than the rest of the people in the room.

Nikki Haley does not have a comparable academic record.

Donald Trump does not have a comparable academic record.

6. He was a successful collegiate athlete

DeSantis was a starting outfielder for the Yale University varsity baseball team.  In his senior year, he was captain of the team and his batting average of .336 was the highest on the team. (As another point of interest, when DeSantis was 12 years old he was a member of the Little League team from Dunedin, Florida that took part in the Little League World Series in 1991.)

I realize that being a star college athlete cannot be counted as a qualification for office of the President of the United States but I mention it because baseball is a truly American sport, and it seems appropriate to have a president who has been an outstanding baseball player. In addition, this athletic success required many years of hard work, and most Americans respect that.

I am not aware of any comparable sports background for Nikki Haley or Donald Trump.

7. He has already easily defeated Gavin Newsom in a 90-minute debate

On November 30, 2023, Ron DeSantis debated California Governor Gavin Newsom on the Sean Hannity show on Fox News.  Newsom, a Democrat, is a skilled politician and a persuasive public speaker, and he is often mentioned as a possible alternative Democratic candidate if President Biden withdraws from the race.  Many viewers (including me) believe DeSantis won the debate with an impressive mastery of factual details and arguments on a wide range of topics.

It is an advantage for Republicans to have a candidate who has already demonstrated that he can meet one of the strongest Democratic opponents head-on and come out on top.

8. He does not carry all the negative baggage that comes with Donald Trump

DeSantis can run in the general election as a successful governor of Florida without any cloud of scandal hanging over his head.

But Trump, by contrast,  brings much negative baggage that has accumulated over time, baggage that many voters, especially independent voters, will see as reasons to vote against him. Here is some of the baggage that makes nominating Trump a huge risk for Republicans:

(1) Trump refuses to admit that he lost the 2020 election

Many faithful Trump supporters still believe that the 2020 election was “stolen,” and that they are entitled to their own beliefs. In fact, I believe that some Democrats in some precincts somehow produced a dishonestly high vote count for Joe Biden. But there is now no way to know how many illegitimate votes Biden accumulated.

I’m concerned that endlessly repeating the claim of a stolen election quickly turns off many independent voters. What they see is a sore loser who refused even to attend President Biden’s inauguration, a long tradition that has served as a model for the rest of the world of the peaceful transfer of power within the world’s most powerful nation.

(2.) Trump recklessly refused to call off the protesters when the demonstration turned violent on January 6
A strong rebuke from Trump in public and on Twitter, warning the protesters against forcefully entering the capitol, would have avoided the horrible spectacle of American citizens joining an unruly mob that was trying to stop Congress from functioning according to the law and certifying the results of the election.

(3.) Trump is responsible for losing Republican control of the U.S. Senate by making rash endorsements of weak Republican candidates in several states 
Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania all had incumbent Democrat senators who could have been soundly defeated by a reasonably competent Republican candidate in 2022, but Trump foolishly endorsed Blake Masters in Arizona (who had never held any elective office), Herschel Walker in Georgia (whose credibility was repeatedly challenged), and political newcomer Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania. 

All three states had stronger candidates who would have won the election and would have given Republicans a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but Trump failed to endorse the strong candidates, choosing instead people who agreed with his claim that the election was stolen.

(4.) Trump has massive ongoing legal problems 
The multiple active lawsuits against President Trump (91 felony counts) constitute a huge risk because they could essentially keep him from actively campaigning during the entire election season of 2024. In addition, the legal discovery process holds the potential of some insiders anonymously leaking a drip-drip-drip of embarrassing and damaging new information about Trump after he wins the Republican nomination, and it is too late for Republicans to replace him with a non-scandal-plagued candidate. The Democrats could win in a landslide. It is too great a risk.

My own view (others may differ) is that the legal charges against Trump do not stem from impartial attempts to pursue equal justice under the law but instead stem from the horrible misuse of prosecutorial authority by Trump-haters who first selected their victim (Donald Trump) and then searched high and low for some crime they could charge him with committing. I think that the charges against Trump are a malicious misuse of the courts as weapons against political opponents. But the trials will go on, and they must be taken into account.

The best way to support Trump now is not to nominate him and then lose the general election. That would only reward those renegade prosecutors and judges. The best way to support Trump is to win the presidency by nominating a candidate who has a much greater chance of winning and then issuing a well-deserved pardon to Trump.

