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How confusion about pronouncing his name could matter for DeSantis

This is not the first time the Florida governor has faced the question

The pronunciation of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' last name is a minor issue in his run for the GOP presidential nomination, but questions about it should not have been a surprise.
The pronunciation of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' last name is a minor issue in his run for the GOP presidential nomination, but questions about it should not have been a surprise. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — The recent controversy over the pronunciation of the Florida governor’s last name is the latest evidence that there’s rarely anything new under the sun. It’s not the first time there’s been confusion over how to pronounce DeSantis. 

In his video announcement for president, Ron DeSantis pronounces his last name “DEE-san-tis,” while the announcer in the video from the super PAC backing him, Never Back Down, pronounces it “deh-SAN-tis.” 

Even though DeSantis tried to play off the discrepancy with a smug answer (“The way to pronounce my last name? Winner”) the different pronunciations, particularly from some of the people and groups closest to him, are strange. It’s hard to think of an analogous situation from a different candidate in any race. And yet it’s also not new to DeSantis.

Thanks to mandatory ad disclaimers, it’s possible to see whether DeSantis himself has changed the pronunciation of his name, as former President Donald Trump has claimed. DeSantis has been fairly consistent. In an ad titled, “Oath,” during his initial run for Congress in 2012, DeSantis used the same “DEE-san-tis” pronunciation that he’s using now in his presidential campaign. 

But of course, it’s not that simple.

In the most memorable TV ad from his 2018 campaign for governor, both DeSantis’ wife Casey and the ad’s announcer pronounce his name “deh-SAN-tis.” There’s even a story from a local Jacksonville TV station about the name discrepancy. That package laid out the situation, and included a 2016 video in which the candidate himself uses the “deh-SAN-tis” pronunciation. DeSantis prefers “DEE-san-tis,” a campaign spokesman said in a Tampa Bay Times story from the 2018 campaign.

The name confusion isn’t going to be the single event that derails DeSantis’ run for president. But it is striking that the governor and his team can’t get on the same page and didn’t have a better response, considering the same questions came up more than four years ago. The name issue should not have been a surprise, or even happened in the first place. 

In order to defeat Trump, who is effectively the incumbent in the Republican presidential race, DeSantis needs to run a near-perfect campaign. Minor hiccups and distractions add up over the course of a race. DeSantis’ Twitter Spaces announcement debacle with Elon Musk was an even higher-profile unforced error. 

Even though Trump starts the race ahead of DeSantis and the rest of the field, he’s vulnerable. But Trump also knows how to take a small misstep and blow it out of proportion. DeSantis can’t afford to give him ammunition.

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