Donald Trump v. Ron DeSantis: Young conservatives debate GOP’s future

Trump DeSantis
Turning Point USA attendees weigh their options for 2024.

When former President Donald Trump took the stage before a crowd of more than 5,000 young conservative activists in Tampa this weekend, he received the rock star’s welcome he’s grown accustomed to over the seven years in which he’s reshaped the Republican Party.

One night earlier, it was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who had the crowd on its feet as he headlined the day’s program at Turning Point USA’s annual Student Action Summit.

“To be honest, it’s like choosing between your favorite child,” said Leo Milik, 19, who lives in Barrington, Illinois, when asked whom he’d like to see as the party’s next nominee.

Milik, wearing a “Trump was Right” baseball cap, said both Republicans “have their pros, they have their cons.” For now, he said, he’s leaning toward Trump.

That sentiment reflects the soul searching underway inside the GOP as an invisible Primary for the 2024 presidential nomination begins to take shape, dominated at least for the moment by Trump and DeSantis.

There’s little doubt that Trump is moving closer to announcing a third presidential campaign. But there’s genuine debate over whether he’s the party’s best candidate to take on President Joe Biden, who is otherwise seen as a vulnerable incumbent heading into the next campaign, weighed down by soaring inflation, sinking popularity and questions about his capacity to manage the U.S. into his 80s.

This summer’s hearings by the House committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection have only amplified the GOP’s anxiety about Trump. A pair of weekend editorials in the New York Post and Wall Street Journal — publications owned by the often Trump-friendly Rupert Murdoch — underscored the impact, castigating the former President for refusing to call off the mob of his supporters as they stormed the U.S. Capitol to halt the peaceful transfer of power.

“As a matter of principle, as a matter of character, Trump has proven himself unworthy to be this country’s chief executive again,” wrote the New York Post.

But inside the Tampa Convention Center, mentions of Jan. 6 elicited cheers as a who’s who of Trump’s “MAGA movement” took the stage in a room that had the feel of a Las Vegas nightclub.

Young attendees dressed in sparkly heels and candy-colored cowboy boots danced under laser lights to a DJ before the program began. Speakers were introduced with WWE-style videos, elaborate pyrotechnics and smoke displays. Throughout the venue, ring lights were placed strategically in front of logoed backdrops for flattering photo ops. Outside, a small group of neo-Nazis briefly waved swastika flags.

The top draw was Trump, who again teased his future plans.

“I ran twice. I won twice and did much better the second time … and now we may just have to do it again,” he said to thundering cheers and chants of “Take it back!”

During his speech, Trump appeared intent to address criticism from some corners of the party that he is too focused on relitigating the 2020 election, telling the crowd he wanted to talk about “some of the really big issues.” But he quickly returned to familiar grievances, labeling himself the most persecuted politician in the nation’s history as he inched ever closer to announcing a run.

“If I renounced my beliefs, if I agreed to stay silent, if I stayed home, if I announced that I was not going to run for office, the persecution of Donald Trump would immediately stop,” he said. “But that’s what they want me to do. And you know what? There’s no chance I do that.”

DeSantis, who often insists he is focused solely on reelection as governor, headlined Friday night’s program in an appearance that strongly suggested his ambitions extend beyond the state.

He welcomed the crowd to the “free state of Florida” and highlighted the anti-COVID mitigation policies that made him a conservative hero during the height of the pandemic. And he bragged about his efforts to bar discussions of race and sexual orientation in Florida classrooms, as well as his battles with Disney.

“We’ve accomplished an awful lot in the state of Florida. But we have only begun to fight,” he said. “Because we are on a mission to keep the state of Florida free and to save our great country.”

An unscientific straw poll of attendees at the event found that 78.7% would vote for Trump in a GOP primary, with DeSantis coming in second with 19%. No other potential candidate came in above 1 percent.

And many were indeed all in on a Trump 2024 run.

“I love the idea, I absolutely do,” said Ryan Malone, 33, who recently moved from New York to Florida. While he is a big fan of DeSantis, he argued that Trump is best positioned to turn the country around from what he sees as Biden’s litany of failures.

“I think that he would get more done,” he said. “Again, I love DeSantis, he’s my 1A, right? But I do think that if we’re going to get out of this miserable period that we’re in, Trump is the guy to get us out of this hole.”

Still, he worried about what might happen if the two were to run against each other in a GOP primary.

“I wouldn’t want to see there be bad blood between the person who’s, like, the true leader of our party and then the person who’s, you know, the second coming,” he said.

But his wife, Dr. Mariuxi Viteri Malone, 33, is eager for DeSantis to run. As an immigrant from Ecuador, she said she was offended by Trump’s rhetoric toward Hispanics.

“Be nice!” he said. “That’s all you need to do.”

Others were more strategic in their thinking.

Cameron Lilly, 29, said that he personally likes DeSantis better than Trump, but nonetheless thinks another Trump run makes sense for the party.