(5.) Trump’s age
Trump was born on June 14, 1946, which makes him 77 years old. When compared to President Biden, who at age 81 is obviously frail and out of touch, Trump seems healthy and strong. But compared to DeSantis (age 45), or other possible Democrat candidates such as Gavin Newsom (age 56), Michelle Obama (age 59), or Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (age 50), Trump’s age becomes a significant risk factor. Trump is now eight years older than when he began his successful campaign in 2015 and at age 77 there is always the risk of an unexpected health problem in the middle of a demanding campaign.

(6.) Concerns about Trump’s character
Especially among voters with a strong religious commitment (such as hundreds of my friends who are evangelical Christians), there remains a cloud of concern about Trump’s deepest moral convictions, especially about relationships with women (people remember the Access Hollywood tapes), and also about insufficient care for factual accuracy in what he says, and about his practice of insulting former political allies who now disagree with him. This concern about character gave rise to many thousands of never-Trump Republicans who did not vote for either Trump or Clinton/ Biden in 2016 or 2020. Hoping that these Republicans will “come home” and vote for Trump in 2024 is merely wishful thinking. And without them, Trump will surely lose the general election.

(7.) Trump fatigue 
Here I speak personally as a lifelong Republican, one who will support any Republican candidate because the policies supported by Republicans are more consistent with the overall teachings of the Bible regarding governments and laws than the policies of the Democrats, in my opinion.

Quite honestly, the thought of having to defend Trump again and again for another year produces in me a great feeling of weariness. Judging from numerous personal conversations, I think millions of other Republicans feel the same way. If Republicans nominate Trump this time, we run a gigantic risk of losing the presidency once again, with disastrous consequences for the nation.

9. He (DeSantis) is not being promoted as much as Haley or Trump by the liberal mainstream media

I find it significant that much of the mainstream media keeps returning to stories claiming that “Trump is far in the lead!” or “Nikki Haley is surging!,” while they pay little attention to the DeSantis campaign.

That approach makes me think that they realize that DeSantis is the strongest candidate and they would much rather have Republicans nominate Haley or Trump. I interpret the lack of media excitement about DeSantis as a positive sign that he is the Republican candidate most likely to win the general election.

10. He will pardon former President Trump

DeSantis has said that if he is elected President he will pardon former president Donald Trump. I think this is clearly the right thing to do because Democrat politicians and other officials have wrongfully turned our criminal justice system into a political weapon that arrests and brings charges against many influential Republicans.

The best way to help Trump Is to win the presidential election with a candidate who will bring accountability to those who have turned government agencies into political weapons.  

Conclusion: DeSantis is an extremely strong candidate

As I look over these 10 points, it is hard for me to think of any other Republican candidate in my lifetime who was as well qualified to be president as Ron DeSantis. If he wins the Republican nomination, I think he will win the presidency by a wide margin.

Will the election be about Trump or about issues and policies?

One final point about Trump: If Donald Trump becomes the Republican candidate, the election will focus more on Trump than on the policies of the two parties. We will have endless media coverage of Trump’s trial, Trump’s lawyers, Trump’s friends and enemies, Trump’s health, Trump’s unprovable claim of a stolen election, Trump’s conduct on January 6 — and endless media delight in asking speculative questions such as: Could Trump actually go to jail? How could the Secret Service protect Trump in jail? How could Trump meet foreign leaders in his jail cell? Could Trump pardon himself? and so forth. Because he is such a forceful personality, and because he is so controversial, and because any story about him attracts viewers and readers, all of the 2024 election season will be Trump, Trump, Trump stories all year long. Is this really what we want as a nation?

But if another Republican such as Ron DeSantis is nominated, the election will be much more about big issues facing the nation. The election will focus on inflation, taxes, securing the border, crime, support for police, school choice, Israel, Ukraine, our military preparedness, race relations, abortion, climate change, the role of judges, the Supreme Court, the national debt, etc.

And if the campaign is about issues, Republicans will likely win the presidency because the mood of the nation has shifted to much stronger support for Republican policies (for example, smaller government, lower taxes, a secure border, a stronger military, more availability of school choice, judges who interpret but do not create laws, etc.) than for the policies of the Democrats.

For all of these reasons, I’m hoping that once again Ron DeSantis will prove the pollsters wrong, win the Republican nomination, and become our next president, perhaps even a great president. Our nation badly needs someone of his stature.

Wayne Grudem, Ph.D., is Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary. The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and should not be understood to reflect the opinions of Phoenix Seminary. 

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