Florida Guv DeSantis courts right-wing as he weighs 2024 White House bid
DeSantis' address came with an attempt to sell Republicans a version of Trumpism without the chaos that engulfed the White House of the twice-impeached former president.
Published: 08th March 2023 01:06 AM | Last Updated: 08th March 2023 01:06 AM | A+A A-
MIAMI: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis positioned himself Tuesday as the leading Republican alternative to White House candidate Donald Trump, launching a legislative session that offers red meat for the ex-president's base as the party's rising star weighs his own 2024 campaign.
A darling of the populist right, the 44-year-old DeSantis has devoted much of his agenda since his reelection last November to bashing Democrats over what he sees as a hectoring form of performative liberalism he dismisses as "wokeness."
The governor's closely-watched "State of the State" address kicked off a 60-day legislative program aiming to expand gun rights, curb diversity efforts at state-run universities and end the "medical authoritarianism" of Covid-19 vaccine mandates -- all issues that will play well in the race for the Republican nomination.
"Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We have the opportunity and indeed the responsibility to swing for the fences so that we can ensure Florida remains number one," he said at the address in the state capital Tallahassee.
"Don't worry about the chattering class, ignore all the background noise, and keep the compass set to true north," he added. "We will hold the line, we won't back down. And I can promise you this: You ain't seen nothing yet."
Under DeSantis, state lawmakers are looking at extending a controversial ban on classroom discussion of sexuality and gender identity -- currently in effect through third grade -- to eighth-grade children, who are typically 12 or 13 years old.
And a state lawmaker filed a bill ahead of DeSantis's speech that would lower the legal abortion threshold from 15 weeks to six, making Florida one of the country's most restrictive states.
Republicans control both chambers of congress in Tallahassee, so little significant opposition is expected to any of the program.
The address came with DeSantis attempting to sell Republicans a version of Trumpism without the chaos that engulfed the White House of the twice-impeached former president.
Florida is facing a cost-of-living crisis, with soaring rents and an estimated 2.6 million residents lacking health care insurance.
But DeSantis offered an upbeat assessment of Florida's progress that drew a sharp contrast with Trump's doom-mongering keynote Saturday at the conservative CPAC conference in suburban Washington.
'Great American exodus'
His education initiatives and other right-wing red meat, such as a proposal to allow Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training, place him firmly in the Trump lane, however.
And they would be sure to get him noticed in a crowded primary field were he to jump into the race, guaranteeing him more of the glowing coverage he earned in conservative media for opposing President Joe Biden's pandemic health curbs.
Hours before the "State of the State," Trump took to his Truth Social platform and swiped at DeSantis, reprising one of his many nicknames for his rival.
"FLORIDA WAS DOING GREAT FOR MANY YEARS, LONG BEFORE RON DESANCTUS GOT THERE. THE SUNSHINE AND OCEAN ARE WONDERFUL THINGS TO HAVE!" Trump blared.
DeSantis has already signed into law measures stripping Walt Disney World of its self-governing status in a move widely seen as revenge for the entertainment giant's criticism of Florida's effort to restrict the teaching of sexuality and gender ideology.
"We defied the experts, we bucked the elites," he said. "We did it our way, the Florida way, and the result is that we are the number one destination for our fellow Americans who are looking for a better life."
But in the presidential stakes, the former US congressman is keeping his powder dry for now, preferring touting his new memoir around the country to joining the primary season fray.
At a Sunday event in Democratic-led California, DeSantis boasted of a "great American exodus" from liberal to conservative states and later this week travels to Iowa, the host of 2024's first presidential nominating contest.
Trump has hinted at a potential third-party campaign if he loses the nomination, although some states prevent candidates from running as independents if they've already appeared under a party's banner.