Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has finally, officially, entered the presidential race. The long-anticipated Trump-DeSantis matchup is about to hit prime time. Which means that so, too, is what Mr. DeSantis himself called in his recent book, “The Courage to Be Free,” the “Ron and Casey traveling road show,” a Camelot-meets-Mar-a-Lago by way of Disney series that is now going national. And while Mr. DeSantis may be the nominal star, it is his wife, in her supporting role, who has been making the most notable entrances.
At least judging by the previews that have been playing for the past few months at most of Mr. DeSantis’s major public events, including his re-election night celebration in November 2022, his inauguration in January, his State of the State speech in March and his trip to Japan last month. Throughout, Ms. DeSantis, 42, a former television news anchor, mother of three and breast cancer survivor, has demonstrated a facility with the power of the visual statement, and the way it can tap into the national hive mind, that has been as strategic, and big picture, as that of any political spouse in modern memory.
“She understands the image game and how to play it,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist who masterminded communications for the confirmation of the Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch. “How to maximize the levers of attention and the media.”
Put another way, while Mr. DeSantis may be talking presidential policy, Ms. DeSantis has been making him look the part, primarily by “dressing her part,” said Kate Andersen Brower, the author of “First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies.” By using all sorts of synaptic cues to connect what we see to what we think, she triggers associations with terms like “Kennedy” and “Trump” and even “royalty — not as odd a grouping as it may first appear, given that Kennedy was the first TV president, Trump the first reality TV president and Ms. DeSantis clearly a student of both.
She has the bouncing, glowing Breck locks of Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” (the 1991 animated version) and Catherine, Princess of Wales mixed up with the full-skirted pastel wardrobe of a well-mannered debutante, some fleece and a cape or two. She’s “dressing to be either princess of the world or first lady,” said Tom Broecker, the costume designer for “Saturday Night Live” and “House of Cards,” who has made something of an art of studying and replicating the style of first ladies. “There’s so much intentionality and purpose behind everything.”
To acknowledge that is not to undercut her substance — the work she has done for mental health, cancer research, hurricane relief — but to credit her with understanding a basic truth of modern campaigning. “Presidential campaigns are M.R.I.s for the soul,” said David M. Axelrod, the founder of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and a former senior adviser to Barack Obama. “Folks are not just evaluating your positions, they are evaluating you as a person.” To that end, he said, “spouses play a really important role in filling out that picture.”
Picture, in this case, being the operative word.
The Camelot Connection
Though Ms. DeSantis has always been a considered dresser, a lesson from her days as a local anchor with WJXT in Jacksonville, Fla., when she and Mr. DeSantis met, she has ratcheted up her style over the past year. On election night in 2022, she wore a floor-length gold and yellow one-shoulder ruched gown that made her look as if she were on her way to a state dinner, rather than simply taking the stage in the Tampa Convention Center.
It was her outfit on inauguration day in January, however, that really foreshadowed the couple’s ambitions in the public eye: a mint-green dress by Alex Perry, an Australian label, with a built-in cape flowing from the shoulders, worn with white gloves. In its color and line, it seemed to draw its lineage straight from the Kennedy era. This was only compounded by the bright pink dress Ms. DeSantis wore to her husband’s State of the State address, with a portrait neckline and more white gloves, another seeming nod to Jacqueline Kennedy, one of the most recognizable, revered and stylish first ladies in American history. Ditto the ice-blue dress she wore to accompany Mr. DeSantis to Japan, another caped style, this time with floral epaulets at the shoulders.
It’s a smart move, even if it can also seem like a cliché (clichés are clichés, after all, because they are part of common parlance). As Michael LaRosa, a communications strategist who was Jill Biden’s spokesman during her husband’s 2020 primary campaign for the White House, said: “Americans love glitz, glamour and attractiveness, celebrities and TV. Casey DeSantis understands all of that.”