SIMI VALLEY, CALIF.—Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis railed against California's progressive policies in a Sunday speech that offered a glimpse into the Republican's likely 2024 presidential campaign.
Speaking to a sold-out house at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, DeSantis lamented that California Democrats had driven people from the state with their progressive policies. The governor in particular blamed high taxes, public school "indoctrination," and soft-on-crime prosecutors for driving half a million people out of the state over the past two years.
"From the beginning of this state's history, all the way until like the last four or five years, people beat a path to California. You didn't beat a path away from California," DeSantis said. "Now you see the state hemorrhaging population."
The speech was the latest stop on DeSantis's book tour, which is widely viewed as a pre-campaign trek. If he chooses to run, DeSantis will join a Republican field that already counts former president Donald Trump, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, and "anti-woke" Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. A February poll of California voters showed DeSantis soundly beating Trump among Republicans.
Sunday's event brought an array of donors, library members, and the curious public, including actor Gary Sinise and former Republican California governor Pete Wilson, who told the Washington Free Beacon that DeSantis's speech was "magnificent."
Wilson would not say whom he would endorse in 2024, noting that "we're confronting the problem of having too much talent." But, he added, "the nice thing is that everything [DeSantis] said is true, and he has done all the things that he has talked about."
While many of his lines drew loud applause, DeSantis got a standing ovation when he declared that schools "should not be teaching a second-grader that they can choose their gender"—a perceived reference to California public schools' forays into radical gender ideology.
"In Florida we say very clearly we will never ever surrender to the woke mob," he said. "Our state is where woke goes to die."
Nor did he apologize for his blunt governing style, describing how, when he first won the governorship in 2018 by half a percentage point, some advisers warned him "to not rock the boat."
"I rejected that advice," he said. "My view was that I may have earned 50 percent of the vote, but I earned 100 percent of the executive power, and I intended to use it to advance the best interests of Florida."
In a thinly veiled jab at Trump, DeSantis boasted that he governed with "surgical precision" and avoided "drama or palace intrigue."
"Because we did that, we beat the left, day after day after day," he said.
Audience members on Sunday told the Free Beacon they turned out for DeSantis because they want to see an alternative to Trump.
"Most of my friends are avid Ron DeSantis fans," said Michele Fisher, a Los Angeles resident who described herself as a moderate, pro-choice, and "not too political" Republican who is trying to gauge which candidate she can see herself voting for. "Anyone running against Trump has to be a positive."
Another Southern California resident, Joyce Wiechert, said she voted for Trump in the past but this time plans to support someone else and is interested in both DeSantis and Haley.
DeSantis noticeably pulled his punches when it came to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.), who has run a proxy campaign against DeSantis for months, paying to run critical ads on Twitter, Facebook, and Florida billboards. While DeSantis stuck mostly to a broad discussion of California's politics, he did have one thing to say for his West Coast foil.
"Your governor is very concerned about what we're doing in Florida," DeSantis joked at the beginning of the speech, "so I figured I had to come by."
Published under: 2024 Election , California , Donald Trump , Florida , Gavin Newsom , GOP Primary , Ron DeSantis , woke