"Freedom over Faucism": DeSantis's crowd-pleasing speech to CPAC

"Freedom over Faucism": DeSantis's crowd-pleasing speech to CPAC

A little treat for the readership featuring your second-favorite Republican.

Or is it most favorite? The rankings seem to be in flux lately.

As expected, this address was a celebration of DeSantis’s record as governor of the state hosting CPAC this year with an emphasis on his policies opposing COVID mandates. “I believe that if Florida had not led the way, this country could look like Canada and Australia,” he claimed at one point, which is a strong line but silly so long as Texas remains part of the United States. Overall, though, it was indeed a “campaign-style speech,” as the Examiner called it, and maybe not just his 2022 gubernatorial campaign. The Orlando Sentinel was on the scene to ask CPAC attendees the fateful question: DeSantis or Trump?

John England, a South Carolinian with a home in Orlando, said he wanted DeSantis over Trump in 2024.

“Trump’s a businessman, and he was a good president, but he didn’t hold his words,” England said. “Which I like, but the American public doesn’t like. … I think DeSantis should run.”

England said Trump’s comments in the last few days praising Putin as “savvy” and “genius” for his attack on Ukraine were an example of Trump’s liabilities.

“Trump’s a New York businessman,” England said. “He’s brash, he just damn ‘New York.’ … The flyover states want somebody more calm and don’t want the businessman they say they want.

Another person in the crowd told the paper she didn’t want DeSantis to run for president — not because she doesn’t support but because she can’t bear to see him leave before his second term. “We want him here in Florida for as long as we can keep him.”

There was plenty of culture-war red meat in the speech, as you’ll see, which the Sentinel described this way: “DeSantis also cited his banning of sanctuary cities in Florida, despite there being no sanctuary cities at the time; his controversial election law, despite having praised the state’s process in 2020; and his attempt to ban critical race theory in K-12 schools, where it has not been taught.” And he got in a dig at “the Brandon administration,” which is juvenile and beneath his office but arguably irresistible in a raucous activist setting where it was destined to get cheers. The first rule of public speaking is to know your audience. DeSantis knows.

What I was most interested to see was whether he’d say something about Ukraine, which would force him to reveal which of the three Republican camps on Russia’s war he’s joined. The moment seemed right, with Putin’s invasion the top story in every newspaper in the world. A strong statement on foreign policy by DeSantis to open CPAC would serve notice that he’s thinking about a national future, one in which he might be called on to manage an international crisis involving Russia someday.

But he said nothing. As bold as DeSantis is in confronting Democrats, he’s timid in situations where he risks disappointing MAGA fans, which is why he can’t give a straight answer about whether he’s gotten a COVID booster shot. I think he would have been fine with the CPAC crowd if he had taken the path of least resistance on Ukraine and slammed Biden for “weakness” in failing to deter Putin. But that criticism would necessarily imply that Putin should be deterred, and that’s a risky assertion for a populist to make at a moment when influential America-First-ers like Tucker Carlson are assuring Fox viewers that not caring what happens to Ukraine is not only acceptable, it’s downright advisable. So DeSantis avoided the subject. Maybe he’ll be bolder at next year’s CPAC, after he’s safely reelected.

Here’s 20 minutes of the second-biggest star at this year’s conference. Or is he the biggest now?

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