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Jake Bevan: Ron DeSantis Makes His Case in Iowa

DAVENPORT, Iowa—Ron DeSantis traveled here Friday for a “Freedom Blueprint” panel hosted by a fellow Republican governor – DeSantis’ first foray into an early primary season state where a slew of Republicans are vying for the dubious honor of emerging as Donald Trump’s main 2024 competition.

From the stage of a crowded ballroom at the Rhythm City Casino Resort, DeSantis touted a number of economic achievements and culture war victories from Florida, while offering his view on why he’s so popular back home. In DeSantis’ telling, the secrets to his success are “conviction, common sense,” and a willingness to use power for all it’s worth.

“The advice I was given was: It’s a divided state, very close election. Trim your sails, don’t rock the boat,” the governor said, describing what he was told as he began his first term. “I rejected that advice. My view was: I may have received 50 percent of the vote, but I earned 100 percent of the executive power, and I intend to use that.”

With that determination, he added, came an indifference to public opinion. “I am not doing polls,” he said. “What a leader will do is not be captive to polls, but to set a vision and shift public opinion.”

Although DeSantis is typically viewed as Trump’s main rival with the GOP, the former president went unmentioned in his 30-minute speech. Jabs at “leftists,” however, were frequent, along with expressed skepticism at the liberal establishment on a global scale – literally – and in the political establishment generally. The governor notably referred to a condemnation of new Florida anti-rioting laws by the United Nations as “a badge of honor.”

Just as with Trump, DeSantis’ enemies are many and varied. In his speech, he listed perceived victories over foes from ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) style capitalism to “Fauci-ism” and “the woke mind virus.”

One area where he hopes voters will draw a contrast not just with Joe Biden, but also with the Trump administration, is Florida’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Much criticized in the national media at the time, DeSantis believes his track record has aged well – better than blue states and better than the feds under either Biden or Trump. He touted policies like a ban on vaccine passports and requirements for students, which allowed Florida to remain a “refuge of sanity” as the rest of the world descended into “Faucian dystopia”. He denounced Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Biden administration for refusing to acknowledge shortcomings of the prevailing nationwide response.

Education was another arena DeSantis pointed to, recounting legislative victories such as Florida’s high-profile Teacher’s Bill of Rights and a purge of the “DEI Bureaucracy” (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) at Florida’s New College, something the governor promised to replicate throughout the state.

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The topic of “woke” and gendered politics brought attention to “the 800-pound gorilla in Florida politics” – Florida’s increasingly rocky relationship with the Disney Co. DeSantis made headlines after signing a bill revoking Disneyworld’s autonomous district (a “44-square-mile fiefdom” in DeSantis’ telling) that was “indulging in woke activism” on the taxpayer’s dime. Triumph over the corporate behemoth was framed as the ultimate achievement of his administration, as well as a glimpse of what he hopes is to come. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” he told the crowd.

Later in the day, DeSantis attended a similar event at the Elwell Family Food Center in Des Moines. Although largely a reshuffling of the morning speech, DeSantis’ afternoon remarks included a call for Mexican drug cartels to be officially designated as terrorist organizations, aligning the governor with a growing trend among leading GOP legal advocates and 2024 presidential candidates.

The Iowa trip is the latest installment in a push by DeSantis to export his model of leadership to other areas of government, following his landslide reelection victory in a midterm election otherwise unimpressive for Republican candidates. In December of last year, he attended a similar “Freedom Blueprint” event in Orlando, aimed at molding candidates for local school board elections, that dovetailed nicely with the Davenport event as well as a recent new memoir, “The Courage To Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.”

The DeSantis visit comes three days in advance of Trump’s own trip to the Hawkeye State, and coincides with a new poll by the Des Moines Register showing that DeSantis has nearly closed the gap in favorability between himself and the former president.

One attendee, a local farmer from outside Davenport who identified himself simply as “John,” was surprised DeSantis didn’t announce a run then and there.

The issue of electability was a concern shared by several attendees. Ted Zable of Bettendorf supported Trump in 2016 but feels he spends too much time these days “in the weeds.” “He could take the high road a little more often, but I don’t think he’ll change,” Zable said. “I got tired of that.”

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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