Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gave a rousing speech at the Republican Party’s Florida Freedom Summit in Kissimmee on Saturday, focusing on tough talk on immigration and reversing what he believes is America’s decline. But despite the cheering crowd, DeSantis remains underwater in the GOP presidential race.
The governor continues to trail Trump in public opinion polls by significant double-digit margins in the early voting states as well as nationally, with just a little more than two months before the first votes in the race for the GOP nomination takes place in Iowa.
While DeSantis needs to capture states around the country, the governor spent the first 15 minutes of his speech offering a greatest hits-like recital of his accomplishments in Florida during his nearly five years in office.
That included policies such as COVID-19 — eliminating lockdowns and moving away from COVID vaccines — his battles with the Disney Corporation and his support for parental rights in education, which has spawned lawsuits over concerns about African American history, book bans and other controversial measures in both the K-12 and university systems.
“We are the freest state in all of the United States – the free state of Florida!” DeSantis exclaimed to the cheering crowd. “We have set the standards on so many things that when things go wrong in some other cities around this country, the first place people think to escape for refuge, is right here in the Sunshine State.”
DeSantis then pivoted to looking more at the future, where he expressed concerns that this could be the first generation of Americans to turn over a less prosperous and free country to their children and grandchildren.
“I’m not going to sit idly by and witness the continued decline of this country,” he said. “The decline is not inevitable. The decline is a choice. We’re not going to be satisfied with merely managing the decline a little bit better than the Democrats. No, our mission is simple. We must reverse the decline of this country. We must usher in an American revival, and we must give this country a new birth of freedom just like we have in the free state of Florida.”
DeSantis received some of his biggest cheers with his tough talk about how he would handle immigration if he were president.
It’s considered a winning issue for Republicans with President Joe Biden getting low marks for his handling of the issue. According to a Gallup survey conducted in August, Biden received only 31% support for his immigration policies.
“We’ll put troops on the southern border. We’ll stop the invasion cold and when people come illegally, you don’t just sit there and throw up your hands, you send them back to their home country where they came from. We will build a border wall and we aren’t going to have countries like Mexico pay for it, not because they’re just going to fork over money,” DeSantis said.
Instead, DeSantis says he will impose fees on the remittances — money that foreign workers send back to countries in Mexico and other parts of Central and South America. The International Monetary Fund reported last year that there had been record levels of remittances sent by individuals working in the U.S. in 2021 that was sent to Mexico, Central America, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
“It will raise billions of dollars and it will go to construct the border wall,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis also said he would hold the Mexican drug cartels “accountable” for the fentanyl that he says is coming across the border from Mexico.
“We’re going to authorize the use of deadly military force because they are killing people all across the country by the tens of thousands and it is wrong and the people in DC don’t give a damn about it. But I care. I’m standing up,” he said, but did not provide data on the numbers or more information on the issue.
DeSantis closed out his speech by bringing it back to the state of Florida.
“I will get the job done as your nominee,” he said. “We will not only win the presidency, win the Congress, we’ll win the Senate. We’ll win state legislatures and school boards just like we did in the state of Florida as a leader. I always conduct myself in a way that you can be proud of. And as your president, I promise you this, I will not let you down.”
Meanwhile, Central Florida House Republican Randy Fine dramatically announced last week that he was ditching his previous endorsement of the governor and switching to Trump. On Saturday, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield also flipped, from backing DeSantis and now supporting Trump. Mayfield is a former Senate Majority Leader and is currently the powerful Rules Chair in the Senate.
In addition, Florida U.S. Senator Rick Scott on Thursday endorsed Donald Trump for president – bypassing DeSantis.
“This happens in these things,” DeSantis told a pool reporter on Saturday. “It’s a dynamic thing. I mean, politicians do what they’re going to do. But I would say taking a step back and looking across the country, we’ve got more endorsements from state legislators than any other candidate by far, like going down in Iowa and New Hampshire, all these places.”
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