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Washington Wednesday: Beyond the Trump alternative


WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: Beyond the Trump alternative

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is set to make his White House bid as a conservative to the right of Donald Trump

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a political roundtable, Friday, May 19, 2023, in Bedford, N.H. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, May 24th, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Well, today is Washington Wednesday, and the battle for the GOP presidential nomination is filling out.

On Monday, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott announced his candidacy.

And according to numerous reports, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will officially launch his White House campaign today.

We’ll have more on Sen. Scott’s campaign in the days ahead, but today we’ll talk about Gov. DeSantis as polls indicate he is Donald Trump’s top challenger in this race.

Quick background on him:

DeSantis is a married father of three. He is a former Navy officer. He stationed at Guantanamo Bay Cuba in 2006. He deployed to Iraq the next year. He served as a legal adviser to SEAL Team One, and later worked at the Justice Department as a Special Assistant US attorney in Florida.

REICHARD: DeSantis ran for Congress in 2012 and won. He was reelected twice before winning a close contest for governor in 2018. Voters reelected him last year in a landslide.

He began making national headlines in 2020 with his handling of the pandemic, and many of those headlines were not flattering. Democrats called him reckless when Florida became the first big state in the nation to roll back pandemic restrictions.

RON DeSANTIS: We will get Florida back on its feet by using an approach that is safe, smart, and step-by-step.

He also made national headlines last year when he flew dozens of illegal immigrants from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard, a playground for the wealthy in Massachusetts where some public officials had declared their towns sanctuary cities.

DeSANTIS: The minute even a small faction of what those border towns deal with every day is brought to their front door, they all of a sudden go berzerk.

DeSantis further put his stamp on the immigration issue by sending resources to the southern border to help out.

EICHER: The governor has also brought a never-back-down attitude to the culture wars in Florida, repeatedly declaring “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

As evidence he outlawed the teaching of Marxist racial ideologies like critical race theory in public schools.

DeSANTIS: No taxpayer dollars should be used to teach our kids to hate our country or to hate each other.

He also signed the “Florida Parental Rights in Education Act” derided in the media as the “don’t say gay” law. DeSantis held firm, He repeatedly stressed that it meant to protect young children from LGBT gender indoctrination in school.

That bill would later spark a high-profile showdown with one of Florida’s largest employers, The Walt Disney Corporation. That fight continues. Disney publicly opposed it.

REICHARD: That called the attention of Gov. DeSantis and GOP lawmakers to a special arrangement that Disney had enjoyed in Florida for generations, essentially operating its own private government.

DeSantis argued that if Disney acts as an arm of political activist groups, then taxpayers are essentially funding that activism. And he later signed a bill stripping the company of its privileges.

Disney has since sued, accusing the governor of political retaliation.

And numerous Republicans agreed with Disney. They included rival presidential candidates Trump and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

On pro-life issues, DeSantis signed a law drawing the line of protection down to 6 weeks. Trump called the bill “too harsh.”

EICHER: Politically in the 2022 midterms, DeSantis was about the only bright spot in what was supposed to be a Republican “red wave.” It didn’t happen on a national level. But it did happen in Florida.

DeSantis defeated Democratic rival Charlie Crist by almost 20 points. He won voters across many demographics. He even won in traditionally deep-blue counties.

DeSANTIS: God bless you all! Thank you very much! Thank you for a historic landslide victory!

And the governor’s political coattails were strong, too. Republican candidates won all the way down the ticket.

At the same time, Trump took heavy criticism as many of his endorsed candidates fizzled.

And in the weeks and months that followed, numerous hypothetical head-to-head polls had DeSantis leading Trump among Republicans.

REICHARD: But as memories of the midterms have faded and as Donald Trump has ramped up his campaign, the polls have shifted. DeSantis enters today the underdog.

Trump has about 60% support —6-0 —in recent polls. Six-zero. DeSantis is running a distant second with about 16%.

EICHER: Well here now to talk more about candidate Ron DeSantis is Alex Olson. He is a Florida-based political consultant who has been running a pro-DeSantis PAC called Ron to the Rescue. While not officially a part of the campaign, Olson and his partners have been canvassing states to drum up support for DeSantis.

REICHARD: Alex, good morning!

ALEX OLSON, GUEST: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

REICHARD: Let me start with this: In your view, what’ll the core campaign message be from DeSantis in this race?

OLSON: I think there are three key issues that DeSantis is going to have to tackle to beat Trump in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina. And these are issues that Trump was at a very poor record on. So that's going to be the Second Amendment, that's going to be pro life, and that's going to be the vaccine. So if I was on the official side, those are the three issues that I would urge DeSantis and his team to tackle and I'll go through each one.

