Book tour or shadow presidential campaign? DeSantis speaks again in the Midwest

(As originally published with bells and whistles, Thu, April 13th 2023, 4:58 PM EDT)

All-but-announced 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis spoke at an Ohio GOP Lincoln Day dinner on Thursday night, followed by a discussion with his wife, Casey DeSantis.

The Republican governor of Florida has been touring the country, joining other politicians and talking to audiences from Iowa to Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, and Georgia in recent weeks. He’s due in early-primary South Carolina later this week.

The Palmetto State’s former Republican governor Nikki Haley has already announced her candidacy and gone on speaking tours. More recently, the unannounced Sen. Tim Scott‘s name has emerged as a viable alternative.

The National Desk learned DeSantis will be in Washington next week to participate in a policy discussion hosted by conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation and the nonprofit “And to the Republic” which backs DeSantis as the GOP’s next presidential candidate.

Most of the traveling is presumably to sell his book, but the title — “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival” — suggests otherwise.

There’s his refusal to answer repeated questions on the subject from gubernatorial challenger Charlie Crist. Also, the speech he made after winning reelection in November. Plus, the state legislature with its GOP supermajority discussing oiling the wheels by letting DeSantis keep his day job while campaigning for president.

Meanwhile, CNBC reported the super PAC “Friends of Ron DeSantis,” which is urging him to run for president, raised $30 million in March for the term-limited governor. The group did not respond to a question from The National Desk about the purpose of its fund-raising.

Fox News reported another super PAC, “Never Back Down,” which is supporting his unannounced prospective candidacy for the White House, is spending at least $1 million for national advertising that’ll start Monday.

When the world went mad, we stood as a refuge of sanity,” the ad says. “Across the country, men and women willing to fight,” referencing the polarizing culture war he has spent years fighting. “Standing up for our children, their education, and a better future. Pushing back against the woke left and unleashing a next-generation economy.

DeSantis’ notoriety has led to backlash from the former president, official candidate, and now fellow Floridian, Donald Trump. 

Allies of the former president filed a complaint against DeSantis, formally accusing him of violating state ethics and election laws with a “shadow presidential campaign.”

The two have been leading polls for the GOP nomination for years. Most of the public put-downs have been Trump attacking DeSantis. Some of the latest have been calling him “DeSanctimonious” and posting an article claiming the Florida governor “partied with underage girls at drinking party while teaching at a Georgia school.”,

But, DeSantis got a jab recently when he was supposedly defending Trump before his 34 felony count indictment in New York.

Look… I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair… I can’t speak to that,” DeSantis said. “I’ve got real issues to deal with here in the state of Florida.

NBC News reported “DeSantis’ political operation” is taking Trump’s campaign seriously enough that it’s asking for support from the state’s congressional delegation. Florida has 28 districts; 20 of those seats are held by Republicans. NBC said six of them were contacted. This comes after four others — including Matt Goetz and Byron Donalds â€” endorsed Trump’s run.

DeSantis’ trip to Ohio comes the day after what Fort Lauderdale’s mayor called a 1,000-year flood that left the airport — one of the nation’s busiest — shut down for nearly two days.

Tuesday also saw another two organizations, representing distinct populations of Floridians, issue travel advisories against visits to the Sunshine State, which relies heavily on tourism, due to “extremist policies” from the DeSantis administration.

The LGBTQ civil rights group Equality Florida took what it called an “extraordinary step,” “warning of the risks posed to the health, safety, and freedom of those considering short- or long-term travel, or relocation to the state.”

It cited “laws strip away basic rights & freedoms,” citing “school censorship, book bans & health care restrictions” following last year’s controversial so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that was titled Parental Rights in Education.

There’s also the Florida Immigrant Coalition, which accuses DeSantis — who flew migrants from Texas, through Florida to Martha’s Vineyard — of:

Pushing an aggressive proposal to penalize those who aid individuals without immigration status to track costs for providing them with health care.

It was referring to a bill that would, among other things, require “certain hospitals [those that accept Medicaid] to collect patient immigration status data information on admission or registration forms” and “submit quarterly reports.”

The Florida Immigrant Coalition has a special website set up that includes tips to “make a clear safety plan.”

Those warnings come three weeks after a similar proposal by the state’s NAACP chapter that would urge Black Americans against traveling to Florida over concerns about “anti-Black legislation.”

Some of those issues were DeSantis rejecting an AP African American Studies course for high school students; banning critical race theory; eliminating university diversity, equity, and inclusion programs; and pushing for the so-called Stop WOKE Act, which critics say will whitewash ugly aspects of the nation’s racial history.

Fox News quoted DeSantis calling the possibility a “joke,” “ridiculous,” and dismissing it as a “stunt.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the 2023 Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in East Pennsboro Township, Pa., on Saturday, April 1, 2023. (Mark Pynes/The Patriot-News via AP)

DeSantis has prided himself on law enforcement and the state has a Recruitment Bonus Program to lure first responders from other states, touting the weather and contrasting Florida with jurisdictions looking to defund the police.

Last week, he announced Florida awarded more than 1,750 bonuses to newly employed officers. His office put out two news releases: One, about the state reaching “new milestones in law enforcement recruitment,” and the next day, simply quoting recruits who praised the governor while pocketing “a $5,000 bonus after taxes.”

That amounts to “more than $11.8 million to date,” the governor’s office said.

With DeSantis being flush with cash, having support from the legislature, pushing members of Congress, putting ads on national TV, and making appearances outside the state, don’t be surprised to see his name on next year’s primary ballots.

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