Review: New Ron DeSantis book offers selective narrative for 2024 Primary audience

DeSantis Courage
What's left out is as interesting as what made it in.

“The Courage to be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival”

Ron DeSantis

Harper Collins/Encounter Books

Review by A.G. Gancarski

The new book from Gov. Ron DeSantis, his second volume, comes as he gets ready to launch his 2024 presidential campaign, giving readers an added context to consider.

Expectations of great literature likely are unfair for the book, which has been castigated by left-of-center outlets thus far, and hailed by conservatives, specifically Fox News properties. 

The first line of the book speaks to a national audience: “Most Americans instinctively know that something has gone wrong with our country over the past generation.” 

For those familiar with the DeSantis persona, especially as it was honed once Donald Trump lost his re-election bid, they know “instinctively” that this is a setup for a metaphor embraced by the Governor well beyond the covers of this slender and index-free 256 page volume.

Just paragraphs in, he’s celebrating his own sense of “true north” and “ability and willingness to lead with conviction,” and reminding people who may be unaware of the myriad times people have stopped him or written him to say “thank you.”

This is to be expected given the framing: Amid “blue state lockdowns,” Florida was “America’s West Berlin,” according to the Governor. And indeed much of this book is a celebration of DeSantis’ accomplishments and a parallel elision of inconvenient facts to serve a narrative tailored for 2024 Primary audiences who may seek an outsider that isn’t Trump.

DeSantis stresses that his book is no “validation” of the Republican Party and its “establishment.” Rather, his governance philosophy is a “rebuke to those entrenched elites” and “ruling class,” and the volume references publications like the American Spectator and conservative philosophers like Thomas Sowell to make the point that he too is one of the “outs” in opposition to an “arrogant, stale, and failed ruling class.”

The examples of DeSantis’ contrarianism to the “uniparty” abound, and are familiar to those paying close attention. His response to “the coronavirus” and assertions of his “education not indoctrination” approach to public schools are invoked here, as are moves against “woke capital” and the “legacy media” that show that he’s not just another “listless chief executive.” 

Amid this well-trod ground, however, are some interesting revelations.

His formative years offered some insight into the conservative DeSantis would become, going back to participation in the Little League World Series, where the Governor noted he played ping pong against players from Taiwan and realized that they weren’t “Maoists trying to further a cultural revolution.” And his first paycheck as an electrician’s assistant was eaten up by having to buy boots that were “OSHA compliant.”

“I doubt this made me any safer, but it did make me a tad bit poorer,” DeSantis quipped.

“Culture shock” followed at Yale, due in part to its prevailing left-of-center “ideological bent.” He realized at some point that the “working class communities” of the “Rust Belt” from which his parents emerged had more “common sense and accumulated wisdom” than the environs of the Ivy League. 

Nevertheless, he persisted despite the “revolutionary chic” and “strident leftism,” of course, getting an undergraduate degree from Yale and a law degree from Harvard thereafter, honors he would describe as “political scarlet letters” for Republican voters.

But it wasn’t all sackcloth and ashes: Among the highlights of that experience: meeting former President George H.W. Bush, who offered an interesting remark before a baseball practice.

“You can’t fool all of the people all of the time, but you can fool some of the people some of the time,” the 41st President quipped.

DeSantis graduated, of course, and then 9/11 changed everything. He earned a Navy commission during law school, with expectations that he would be leading prosecutions of those enemy combatants interred at Guantanamo Bay. The narrative jumped instead to Jacksonville in 2006, where he met television reporter Casey Black at a driving range. After the two practiced their swings, they went on to Beef O’ Brady’s for a drink, and the rest is history.

For those looking for much detail on DeSantis’ military service, it’s not here. He offered a high-level view of what he did in Iraq, before lamenting that the American commitment to the military action in the theater was less broad-based than the commitment of Americans in World War II, the last war declared by Congress.

He did, however, offer foreign policy insights, including comparing George W. Bush’s second inaugural address to “Wilsonianism on steroids,” a suggestion that despite serving in the war he didn’t align with the former President’s fundamental conceit regarding it.

The book soon enough moves to DeSantis’ run for Congress in 2012, which was preceded by his own first book, “Dreams from Our Founding Fathers.” His insight regarding the realities of publication was telling, as he realized that celebrity moves books more than literary quality, and that his book was not a “campaign book” as such.

“I just figured if you wrote a good book, you could sell it. I didn’t realize how much of the industry revolves around authors who already have big names,” DeSantis contended. “When it comes to nonfiction, it is far easier for a big name to sell a piece of garbage than it is for a new author to sell a good book.”

The novice candidate and wife Casey made up for naïveté with knocking on doors, and DeSantis believes he got a “supermajority” of those they visited ahead of the Primary. While that may be debatable, he won and got three terms in office, despite exploring a Senate run in 2016. 

DeSantis paints a picture of frustration from the outset of his career in Congress, saying that he would not “go along to get along” and that he shunned “the DC social circuit” in favor of reading bills he voted on and flying home to visit Casey, still on television in the Jacksonville market. He also “stopped trading stocks” when he got into Congress, a providential move in light of scandals of more recent vintage.

But despite his outsider status, he was able to make differences, including opposition to the Gang of Eight immigration bill in 2014 that he framed as “footsie with mass amnesty.” From there, he was a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, which put “sand in the gears of the Beltway machine,” and paved the way for an “outsider Presidential candidate” known as Donald Trump.

Not that Trump was perfect. DeSantis noted that the former President signed a waiver “to punt the issue” of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He put pressure on the White House in Congress, convening a subcommittee and apparently forcing the former President’s hand.