So first off is the most relevant, it's the vaccine and Dr. Fauci. Dr. Fauci served under Trump's administration, Trump's administration rapidly pushed out the vaccine, a lot of the Republican base are not too fond of that. DeSantis has taken several jabs at Trump regarding that issue. So I think that's going to be a dominating force, right? What DeSantis did in Florida fighting against the pharmaceutical companies and fighting against vaccine passports, everything that kind of the foundations were laid under the Trump administration.

The second is the issue of pro life. While it might not be the best issue for the general election, it sure can decide the primary and President Trump has taken several jabs at the pro life community, I would say the backbone of the primary electorate, saying that they have cost and and abortion laws have cost Republicans, such as in the 2022 midterms. DeSantis has taken taken a firm stance with the pro life community. He's taking a firm stance and pushing pro life policy throughout Florida, as we've seen as this legislative session wrapped up. So that's going to be a great issue for DeSantis to center his campaign around.

And then third is obviously the Second Amendment. Trump was similar to Reagan where folks didn't realize that Trump was actually not very pro Second Amendment. I mean, Trump's administration pushed through the Bump Stock Act. Well, DeSantis just signed in constitutional carry legislation here in Florida. So I think those are going to be the three dominating issues. There's going to be other things, you know, DeSantis’s record in Florida with the economy, etc. But they should hound in and focus on those three topics, if they are to win this primary.

REICHARD: In 2016, more than half of Republican voters — at that time — wanted someone other than Trump as the nominee … but they couldn’t agree on who that should be. The rest of the field was splintered, and Trump won the nomination with less than half of the overall vote.
For DeSantis to beat Trump, that can’t happen again. He’ll need people who want a Trump alternative to coalesce in support behind DeSantis. How does he do that? How can he turn this into a head-to-head, two-person race?

OLSON: Yeah, it was very unfortunate when you're on one side of the aisle, and you see 10 or so candidates talking about jumping in the race. And we've seen several now: Nikki Haley, Tim Scott recently, Larry Elder, all very great people, I think, but are serving a different purpose. In my personal belief, I think especially Tim Scott and Nikki Haley, they are really vying for that VP spot. It's not to run a official campaign because they understand they can't beat Trump. But it's, Hey, let's pose up someone like Tim Scott, whoever the primary winner may be, whether that be DeSantis or Trump, Tim Scott would be a very valuable VP. So I think he's playing his cards, right.

But how does DeSantis overcome that? Well, he's a lot better off than any of the other viable candidates in 2016. He, at this moment, almost has 4X the cash on hand that, that President Trump has. Their folks are scrambling to get donors to go through with their pledges because DeSantis's team have done such a great job in raising money. So not only is DeSantis in a much better place than say Ted Cruz was in 2016, his name ID nationally is just so much higher. So that being said, he's going to have to play his cards right with some of the other candidates, whether that's bringing them into his lane, like Nikki Haley coming on as a VP. And he's going to have to continue to like wage an aggressive campaign to show that the only two candidates that are really in play are Trump and DeSantis. But once again, his biggest actor, he has a lot of money, their warchest is immense. And it's one of the best ever built. And as long as folks like us on the back end, can use that money right, there's no reason why we can't get neck and neck with Trump and make some alliances with some of the other folks in the race to kind of build that coalition that want to see someone other than President Trump.

REICHARD: Let’s talk about what it’ll take to peel some GOP voters away from Trump. What is the most effective argument that DeSantis can make to convince a Trump supporter to pull the lever for him instead?

OLSON: Yeah, I think it goes back to that issue that I mentioned earlier. I think mentioning that DeSantis is the more conservative candidate when you're talking about policy. It's it's we're living in this weird parallel universe where Trump is taking a lot of the leftist positions compared to DeSantis. I think that's because he's trying to rebuild an electorate for the general, but it's not serving him well in the primary. I talk with a lot of voters. Not only do we run the Ron to the Rescue Super PAC, but but we run races across the country, whether that be district attorneys, congressional, gubernatorial and voters we talked to all across the country, especially in the the Republican electorate, want to see someone who is actually conservative and doesn't waver on the issues.

DeSantis has proved that this legislative session, he didn't care when several moderate Republicans in the House said “we don't want to touch a prolife piece of legislation”. He hasn't wavered on on any of that, or any of these other policy that he's pressed. And I think that's how he's going to highlight it when he speaks to the voters. When the ads start going up on TV, it's gonna say, Who do you want here? Do you want to see someone who's more populous in nature? Who is going to take more leftist policies at the expense of your conservative values? Or are you going to take someone who is a proven conservative, and who is going to press for policies that the base actually wants? The base doesn't want someone who waivers and as Trump continues to waiver on on several of these issues, and tries to take the leftist pedestal because he wants to be more viable in the general, DeSantis is going to be able to build up his base.

REICHARD: Our guest has been Alex Olson with the political action committee Ron to the Rescue. Alex, thanks so much!

OLSON: Thank you.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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