In Milwaukee, Ron DeSantis was one of the crowd

Desantis fox debate
The first GOP debate saw the Florida Governor often out of the spotlight.

On Wednesday night in Milwaukee, Ron DeSantis descended slowly from a leader of the pack to just one of a group of candidates — one shoehorned-in stump speech excerpt at a time.

The Florida Governor, second in most polling to the absent Donald Trump, found himself largely treated as just another candidate during the Fox News broadcast, an identity he seemed to embrace with a low-key approach short on confrontation and long on familiar phrasing.

Both his Super PAC and his campaign produced strategy memos that suggested an aggressive game plan. In the end, the planning stopped once the back and forth started, with DeSantis often in the background as other candidates parried attacks and rebuttals. And when the Governor did speak, it wasn’t anything you hadn’t heard before.

Vivek Ramaswamy got the first direct hit on DeSantis early, referencing one of those strategy memos and blasting “puppets following slogans handed over to them by their 400-page super PACs.”

“Do you want a super PAC puppet,” he asked, “or do you want a patriot who speaks the truth?”

The Trump question, previewed in the super PAC strategy memo, didn’t lead to much from the Governor either, though he eventually got baited in.

When candidates were asked if they would support Trump even if he were convicted of crimes related to Jan. 6, DeSantis looked around the stage, then sheepishly raised his hand as part of the middle of the pack.

Chris Christie and Ramaswamy spent much of the segment throwing rhetorical haymakers as DeSantis kept his own counsel. DeSantis did not defend Trump against Christie as advised.

Asked directly if Mike Pence did the “right thing” on Jan. 6, DeSantis reverted to a stump speech chestnut.

“This election is not about Jan. 6 of 2021. It’s about Jan. 20 of 2025, when the next President is going to take office.”

The former Vice President challenged DeSantis on not having answered the question.

“I’ve answered this before. Mike did his duty. I’ve got no beef with him,” DeSantis said, quickly pivoting to blasting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Host Bret Baier reminded him that Trump was beating him by 30 or 40 points, and so the issue matters to voters, however inarticulate the Governor might be about it. For what it’s worth, DeSantis mounted no defense of Trump as the Never Back Down memo advised.

On the question of Ukraine, DeSantis raised his hand saying he did not support more funding for the Ukraine war, saying, “Our support should be contingent on Europe doing it.” DeSantis has called the war a “territorial dispute.”

Nikki Haley took issue with that position as she has before, saying that a President needs to have “moral clarity” and that “less than 3.5% of our military budget has been given to Ukraine.” Yet again, Ramaswamy took the lead on the rebuttal, though DeSantis eventually worked the discussion back to his stump speech formulation.

“I’m not going to send troops to Ukraine, but I am going to send them to our southern border when these drug pushers are bringing fentanyl across the border; that’s going to be the last thing they do. We’re going to use force and we’re going to leave them stone-cold dead,” the Governor said.

DeSantis distinguished himself by saying he would be willing to send Special Forces into sovereign Mexican territory, continuing his promises to treat illegal border crossers like enemy combatants.

“Yes, and I will do it on day one,” he said. “So, when they’re coming across, yes, we’re going to use lethal force. Yes, we reserve the right to operate.”

DeSantis and the other candidates also were charged with responding to the message of “Rich Men North of Richmond,” the grievance country tune of the moment. The Governor found a way to turn it into an attack on the President’s son.

“We cannot succeed as a country if you are working hard and you can’t afford groceries, a car, or a new home while Hunter Biden can make hundreds of thousands of dollars on lousy paintings. That is wrong. We also cannot succeed when the Congress spends trillions and trillions of dollars. Those rich men north of Richmond have put us in this situation,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also blamed COVID-19 “lockdowns” for the economic issues, saying, “A major reason is because how this federal government handed COVID-19 by locking down this economy. It was a mistake. It should have never happened … And I can tell you this: As your President, I will never let the deep state bureaucrats lock you down.”

The issue of “climate change” became a flashpoint also, with DeSantis bashing Biden for being “on the beach” vacationing in the days after the Maui fire, with his answer being drowned out when Ramaswamy accused the candidates of being “bought and paid for,” drawing a sharp reaction from Christie and others.

On abortion, meanwhile, DeSantis presented himself as an alternative to “abortion up until the moment of birth” promulgated by Democrats.

“We are better than what the Democrats are selling,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to allow abortion up until the moment of birth.”

However, he again backed away from a Florida-style six-week abortion ban for the rest of the country.

“Look, I understand Wisconsin is going to do it differently than Texas. I understand Iowa and New Hampshire are going to do different, but I will support the cause of life as Governor and as President.”

Asked about crime in Florida, specifically in Miami, DeSantis dodged the question, preferring instead to talk about George Soros and two suspended Democratic State Attorneys.

“These hollowed out cities. This is a symptom of America’s decline. And one of the biggest reasons is because you have George Soros funding these radical left-wing District Attorneys. They get into office, and they say they’re not going to prosecute crimes,” DeSantis said.

“There’s one guy in this entire country that’s ever done anything about that: me, when we had two of these District Attorneys in Florida elected with Soros funding who said they wouldn’t do their job. I removed them from their posts. They are gone.”

Education also came up. When DeSantis was asked about his desire to shutter the federal Department of Education, the Governor again sounded stump speech themes.

“The decline in education is one of the major reasons why our country is in decline. We need education in this country, not indoctrination in this country. And in Florida, we stood up for what was right first, we had schools open during COVID. And a lot of the problems that we’ve seen are because these lockdown states locked their kids out of school for a year, year and a half.”

While the stump speech smorgasbord was on order, some exceptions did apply.

For whatever reason, the Governor never mentioned the word “woke.”

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


2 comments

  • My Take

    August 23, 2023 at 11:33 pm

    “Thoroughly unlikable,” as Jennifer Rubin described Rondy.

  • papajim

    August 24, 2023 at 3:34 am

    Chris Christie told Ron not to defend Trump and not to say woke. Ron does as he’s told.

Comments are closed.


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