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Could crypto lose its candidate?

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Miami Mayor Denis Suarez, who’s running for president of the United States, took a shot at his Republican counterpart in the presidential race, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. 

Emphasizing his own support for crypto, Suarez said about DeSantis: “You gotta go beyond just saying that the central bank digital currencies are bad. Everybody agrees on that. That’s a very easy position.”

That incident tells a lot about the role crypto could have in the upcoming presidential race, but it says even more about DeSantis, who, until recently, was the most prominent “crypto candidate” in the field.

Now the politician faces harsh competition from other, vocally pro-crypto candidates, and his chances to become president or even win the Republican primaries are rapidly declining.

How DeSantis became a crypto darling

The Florida governor has been vocally supporting crypto since as early as 2021, when he proposed to allow businesses to pay state fees with cryptocurrencies in the 2022–2023 budgetary year. 

Even then, he had to compete with Suarez, who has been accepting his paychecks entirely in Bitcoin (BTC), while Miami under his mayorship became home to the “largest-ever” Bitcoin event and even got its own digital currency. In 2023, DeSantis began talking about crypto more often and his presidential ambitions. This March, he even dedicated a press conference to the potential project of an American central bank digital currency (CBDC).

Standing at a podium bearing the phrase “Big Brother’s Digital Dollar,” the politician urged Florida lawmakers and their “like-minded” counterparts to preventively prohibit the introduction of the digital dollar in their states. A CBDC is all about surveilling Americans and controlling their behavior, DeSantis added.

Later, he continued to criticize the CBDC and its potential issuer, the United States Federal Reserve, on Twitter (now called X). 

In May, DeSantis signed a bill restricting the use of CBDCs, including foreign ones, in the state. Once again, he emphasized the difference between CBDCs and private digital currencies: “I think they want to crowd out and eliminate other types of digital assets like cryptocurrency because they can’t control that, so they don’t like that.”

Later, DeSantis promised to lobby for the same prohibition if he becomes the president of the United States.

DeSantis vowed not only to ban CBDCs forever but to end President Joe Biden’s “war on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency” should he succeed him in the White House. However, he didn’t refer to any specific policies of the Biden administration, preferring to concentrate his attention on the Federal Reserve.

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Back in May, when the list of candidates for the presidency was much shorter, DeSantis seemed to many to be the logical choice for Republicans in general and the crypto community in particular.

Of course, he wasn’t the perfect candidate for every innovation enthusiast, given his disdain for progressive social policies.

DeSantis gained fame as a fighter against sanctuary cities, LGBTQ+ rights, gun control and the Affordable Care Act. But for a while, those could have been seen at least as a realistic compromise, signifying the partisan divide over crypto.

However, in the last few months, everything has changed.

Presidential candidacy unravels

Epithets about DeSantis, like “circling the drain” and “falling apart,” started to appear in the media in the middle of July. By the end of last month, his campaign had to cut almost a third of its staff to stay afloat. 

DeSantis still remains the second Republican candidate after former President Donald Trump, according to polls. However, if at the beginning of July he was a clear second choice for 35% of Republican voters, by the middle of August, this rating plummeted to 23%.

The pundits agree DeSantis failed at his strategy of becoming a “Trump-not-Trump” candidate, engaging aggressively in the same cultural wars but with a promise of electability in the midst of criminal investigations of the former president’s alleged behavior.

As it soon became clear, DeSantis failed to attract the loyal base of Trump’s conservative voters, who still believe in their candidate, while at the same time scaring away more moderate Republicans, who hope to cast their votes for someone not obsessed with a struggle for schools’ curricula.

DeSantis engaged in a feud with Trump, claiming that the latter failed to fulfill his presidential promises during his term, even with regard to building his notorious wall with Mexico. In response, Trump called his fellow Republican “Rondesanctimonious” and advised him to get a “personality transplant.”

“When he tries to be as visceral as Trump, he just comes off as weird,” sums up David Bateman, a political scientist at Cornell.

Alternative candidates

The good news is that even if DeSantis fails, he’s not the only pro-crypto candidate. 

The Democrats have Robert Kennedy Jr., who publicly confessed to buying 2 BTC for each of his children. He also announced that he would begin accepting campaign donations in Bitcoin and make the currency exempt from capital gains taxes if elected president.

Kennedy even promised to back the U.S. dollar with Bitcoin in the event of his victory. But for all that, in late July, just 9% of Democrats had a favorable opinion of Kennedy, with words like “crazy,” “dangerous,” “insane,” “nutjob,” “conspiracy” and “crackpot” among the most popular to describe the candidate.

Perhaps still far from the obvious favorite, the youngest-ever Republican presidential candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, managed to raise the level of favorable opinions about him from 16% in April to 27.2% in August and stands third in the polls after Trump and DeSantis.

The candidate, called “very promising” by entrepreneur Elon Musk, pushed for a stronger crypto industry in the U.S. and also accepts BTC for campaign donations, even offering nonfungible tokens (NFTs) to qualifying donors.

One obvious problem is that Ramaswamy demonstrates no less eccentricity than Kennedy, comparing Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley to the Ku Klux Klan’s grand wizard (Pressley is Black) and rapping Eminem’s songs at events. The rapper has since asked Ramaswamy to stop.

“Speaking about Governor DeSantis, I think it will be surprising to some that, by some polling, he may have been the winner or a winner of a recent debate,” Martin Dobelle, co-founder and CEO of Engage — a platform for crypto donations to political campaigns — told Cointelegraph.

Indeed, according to polls conducted in the aftermath of the Republican candidates’ first debate, 29% of debate viewers considered DeSantis to be the best performer of the evening.

However, 26% of respondents named Ramaswamy as the champion of the debate. It should be noted that Donald Trump was absent from the debate.

Nevertheless, Dobelle doesn’t think that one person should be considered a “crypto candidate,” nor should a single party be named the pro-crypto party.

“Dragging financial technology into this polarized political climate is not going to be a constructive strategy,” he said. “Rather than putting its chips behind one candidate, party or another, crypto should be building bridges and meeting people where they are in terms of where and how to start conversations about policy.”

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Dave Weisberger, CEO of algorithmic trading platform CoinRoutes, believes that it’s not just candidates who can influence crypto regulation. He told Cointelegraph, “Even with the current Biden administration’s open hostility towards digital assets, they might change policy if the pollsters tell them to do so.”

Perhaps the major intrigue that remains is Donald Trump’s crypto card for 2024. A vocal Bitcoin critic during his presidential term, the politician was recently revealed to possess over $2.8 million in an Ethereum wallet, in addition to over $4.8 million from licensing fees tied to NFT collections using his image.