EXCLUSIVE – Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is taking aim at some fellow Republicans who he argues are acting like “potted plants” in the political and culture wars battle against the mainstream media and the Left.
And DeSantis, speaking Thursday evening to some of the top donors in the GOP, spotlighted his numerous conservative policy achievements the past four years in his war against “woke ideology” and touted that he’s “transformed” Florida from a top general election battleground “into the nation’s leading red state.”
The popular conservative governor was the kickoff speaker at a three-day “economic retreat” organized and hosted by the politically active fiscal conservative group the Club for Growth. The annual gathering, which this year is attracting roughly 120 of the biggest donors in the Republican Party, is being held at The Breakers, an exclusive seaside resort in an upscale southeast Florida coastal community.
While DeSantis, who’s widely expected by political pundits to launch a Republican White House run later this year even though he currently remains on the 2024 sidelines, never mentioned a potential presidential campaign or any 2024 timeline in his address, the governor showcased during his 40-minute speech that his conservative victories in Florida can serve as a roadmap for the entire nation.
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“You can fight back, and you can beat these people. Because in Florida we’ve beaten them time and time again, on education, on lockdowns, you name it, we’ve come out on top. And not only have we come out on top in policy, we’ve transformed the state into the nation’s leading red state,” the governor touted.
And the governor claimed that in Florida and across the country “we have a non-woke majority that wants to see sanity restored.”
“I’m not content to just keep taxes low and stay out of anything else,” DeSantis emphasized. “I mean I believe woke ideology is pernicious…my polices are helping to protect people from having the woke ideology shoved down their throats in institution after institution.”
Florida’s governor, a former congressman, saw his popularity soar among conservatives across the country the past three years due to his forceful pushback against coronavirus pandemic restrictions and his aggressive actions as a conservative culture warrior going after media, corporations and teachers unions.
DeSantis last year routinely dismissed talk of a 2024 White House run, but he’s dropped plenty of hints of a possible presidential bid since his 19-point gubernatorial re-election victory last November. Sources in DeSantis’ wider orbit say any presidential campaign launch would come in the late spring or early summer, after the end of Florida’s current legislative session.
Most public opinion polls in the burgeoning GOP nomination race, including one released Sunday from Fox News, indicate DeSantis in a top tier, trailing only former President Trump, with everyone else in single digits.
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In his speech, DeSantis pushed back against recent criticism by some potential rivals for the GOP presidential nomination over his aggressive actions in going after what he considers “woke” corporations, and in particular his battle against Disney.
“Some people who claim to be on the right have said we somehow were interfering with the free market with what we did with Disney,” DeSantis said.
Pointing to a bill he signed into law on Monday that limits Disney’s autonomy in Florida, DeSantis argued “I think we’ve brought some equilibrium to this.”
“I don’t think it works if you say corporate America can advance the Left’s agenda with no check and balance if we’re just going to act like it’s none of our business, because it’s affecting our county and if woke ideology takes over it will destroy this country. We are not going to let that happen in the state of Florida,” the governor stressed.
And DeSantis insisted that “Republicans need to not shy away from these fights just because the media and the Left’s going to call you names.”
“Some of these Republicans, they just sit back like potted plants, and they let the media define the terms of the debate. They let the Left define the terms of the debate. They take all this incoming because they’re not making anything happen,” he claimed.
DeSantis spotlighted that “the best defense is a good offense sometimes, and I think for a guy like me and other Republicans that’s certainly the case.”
The governor’s address at the Club for Growth retreat comes less than a week after DeSantis huddled in Palm Beach with his top contributors and a handful of leading conservative politicians from across the country at another donor retreat. And Thursday’s speech comes as DeSantis has been making stops across the country, highlighting his “Florida blueprint” and promoting his new book, “The Courage to be Free,” which was released Tuesday.
Club for Growth president David McIntosh, who introduced DeSantis, told Fox News that “Ron’s message was stand up for what you told people you’d do, and they’ll reward you for that, even if they agree with you on all the details.”
McIntosh said that DeSantis is being “very careful not to talk about being a candidate until he decides for sure that he’s running.”
And referring to the major donors in the audience, he said “I think everybody here hopes that he’ll be a candidate in 2024 and from the reaction, I think he got the message there are a lot of people in the audience who would love to see him run.”
DeSantis is the first of a handful of actual and potential 2024 Republican presidential contenders to address the conference.
Former Vice President Mike Pence and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who are seriously mulling White House runs, speak on Friday. On Saturday, former ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and entrepreneur, author, and political commentator Vivek Ramaswamy, who are both declared candidates, address the crowd. So does Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who’s making moves towards launching a presidential campaign.
Trump, who lives just a few miles away in Palm Beach, was not invited to the conference. Instead, on Saturday the former president will headline the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC, which is being held at National Harbor in Maryland, just outside the nation’s capital.