Florida Governor Ron DeSantis headed off to the critical early battleground of Iowa for a kickoff event Tuesday, followed by stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina, in his first official campaign tour since announcing his candidacy for president on May 24. Meanwhile, as Memorial Day presented a ripe opportunity for electioneering, DeSantis could have followed the lead of countless presidential candidates and offered up a predictably heartfelt tribute to those who have lost their lives in service to their country. But given vicious attacks on him by Trump right out of the gate, and despite the fact that he is a Navy veteran who served in Iraq, inspired to join the military in the wake of 9/11, DeSantis went in an entirely different direction.
Evidently bowing to the reality that he needs to offer something new and different to shake off the image of “Trump-lite” and narrow the wide gulf currently separating him from the former president in polling among GOP voters, DeSantis went on the Fox & Friends morning show Monday and delivered a forceful denunciation of wokeness permeating the ranks of the military: “I see a lot of emphasis now on political ideologies, things like gender pronouns. I see a lot about things like DEI [Diversity Equity and Inclusion programs], and I think that that’s caused recruiting to plummet … it’s driven off a lot of warriors … morale is low.”
DeSantis Speaks From Experience
The Florida governor invoked his own time on the battlefield and the nation’s spirit of unity in the aftermath of 9/11/01 to draw a stark contrast to Joe Biden’s newly woke armed forces, where DEI appears to supersede military preparedness: “I remember being in Iraq, and we were in Fallujah and it was not going well. And yet people were still willing to sign up knowing they get sent to Iraq because they believe that this was something special and I think we’ve lost that a little bit.” This begs the question of whether we would respond as a united nation to a terrorist attack today, 22 years later, as we did before left-wing/anti-American ideology started seeping into the ranks of the military hierarchy. It has joined many other American institutions in the post-George Floyd surrender to “anti-racism” which DeSantis has called by its rightful name: cultural Marxism.
This outspoken stance on the defense of the homeland represents yet another spoke in the wheel of a movement DeSantis intends to take across the land from his home base of Florida, which he proudly proclaims is “where woke goes to die.” But in laying down the pretext of a dispirited military, the bottom-line significance of his remarks was his promise to make “very big changes in the services” on “day one” of his presidency.
But even as the Florida governor sought to steal the spotlight on a solemn national holiday, Trump chimed in on Truth Social as only he can, proclaiming that he is devoted to “stopping the threats of the terrorists, misfits and lunatic thugs who are working feverishly from within to overturn and destroy our once great nation … stop the communists, Marxists and fascist ‘pigs’ at every turn and make America great again!”
All in all, the long weekend proved to be a revealing – and potentially game-changing – time for the 44-year-old rising DeSantis. Challenged broadly to step up to the plate and respond to all the high and tight fastballs (“Ron DeSanctimonious”) pitched by Trump, he responded in kind, going after the 45th president directly – and on multiple fronts – for the first time on the campaign trail and most pointedly during an interview on a Tennessee radio station. In illuminating the present debate over the debt ceiling, he observed that “We’re $31 trillion in debt – and [Trump] added almost $8 trillion in debt in just four years as president.” He invoked Trump’s response to the pandemic, saying “he turned the country over to [Dr. Anthony] Fauci in March of 2020 that destroyed millions of people’s lives.” And he accused Trump of the unforgivable sin in any Republican campaign, “moving to the left … even taking Disney’s side against me.”
Trump, reportedly taken aback by DeSantis’ attacks, responded by claiming DeSantis’ handling of Covid-19 was worse than Andrew Cuomo, the disgraced Democrat who governed New York during the pandemic and was later forced to resign. DeSantis, in turn, called that claim “very bizarre.” He summed up his feelings by saying, “I don’t know what happened to Donald Trump … This is a different guy today than when he was running in 2015 and 2016.”
So, the battle for GOP supremacy is joined, with DeSantis demonstrating that he will not roll over and be just another punching bag or trophy for Trump. He is clearly intent on avoiding the type of passive or ineffectual responses by the many subjects of Trump’s insults – Low-energy Jeb, Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco, Crooked Hillary et al. His plan to flip the script and force Trump onto defense is not without peril, but down some 30 points in the polls, Ron DeSantis evidently has concluded that he has no other choice.
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