Donald Trump’s guy for governor traveled to Donald Trump’s slice of South Florida Monday morning to launch a bid to hold the state’s highest office, delivering a speech heavy on conservative principles but light on Florida policy.
Ron DeSantis, a three-term Palm Coast congressman and former military prosecutor who served at the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, name-dropped the president and blasted sanctuary cities during a 25-minute speech inside a crowded ballroom at the Embassy Suites in Boca Raton. Comparing himself to term-limited Gov. Rick Scott, DeSantis promised to clean up the state capitol and cast himself as the outsider in a Republican primary that features Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and may soon include House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
“We Republicans, we can’t have the insiders pick the candidate in 2018,” said DeSantis, who came to the stage holding his 14-month-old daughter, Madison. “We need someone who’s going to follow Rick Scott’s legacy and shake things up.”
The Fox News darling hit on his desire to bring term limits to Congress, his efforts to end secret harassment settlements for Congress members and staff, and his belief that the nation’s founding principles are “as relevant as they’ve ever been.” But while the audience learned his batting average at Yale University — 90 points better than former President George H.W. Bush — they didn’t hear what he thinks about giving public money to pay for charter school facilities, Scott’s controversial Enterprise Florida business subsidy program or many of the other hot-button issues at the state capitol.
We Republicans, we can’t have the insiders pick the candidate in 2018
“I haven’t looked at it yet,” DeSantis said when asked about the upcoming November ballot question to restore the voting rights of more than 1 million of Florida’s convicted felons. “But I’ll look at it.”
DeSantis, 39, announced he was running for governor Jan. 5 on Fox News after Trump appeared to endorse him in a tweet. The Harvard-educated attorney has recently bolstered his already conservative credentials and name recognition by attacking special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
DeSantis said after his speech that he chose Boca Raton, a right-leaning city not far from Trump’s Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago retreat, in part because of his support in the Jewish community. The congressman was among the advisers who pushed Trump to announce the U.S. would move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.
“You heard about my leadership on moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he told the Miami Herald. “I got a lot of support from people in Boca who said, you were the guy who was out there on it, and I think that’s part of the reason why we had a good crowd today.”
Ron Krongold, a Coral Gables businessman and a director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said after a private breakfast between DeSantis and some supporters that the Jacksonville native has become the state’s champion in Congress on diplomacy with Israel. Boca is also home to some of DeSantis’ biggest supporters, including Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, who gave $250,000 to the Fund for Florida’s Future, a political committee with DeSantis ties.
DeSantis was introduced by Jeniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico’s only (non-voting) member of Congress, who called him a “man of his word” and signaled that he’ll have some support from a Puerto Rican community in Florida that has grown past 1 million.
He promised during his speech to crack down on an opioid epidemic hitting the state, ensure students graduate with a “sense of what it means to be an American,” and promised to appoint conservative district and state Supreme Court justices. Afterward, he said he’ll have to prove that he’s got the credentials to become governor, and said a tweet from the president won’t put him into the governor’s mansion come November.
“Even a big endorsement, that’s not enough. You have to show voters that you understand there concerns and can do it,” he said. “Conversely, if you’re a good candidate, you’re going to be fine.”