HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — With talks of a 2024 presidential run intensifying, Florida Republican governor Ron DeSantis took aim at Joe Biden during a prominent Republican gathering, calling the president "a disaster for our country."
During the Florida Republican Party’s Sunshine Summit on Saturday, DeSantis addressed a packed ballroom of state Republicans at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla. While the star governor has dismissed rumors surrounding his ambition to seek the Republican nomination in 2024, DeSantis portrayed himself as a clear alternative to Biden's "crazy" policy decisions, which he said have caused record-high inflation and "human trafficking, sex trafficking, and drug trafficking" at the southern border.
"No one would have believed that a man could be a woman. No one would have believed that Joe Biden could become president. So you just never know," DeSantis said. "You can look at what Biden's doing and just do the opposite. You're going to be fine. It just takes a little common sense."
DeSantis's comments come as prospective Democratic presidential candidates are training their fire on him, a sign that they view the former congressman as the biggest threat in 2024. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker (D.) derided DeSantis in a July 16 speech as "Trump with a mask on" and slammed the governor's COVID policies, while California governor Gavin Newsom has attacked DeSantis in a six-figure ad campaign airing in the Sunshine State.
DeSantis pushed back on Saturday, arguing that Florida is "the freest state in the United States." He went on to tout his decision to keep businesses and schools open amid the coronavirus pandemic while railing against National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, rhetoric he will almost certainly replicate should he throw his hat into the ring in 2024.
"We kept the state of Florida open. We protected people's jobs. We saved thousands of thousands of small, family-owned businesses, and we made sure kids in this state had a right to attend school in person," DeSantis said. "If [Democrats] had their way, this state would have descended into a Faucian dystopia. … Don't let anyone tell you that these elections don't matter, because they do."
Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio also spoke at the Sunshine Summit dinner. He railed against "elite, highly educated, affluent liberals" who prioritize "climate hysteria" and "transgender rights" instead of kitchen-table issues such as gas prices, inflation, and crime.
"As long as the country is in the hands of Marxist crazies and laptop liberals who work from home in their pajamas, the only thing they can produce are incompetent leaders who lead us into crisis after crisis," Rubio said.
The event also included congressional primary debates in Florida's 4th, 7th, 13th, and 15th districts, the latter two of which were moderated by Washington Free Beacon editor in chief Eliana Johnson.
The most contentious moment came during the contest between candidates for the nomination in Florida’s Fourth Congressional District, state senator Aaron Bean and Navy veteran Erick Aguilar. Aguilar, who was a registered Democrat until 2018, is facing blowback after sending fundraising emails to seniors that suggested the money would go to DeSantis and former president Donald Trump rather than to his campaign. Pressed about the scheme, Aguilar suggested that "computers" had been hacked. Bean returned fire, lambasting Aguilar as a "con man" who cannot be trusted.
DeSantis has condemned Aguilar’s emails, which he said were "definitely wrong."
The Florida Republican event sparked controversy for its decision to exclude legacy media outlets. The governor's press secretary, Christina Pushaw, dismissed concerns from "liberal media activists," telling those who were not allowed into the event to "try crying about it" then "go to kickboxing," "have a margarita," and "write the same hit piece you were gonna write anyway."