Nov 8, 2023 - News

DeSantis touts headline-grabbing actions beyond Florida in Miami GOP debate

DeSantis makes his pitch in Miami. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis played up moves he's taken beyond Florida during Wednesday night's GOP debate β€” from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Middle East β€” to position himself as a presidential candidate who can get things done on the world stage.

Why it matters: The blurring lines between DeSantis' elected office and his presidential campaign were on display in Miami as he highlighted his use of state resources to intervene in national and international issues.

Zoom in: DeSantis, who has faced criticism in Florida for leveraging his elected office to boost his political profile, often pointed to the headline-grabbing actions he's taken as governor when asked about the Israel-Hamas war and China.

  • He highlighted his use of state funds to evacuate U.S. residents from Israel and his administration's efforts to quell pro-Palestinian groups on Florida campuses.
  • "I actually did something about it," he said of the chartered flights. " ... I sent planes over to Israel and I brought back over 700 people to safety."
  • DeSantis also championed a controversial law to prevent certain foreign nationals from China from purchasing what the state deems sensitive American land.
DeSantis and Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley sparred throughout. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

State of play: DeSantis' presidential campaign is struggling to establish him as the leading alternative to former President Donald Trump. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley's rise in the polls has made that harder β€” and she took sharp aim at DeSantis on Wednesday night.

  • Haley called DeSantis "a liberal when it comes to the environment," assailing him for enforcing a voter-approved ban on fracking in his first term.
  • DeSantis countered by positioning himself as a hard-liner who would tear up President Biden's green-energy policies.

The intrigue: The debate in DeSantis' home state comes amid reports of wavering support for him among donors due to Trump's continued resilience. It remains to be seen whether his debate performance could change that trend.

  • Billionaire Robert Bigelow, a hotel entrepreneur and the Republican governor's biggest individual donor, paused his contributions to the pro-DeSantis "Never Back Down" super PAC in August. He is now considering throwing his support behind Trump.
  • Mac Stipanovich, a Tallahassee consultant and former Republican operative, tells Axios that DeSantis underestimated the strength of Trump's "mind meld" with the MAGA wing of the Republican Party and overestimated his "own abilities and appeal."

Yes, but: DeSantis scored a major endorsement this week: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. He's bet big on Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Flashback: Exactly one year ago, DeSantis romped to re-election by one of the widest margins in a Florida gubernatorial race. He managed to flip all but five counties across the state in his favor β€” including Miami-Dade County and the entire Tampa Bay area.

  • DeSantis pitched his far-right cultural agenda in Florida as a "blueprint" for the nation's revival after his landslide win, which stood in contrast to a disappointing midterm showing for Republicans elsewhere.
  • "I'm sick of Republicans losing," he said Wednesday. "In Florida, I showed how it's done one year ago here. We won a historic victory, including a massive landslide right here in Miami-Dade County. That's how we have to do it."

Reality check: DeSantis' poll numbers in the GOP primary have plummeted from 35% in January 2023 to 14% today.


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