Florida’s U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a third-baseman on the Republican’s baseball team who encountered James Hodgkinson moments before the Illinois Democratic activist shot up the practice field, said Thursday he was skeptical that any changed rhetoric would have stopped the shooter.
Appearing on the Morning Joe TV show on MSNBC, DeSantis recounted again, as he did Wednesday, how he and U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina were finished practicing at the Alexandria, Va., park, and in a car, ready to go back to Washington, when they were approached by a man they later identified as Hodgkinson, and that he asked them if there were Republicans or Democrats on the field.
DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach, said he and Duncan had no idea that Hodgkinson was bent on a shooting rampage that would critically wound their colleague U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and wound four others before he was shot dead by law enforcement at the scene. They did not see a gun, and left before it began, DeSantis said.
On Morning Joe, DeSantis characterized Hodgkinson as a “bad guy” full of “virulence and hatred,” and expressed doubt that any changes in the heat of political rhetoric would have changed him or others like him.
“I think we’ll have to see whether this event is indicative of any larger issue. This is a bad guy. I think clearly he had a lot of hate and rage building up, and he decided to attempt a mass murder,” DeSantis said. “And whether he was caught up in the overall climate or not… I’m a little bit pessimistic that anything much is going to change.”
DeSantis said he received a call in his Congressional office afterwards in which someone praised the shooting and declared hope that President Donald Trump would be next. He said a colleague received an email that stated, “One down, 217 to go.”
The congressman representing Florida’s 6th District – a candidate for a while last year for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, and rumored to be considering a run for Florida governor – said divided political rhetoric has long fueled America’s policy debates, to good ends.
“I look around here: we do have tough debates, but I’m not sure that if Congress thinks if a little bit of the debate is made a little bit more civil, that it’s going to change a guy like that. I’m just skeptical that would make a huge difference,” DeSantis said, then added, “Not saying we shouldn’t do it; but this guy clearly was troubled.”