WASHINGTON – Florida governor — and expected GOP presidential candidate — Ron DeSantis promoted his agenda at a Georgia gun store Thursday, starting a new national tour in the face of another mass school shooting, fading poll numbers, and constant attacks from Donald Trump.
DeSantis did not specifically discuss the 2024 campaign, or Trump, but did argue at length that his “blueprint” in Florida has changed the state from politically divided to very Republican, and is a model that can be applied nationwide.
“We’ve got a fight on our hands,” DeSantis told supporters at Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna, Ga. near Atlanta. “I’m not backing down … I’ve only begun to fight.”
Upcoming trips to politically pivotal states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio are part of a book promotion tour, but the Florida governor and probable presidential aspirant will also be speaking with potential primary supporters and donors, as he did in Georgia.
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Adventure Outdoors is the same gun shop visited this week by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
While ATF described it as a routine audit, four members of Congress – including conservative firebrand Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. – showed up to protest the agency’s appearance.
Many Republican candidates have campaigned at Adventure Outdoors over the years.
The Georgia Democratic Party criticized DeSantis for appearing at a gun shop just days after a mass school shooting in Nashville. It said DeSantis allies in Florida “are paving the way for him to sign legislation that could make it easier for criminals to carry guns.”
DeSantis, who says the constitution protests the rights of lawful gun owners, told the crowd in Georgia that he is a big “Second Amendment” supporter.
Who Is Ron DeSantis?
DeSantis has not formally announced a campaign for president in 2024, but is expected to do so shorty after the current session of the Florida Legislature adjourns in May.
The DeSantis tour of politically important states – including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and New Hampshire – comes as friends and foes of the Florida governor seek to define as he hits the national stage.
A Florida native, DeSantis attended Yale and Harvard Law School and served as a judge advocate general (JAG) in the Navy. The long-time conservative promoted his opposition to President Barack Obama in winning election to the U.S. House in 2012.
In 2018, DeSantis defeated a more establishment Republican to win the GOP primary for governor, thanks in part to positive comments from then-President Donald Trump.
Nowadays, Trump tries to define DeSantis as ingrate who keeps changing positions of things like COVID restrictions and aid to Ukraine. The former president also describes DeSantis as a “globalist” who is fronting for establishment Republicans.
What is the Ron DeSantis agenda?
DeSantis casts himself as an “anti-woke” candidate, an issue he discussed at length in his Georgia speech. As governor, he has sought to prohibit diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs in schools and businesses.
In his speech, DeSantis discussed his approach to any number of issues that are likely to surface in the 2024 election: COVID policy, border security, crime, and foreign policy.
The “Florida Blueprint” can turn “a purple state into a red state,” he told supporters at Adventure Outdoors.
While declining to respond directly to Trump’s attacks, DeSantis has made veiled remarks about the differences between him and the ex-president.
He has said his leadership style avoids “drama,” a reference to that fact that Trump is under investigation over hush money to a porn star, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.
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Trump vs. DeSantis
DeSantis has emerged as Trump’s challenger, according to early 2024 polls, especially after he won re-election in Florida by more than 19 percentage points.
More recent polls show Trump expanding his lead over DeSantis, despite negative news emerging from ongoing investigations of the ex-president.
A Fox News poll released Wednesday gave Trump a 30 percentage point lead over DeSantis by 54%-24%; in the same poll last month, Trump led by 15 points, 43%-28%.
Crowing over the latest poll, Trump said on the Truth Social website that “it’s bad news for Ron DeSanctimonious.”
At his Georgia event, DeSantis said polls have been “wrong” throughout his career, and that leaders should not be “captive to public opinion” in any event. He said a leader should “get ahead of public opinion.”
How the dust settles
Before his speech, DeSantis visited the Georgia statehouse in Atlanta and spoke with Republican lawmakers. He also met with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who last year defeated a Trump-backed challenger in a Republican primary.
DeSantis, who has dismissed Trump’s criticism as “background noise,” says it’s still too early to discuss the presidential race.
In an interview last week with Fox Nation host Piers Morgan, DeSantis said he is focused on his job as Florida governor: “We’re gonna put a lot of points on the board. And then we’ll see how the dust settles after that.”
In Georgia, DeSantis said of his governing efforts in Florida: “I was willing to let the political chips fall where they may.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ron DeSantis book tour stops at Georgia gun store days after Nashville