Despite being supported by Jeb Bush in the 2024 presidential race, DeSantis notes an anecdote here foreshadowing the former Governor’s failed campaign. Talking to activists in 2015, he canvassed the room about who they wanted. A couple of hands went up for Bush’s name, with even former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker drawing more enthusiasm.

DeSantis soon realized Trump would be the “man to beat in the primaries” and the logical heir to Ronald Reagan.

Trump’s ascendance offered DeSantis opportunities that otherwise may have bypassed him, including becoming “one of the earliest opponents in Congress of the Russia collusion investigation,” a point Trump has cited in explaining his endorsement of DeSantis for Governor in 2018. 

Skipping over the failed Senate campaign altogether, DeSantis moved on to the 2018 decision to run for Governor to succeed Rick Scott rather than serving as a “backbencher” in Nancy Pelosi’s House. He parlayed his “good relationship” with Trump into an endorsement that would “enhance (his) name recognition.” 

While Trump has contended DeSantis lobbied him for the endorsement with “tears coming down from his eyes,” the Governor offered a more clinical description of an “amenable” Trump who tweeted the endorsement out, allowing DeSantis to parlay presence on Fox News to a victory in the Primary.

Andrew Gillum, so often derided by DeSantis in the wake of his personal struggles, is represented fairly here as “far and away” the best “political talent” of the 2018 Democratic field. 

“Gillum hit all the erogenous zones of the legacy media … He was the next Obama,” DeSantis observed.

DeSantis also defended his ill-fated decision here to use the phrase “monkey this up” in reference to people voting for Gillum as “innocently using the word ‘monkey’ as a verb,” a failure of “legacy media” framing that repeated in “any innocuous action or words that I would use.”

The Governor evades mention here of post-election conflicts with Scott and of the decision to jettison key adviser Susie Wiles from his orbit, just as he avoided any mention of the key role U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz played in his Primary win over Adam Putnam.

He does extol his first Chief of Staff, Shane Strum, as well as former Education Commissioner and current New College President Richard Corcoran, meanwhile. The latter happened despite “critical commentary against (DeSantis) as a Putnam campaign surrogate.”

DeSantis also described the ongoing cultivation of the Trump relationship, downplayed as particularly meaningful during much of the campaign in this narrative.

Noting that he pressed Trump on algae blooms upon being elected, the President offered help — and a reminder of the then-future 2020 election, saying “Ron, you’d better make sure I win Florida!” He also noted that Trump described the “huge crowds” he got in the Panhandle when he was being sold on federal support after Hurricane Michael ravaged it.

The Governorship offered more than Trump interactions, of course. 2020 brought riots after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, and these riots upset the First Lady, who fretted about “very nasty expletives — the worst she had ever heard in her life” amid fears that protesters would have “ransacked” the Governor’s Mansion.

Paralleling concerns about Black Lives Matter were fears of critical race theory for the Governor, who extols Christopher Rufo here amid a long passage delineating the administration’s anti-critical race theory push.

The Governor offered little commentary on the 2020 Presidential Election, except for extolling reforms, but he did note that “election integrity” measures were signed into law on the Fox News Channel after that election.

“We did not have other credentialed press in the room, which caused some of the press to complain,” DeSantis remarked.

The Governor’s battle with the Walt Disney company plays here as well, with DeSantis noting he married Casey at the theme park, a “wedding that felt right out of a fairy tale” with a setting that was “not (his) idea.” He noted that for “most of (his) time as Governor” he had a “good relationship” with the company, which deteriorated when Disney pushed back against the state’s Parental Rights in Education bill.

Walt Disney would not have been pleased,” DeSantis remarked.

“That bill had nothing to do with Disney’s business interests in Florida,” DeSantis remarked. “Bending to the leftist-rage mob is a huge mistake for a corporate CEO.”

The Governor spoke to a political calculus also, noting that the decision to make moves against Disney “overshadowed the drawing of Florida’s new Congressional map,” which flipped Florida Republican to such a degree that Republicans control the House. 

DeSantis would return to congressional redistricting, rehashing criticisms of the Legislature sending him “maps that included unconstitutional racial gerrymandering” before eventually caving. 

Despite the slimness of this volume, DeSantis spent a lot of text on certain issues. For example, eight pages on a contretemps with 60 Minutes over COVID-19 vaccines could have been pared down. That helped to justify decisions to privilege conservative media, such as at last year’s Sunshine Summit that showcased Congressional candidates.

“Republicans have no choice but to presume that corporate journalists are acting in bad faith,” DeSantis asserted.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


  • Steve

    February 27, 2023 at 2:39 pm

    Reminds me of Mein Kamph and how Hitler came into power. I was for him but now.. not. But would take over Trump

  • Rob Desantos

    February 27, 2023 at 2:53 pm

    This small man’s outsized ambition (and maybe his wife’s even more) has rendered him unable to speak any language except political rhetoric, and unable to convey any discernible human emotion.

    Going to be a tall order for such a work-shopped personality to connect with independent voters nationally.

    • He knows

      February 27, 2023 at 4:12 pm

      His wife can’t form sentences and he won’t show up at CPAC because he knows orange Jesus will start calling him a marshmallow or something else.

  • cassandra

    February 27, 2023 at 8:39 pm

    DeSantis’ book didn’t answer the many questions surrounding his year teaching at Darlington High School. DeSantis failed again to explain the photo of grinning teacher “Mr Ron” with teenaged girls hanging all over him at a party.

    Take a look at that photo and ask yourself if you would want Mr Ron having access to your teenaged daughter.

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    Thank You America,
    Earl Pitts American
    Oh OK what the #ell I might come back tomorrow!!!!!

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      February 28, 2023 at 11:14 am

      Ok groomer

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