If you saw Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis kick off CPAC 2021, you know he must be thinking about the national stage at some point. ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp introduced him—to loud applause and a not-so-insignificant number of catcalls. He welcomed everyone to Florida, an oasis of freedom. Yes, attendees have to wear masks through much of the conference, but that is a city and business decision. Many Floridians I talked to predict that DeSantis will ban mandatory masking when cases drop below a certain level. This sentiment shows how much confidence Florida conservatives have in the governor and his commitment to protecting their freedoms.
Of course, DeSantis did a riff on Florida being an open state and how he couldn’t have attended if CPAC were in a closed state. He also shared the results of the state’s choice to remain open. He emphasized that schools are open and that all Floridians have the right to earn a living and operate the businesses they may own. DeSantis has a balanced record on COVID-19 policies in a state with a significant number of residents over 65.
The Florida death rate related to the pandemic is 27th in the nation, lower than many lockdown states, like New York and Michigan. Unemployment in the state is also lower than the national average, even though tourism remains lower than usual. Florida’s budget also remains intact without having to spend a single penny of the state’s rainy-day fund. DeSantis confidently says Florida got it right.
The most interesting part of DeSantis’s speech was how he boiled down America-First principles and hit all the hot-button issues for conservatives, putting his wins on display. For an Ivy League lawyer, he is eloquently plainspoken and oozes authenticity. In addition to his successes in COVID-19 management, he touted election integrity in Florida. The state reported 12 million votes by midnight on election night. Then he committed to signing the first legislation in the nation that will ban ballot-harvesting and third-party funding.
There was a round of applause when DeSantis said he would also be taking on Big Tech censorship. When the Florida legislature comes into session, he says they will pass legislation to address several issues, and he will sign it. Florida’s law will address privacy, election integrity, and political speech in a set of ambitious reforms. “In Florida, we are not going to let the terms of the debate in our country be set by oligarchs in Silicon Valley,” DeSantis said.
He also boiled America First down to things Republicans will refuse to accept, and they were very well received. “We cannot, we will not go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear,” he began.
Then DeSantis hit the top three policies that put Americans’ property and security at the forefront of policymaking—succinctly, clearly, and plainly.
- We reject open borders. We support American sovereignty and the American worker. Building a movement on open borders and cheap foreign labor is like building your house on quicksand.
- We reject military adventurism and maintain a strong defense to protect our nation and its people.
- We reject weakness in the face of threats from China to include their actions in international trade.
The governor closed with a tribute to Rush Limbaugh, stating that the flags in his state had flown at half-mast to honor Limbaugh’s life and contributions. He encouraged conservatives to take a page from Limbaugh’s book, noting that standing for the right thing often comes at a personal cost. You may be attacked, smeared, and even canceled by the major organs of our culture. DeSantis noted that Limbaugh was the first target for cancelation, and it was never successful. He declared that conservatism devoid of a backbone is doomed to fail:
Anyone can spout conservative rhetoric. We can sit around and have academic debates about conservative policy. And I am not saying you don’t do any of that. But the question is when the Klieg lights get hot, when the left comes after you, will you stand strong, or will you fold? So, enjoy CPAC in Florida. As you leave to go back home, although if you’re not from here I don’t know why you’d want to leave here. But when you do and you engage in the battles ahead, hold the line. Stand your ground. And don’t ever, ever back down.”
DeSantis is undoubtedly positioning himself for reelection in 2022 by articulating a record of decisive, bold action in Florida. Wading into more significant national and foreign policy issues may hint at his goals beyond the Florida governorship.
— CPAC 2021 (@CPAC) February 26, 2021