Ethan Vaubel, senior economics major and president of the USF College Republicans, was doing homework on Sunday when he saw Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he is no longer running for president on social media.
“I watched the whole video and I was kinda shocked. I didn’t think it would be this soon, but figured it might be in the next month or so,” Vaubel said.
DeSantis made the official announcement on X – the social media platform formerly known as Twitter – during a four minute video. DeSantis endorsed former president Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate.
His loss in the Iowa caucus on Jan. 15 placed DeSantis 30 points behind Trump, according to a CBS article updated on Monday. DeSantis said that, after he “prayed and deliberated on it,” he could not require his supporters to continue volunteering their time if there was not “a clear path to victory.”
Tyler Tone, president of the USF College Democrats, senior economics and history major, said the news was expected and felt “cathartic” to some of the club members.
“He has made a lot of people in this state, especially students, feel very small,” Tone said. “Now to have him be made so small in comparison to the giant wave that is Trump, a lot of people felt satisfaction from that.”
Florida has seen extensive legislative action targeting higher education. The latest, Senate Bill 266 which restricts public universities from spending on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), will be discussed at the Board of Governors (BOG) meeting on Wednesday.
The state’s Board of Education voted to implement the resolution of cutting DEI funds and removing Sociology as a core course on Jan. 17.
Vaubel said such policies are very appealing to young republicans who were planning to vote in the primaries – and he’s not alone.
During a student polling conducted within the College Republicans, Vaubel found that the club was split between voting on Trump or DeSantis, with 35-40% in favor of DeSantis. He said after the announcement he feels confident in voting for Trump now that DeSantis is endorsing him.
“I don’t mind Trump’s vigor in the political stage, his excitement or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “I think it will be good for the Republican Party.”
Kayla Shirer, mass communications major and senior, said she was disappointed to hear DeSantis has not done “well” in the primaries, as she was planning to vote for him. She said policy changes such as the DEI funding cuts appealed to her.
“I just felt like certain topics should not be discussed in classrooms, whether it is elementary, middle school, high school or college,” Shirer said. “I get free speech and everything, but I feel we should just stick to the curriculum.”
Shrirer said she believes DeSantis’ focus on changing higher education will not stop simply because he is not campaigning for the presidency anymore. Susan McManus, now retired USF political science professor, said his attention will be in policy areas in Florida.
“Governors that step out of races like this are very interested in building up a legacy for themselves,” McManus said. “It is expected that DeSantis will consider the education field as one of his legacy areas.”
SDS member Joseph Charry, sophomore studio art major, said during his address that DeSantis does not represent what the “majority wants,” urging students to speak out against these legislations.
“He already lost his presidential race, and now he has got to lose here at universities too,” Charry said.
The group chanted “No hate, no fear, DEI is welcome here.”
Senior and history major Daniel Pimieta said when he saw that DeSantis was stepping out of the race on YouTube he was not surprised. He said DeSantis’ “openly anti-LGBTQ+ stance” is very polarizing among voters.
Among the latest bills passed, SB 254, banning access to gender affirming care, and HB 1521, that requires people to use the bathrooms relating to their sex assigned at birth, were deemed “extreme” and “discriminatory” by the Human Rights Campaign.
“Considering he wore high heels but was openly against drag, I mean, I figured he was going to drop out one way or another,” Pimieta said. “Compared to how strong Trump is in the Republican Party? Not surprising.”
Tone said DeSantis’ tactics of extensive “passing of policy” fell flat within the Republican Party.
“He discovered that it didn’t matter all that much because the connection with Trump, as a figure, is deeper and it’s based a lot on his personality, almost symbolic of what these politicians represent,” Tone said.
Although she is disappointed DeSantis did not advance in the primaries, Shrirer said she is glad to have him complete his term as Florida governor.
“I am excited because he is going to come back,” she said. “I really think he is doing great things in Florida. It is kind of a bittersweet moment.”
Additional reporting by Correspondent Joana Riva.