“I think Ron DeSantis right now is wasting the one more chance that Trump has,” said Lilly, who works for a defense contractor in Annapolis, Maryland. “I like DeSantis even a little bit more. But I think if we want to have consistent conservatives in the White House, one more Trump term, DeSantis as vice president, and then potentially one or two more terms. That’s the way to keep conservatives in the White House for more years.”

Steven Dykstra, 22, had another reason.

“As much as I want DeSantis to be the President — he would make a great President — I want him to stay in Florida,” said Dykstra, who attends Pasco-Hernando State College. “If he were to run in 2024, he wouldn’t be our Governor. He’s been a great Governor. I think he should stay.”

Orlando sisters Sydney and Janae Kinne, who go by “The Patriot Sisters” online, said they were fans of both Trump and DeSantis, but don’t expect either to run in 2024.

“I would still vote for him. We’re still there. But I would like to see him in a different seat this year,” said Janae, 23, of Trump. “If he runs, I mean, we’re going to be on the street rooting for him anyways. But we’d like to see him start to raise up other people who have the same mentality.”

Sydney, 21, said she was looking for an alternative, but wasn’t sure who.

“That’s the question of the hour,” she said. “Right now what we need is someone that, yes, is strong, they’re strong-willed, but someone that’s a little more kind of rallying everyone together.”

But Zachary Roberson, 22, said that, if he ever had to choose between Trump and DeSantis, he’d pick the Florida Governor.

“He seems like a more refined version of Trump. So I’m hoping he runs for President,” said Roberson, a student at Florida Gulf Coast University.

As for Trump, Roberson suggested: “You can run for Governor here in Florida.”


Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Associated Press


  • Joe Corsin

    July 25, 2022 at 7:51 am

    Vote RED for billionaire dictators
    Vote RED for abominable far right propaganda
    Vote RED for forced birth of meth babies
    Vote RED for government by the Church
    Vote RED for low wage slavery
    Vote RED for terrorist militias

  • Tom

    July 25, 2022 at 8:17 am

    America’s Governor is the new conservative generation leader. He’s clearly set the agenda, with great success.

    DeSantis is the Youngest chief executive in the country. He Demonstrated great leadership in dealing with 100 yr pandemic successfully.

    Florida’s economy is on fire do to him, the best non blue state example. 2.8% unemployment jobs, wage growth 7.8%, $21 billion in state financial reserves.

    Florida is the example. DeSantis may or may not run but his record Is second to none.

    The greatest Governor in the country.

    • Joe Corsin

      July 25, 2022 at 9:08 am

      ^ Far right sycophant and propagandist Tom strikes again. In Florida, wages were abominable during Trump. The equivalent of what $6 an hour was worth back in 1997. Housing here is only affordable to rich people now. The economy is not good because of DeSantis but rather people have to work because housing prices are so high that they will die in a week if they don’t. Most people live paycheck to paycheck. Also on one hand Florida is a far right police state and on the other Ron stirs up hatred, anti-government militias, white supremacists, religious terrorists…vote BLUE!!!!!!!

  • Ocean Joe

    July 25, 2022 at 9:59 am

    These folks are struggling to decide which demagogue they want most. One drafted off and crashed the economy Obama and a Democratic congress left in his hands, while the baby version runs around Florida handing out checks funded by the federal infrastructure bill which was voted against by ALL Florida Republicans in Washington, and at the same time blames government spending for inflation.
    Sewers, bridges, roadways, power stations are getting fixed in spite of them. Trump couldn’t pass an infrastructure bill, even with a Republican congress. He couldn’t even strip 20 million lower income Americans of healthcare, but he tried.
    Gas too expensive? Not enough drill baby drill? Yet everytime Big Oil wants to drill off the Florida coast, Florida Republicans line up for the NIMBY parade (thankfully).
    My advice to young Republicans: you will be on the planet in 50 years, isn’t it time to quit with the climate denial both of these guys offer?

  • Tom

    July 25, 2022 at 6:14 pm

    LMAO, Joe corsin you sound like mentally ill Alex, I destroyed him. Same for you.
    Ocean Joe, I like you but you are pushing envelope way to far.

    America’s Gov addressed climate Saturday evening. At Repub summit.

    You two are shameful like Manchurian nation.
    You give us devastated economy, runaway inflation, 10, 20 or 30%, and you have audacity to suggest that precious dropped the ball.
    What did Obummer or Pusey chaser Clinton do about your stars corsin.

    You Dem Dum Manchurians are pathetic.
    Gov Ron saved Florida, rising tide fir all. 2.8% unemployment due to him, Covid recognized as the right stuff! 7.8% wage growth due to hot economy. Judges the beat. Saved lake O, vetoes Simpson big sugar bill.
    Potus 45 had red got economy, Burian up, blue collar, middle class, working class revival.

    Hispanics coming to GOP, Asians too.
    It’s a avalanche, Marco and America’s greatest Gov win big. Dumings, Chameleon and or Fraud no chance.

Comments are closed.


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