Saturday, March 11, 2023 | 8:09 p.m.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke before several hundred attendees at a Las Vegas country music bar Saturday to promote his book, marking the second stop in battleground states in as many days as the conservative is believed to be considering a 2024 presidential run.
DeSantis, 44, spoke to upwards of 1,200 people at Stoney’s Rockin’ Country, a common meeting place for many visiting Republican hopefuls just south of the Las Vegas Strip. He took the stage just after 5 p.m. and discussed his 20-point landslide win for a second term for governor in November, and touted Florida as a “blueprint” for conservatism that could be followed elsewhere around the nation.
The governor began his remarks asserting residents from California and other liberal states have been fleeing in mass exodus to states like Florida to escape “leftist ideologies.” He claimed many Californians have moved to his state since taking office, and said he felt pity for Nevadans, who have been dealing with an influx of Californians for years.
“I grew up in Florida, born and raised, and never in my life until I became governor did I see California license plates in the state of Florida,” he said. “And I can tell you, Floridians were really spooked by it.”
DeSantis was introduced by former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who was the governor’s roommate when they were training to become officers in the U.S. Navy in the early 2000s. DeSantis was last in Las Vegas last year to campaign for Laxalt, who narrowly lost to Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto last November.
Laxalt described DeSantis as a patriotic man who enlisted in the years that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Laxalt also recalled DeSantis’ days at Yale, where he played baseball and received his undergraduate degree, and where he showed up to campus wearing “jean shorts and flip-flops.”
“Who would have imagined just a couple of decades later, he’d go on to become one of the most consequential governors in all of our lifetimes,” Laxalt said. “Every time someone has tried to restrict liberty and freedom, he stood up every time.”
The event was hosted by And To The Republic, a nonprofit led by Michigan conservative politics strategist Tori Sachs, that held similar speaking engagements for DeSantis earlier this week in Florida and Iowa, the first state to hold its Republican presidential contest, Jan. 8, 2024.
Nevada is fourth in the GOP nomination calendar, with its primary scheduled for Feb. 6, 2024. That’s behind only Iowa, New Hampshire (Jan. 16, 2024) and South Carolina (Jan. 27, 2024).
DeSantis touted the action his administration has taken to reform K-12 and higher education in Florida by signing into law bans on the teaching of “critical race theory” and diversity, equity and inclusion. Public learning institutions for years, DeSantis asserted, have been “injecting” pupils with social and political agendas from the left.
He also bragged about reigning in Disney, and other companies for imposing “woke” culture on Americans. Last year, DeSantis and the Florida Legislature — in which the GOP has voting control of the state senate and house — passed sweeping legislation that stripped the Walt Disney Corporation of its ability to self-govern, a power given to Disney since 1967.
DeSantis also disparaged public health measures like mask wearing and social distancing that became widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic, and contended the pandemic’s origins started in a lab in Wuhan, China, echoing what was once considered a far-right conspiracy theory but in recent weeks have also been asserted by U.S. intelligence and other federal agencies.
Those public health measures taken especially early in the pandemic were designed to exert power over powerless constituents, DeSantis said. He advocated that Dr. Anthony Fauci and other “medical bureaucrats” who led the U.S. pandemic response as director of the National Institutes for Health were “held accountable for their actions.”
That received a resounding ovation from the crowd.
DeSantis is widely considered to be the leading conservative to challenge former President Donald Trump, who announced his third presidential bid in November. A former U.S. House Representative, DeSantis has earned the backing of many prominent conservative donors, including Nevada billionaire Robert Bigelow, who last year donated $10 million to DeSantis’ political action committee, according to campaign finance records.
DeSantis, however, has not formally announced a bid for 2024. Aside from Trump, the only other Republican with notable support who has announced their candidacy for the Republican nomination is ex-South Carolina governor and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley.
Michelle Murlin, 59, of Henderson, hopes DeSantis declares soon. She was wearing a “DeSantis 2024” tee-shirt and said he brings certain intangibles to the table that candidates like Trump don’t.
“I think he (DeSantis) has done unbelievably great things in Florida, and I’d like to see that happen all over the country,” Murlin said. “I don’t like that he (Trump) is attacking DeSantis right now. I think that’s really not cool. So I’m turning more into a DeSantis fan over a Trump fan.”
DeSantis’ visit didn’t sit well with Nevada Democrats.
Newly-elected Nevada State Democratic Party Chairwoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno blasted DeSantis for being too extreme, especially on matters relating to abortion and cuts to entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.
“We already know what the ‘Florida Blueprint’ is,” said Monroe-Moreno the second-ranking Democrat in the Nevada Assembly. “It’s an extreme MAGA agenda that we’ve rejected time and time again in the Silver State.”
The crowd came to an ovation several times throughout DeSantis’ remarks, which lasted roughly 45 minutes. He signed copies of his book, “The Courage to be Free,” that were given to attendees for free. And while he didn’t make mention of any 2024 ambitions, he also disparaged President Joe Biden for his weak leadership, and contended something has to change.
“The reason Biden is targeting Florida, is because just like comparing Florida to New York and Illinois and California, it shows that leftist policies fail and our policies work,” DeSantis said.
“But I’m actually optimistic that we can see success in other states, if even for all of the United States. And it’s not easy,” DeSantis continued. “The fights we’ve had in Florida, every single thing I did, the left hotly contested it, the media has tried to smear me, and we just had to stand our ground and continue what was right.”