DeSantis: ‘I’m the Only One Who’s Not Running a Basement Campaign at This Point’

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AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Fresh off the Iowa Caucuses, where he notched a second-place finish, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis participated in a CNN town hall at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire, Tuesday evening. 

Making his case to host Wolf Blitzer and an audience of New Hampshire voters, including registered Republicans and undeclared voters, DeSantis made the point that he is the sole remaining candidate who hasn’t refused to show up and debate his opponents. 

The tradition here with first-in-the-nation is something that’s very significant. I agreed to do a debate with WMUR and ABC on Thursday, and with CNN on Sunday. I’m the only candidate that actually agreed to come to New Hampshire to debate, and what does that say? We have four candidates for president now: Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, and me. I’m the only one who’s not running a basement campaign at this point. You deserve, as a voter, to have the candidates come up, answer your questions in forums like this, have somebody like Wolf moderate a debate where you go back and forth…we’ve gotten away from, ‘Hey, let’s make let people make these decisions’ to almost like, you know, just let the media coverage determine what’s going on. I don’t think that’s what we want in a republican form of government. (Credit: DeSantis Campaign)

Asked by Blitzer how he could prevent former President Donald Trump, who scored a solid win in Iowa Monday night, from repeating that in New Hampshire, DeSantis noted the concerted effort (and dollars) expended against him thus far. 

Well, look, I think that he was the former president of the United States. He’s one of the most famous people that’s ever been involved in American politics. And there’s obviously a lot of Republicans that appreciated his policies.
But you still had roughly half of the Iowa caucus-goers that made another choice. And so that shows me, that tells me that there is an appetite for a different leader. And I think what I represent is somebody that has delivered on those key conservative policies that we have all been wanting to see in Washington, D.C.
You know, in Florida, think about what we have done with our taxes and budget, massive tax cuts every year I have been governor, but budget surpluses. And we have paid down 25 percent of our state’s total debt. That’s all the debt we have had since statehood. I have knocked out 25 percent of it.
Florida’s state government, lowest number of state employees per capita in the country. Our budget — even though we have millions of more people than New York, our budget is half the size of New York state’s budget.
So I represent the fulfillment of a lot of what we want to do, honestly, a lot of what Donald Trump promised to do, but didn’t deliver, whether that’s the border wall, whether that’s reducing debt, whether that’s draining the swamp.
So I think, as the field has narrowed, we’re now in a position where people are going to be able to make even better choices. But I will tell you, I have had almost $50 million spent against me so far this presidential election campaign. That’s more than has been spent against Donald Trump and Joe Biden combined. And one’s the current president, one’s the former president.
But I think that should tell you something. They don’t do that unless they think you’re a threat. And I think they see me, rightfully, as somebody that’s going to go to Washington and not just rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, not just be a potted plant, but be a change agent, because we all know Washington’s not working for the American people, and we need to change that. (Credit: CNN) 

Asked by audience member Geoff Woollacott, a business consultant who ran for the U.S. Senate as an Independent in 2022, whether shipping illegal immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard was a divisive political stunt, DeSantis argued that jurisdictions that declare themselves to be sanctuaries ought be responsible for shouldering the burden that carries. 

GEOFF WOOLLACOTT, BUSINESS CONSULTANT: Hi.
The nation has serious long-term issues to address that will require bipartisan cooperation.
How do tactics such as rounding up illegal immigrants and shipping them to Martha’s Vineyard bring the nation together to discuss comprehension — comprehensive immigration reform? Wasn’t that a little more than a cheap political stunt pandering to one side?
DESANTIS: Well, thanks for that, Geoff.
Actually, if you think about — you go back to September of 2022, how was the border being treated? It was not at front-burner issue. The problems were real, but it wasn’t getting the type of scrutiny that it needed.
Doing the Martha’s Vineyard — and, by the way, they said they were sanctuary jurisdiction. They said all people are welcome, whether they’re legal or not. These border towns in Texas are getting thousands and thousands. Martha’s Vineyard couldn’t even handle 50.
And so I think that was an example of them wanting to impose a certain worldview of open borders on the rest of the country but not willing to be able to do it.
But this was something that the media really glommed onto. So it ended up raising the temperature on this, and now you have this being discussed everywhere.
So I don’t think it was cheap at all. I think it was designed by, partially, I just believe that, if you’re are a sanctuary jurisdiction, you should be the ones to have to shoulder the burden. We’re not a sanctuary state in Florida. We’re not — we don’t have — we banned sanctuary cities in Florida. I think that’s — as president, I’m not going to allow sanctuary states — or sanctuary cities in this country. They’re violating the law.
In fact, we had a — I did a debate against the governor of California, so I researched some of the stuff that goes on. You will have criminal aliens in custody in places like Los Angeles. ICE will have a detainer to say, “Turn them over; don’t release.” They will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
So there was one fellow, multiple-deportee, multiple times, big criminal record. They released him, and he murdered the mother of a three-year-old. All they had to do was give him to immigration authorities, and he would have been deported.
So we can’t have sanctuary jurisdictions. I think this issue is now a front-burner issue. And I think what we did there was part of it; I think what Texas has done with — with the manhattan as well. But we’ve got to solve this, and I’m willing to work with anyone who is willing to solve the problem. (Credit: CNN)

DeSantis also addressed the issue of woke ideology and indoctrination in schools and universities. 

The US is not a racist country, and we’ve overcome things in our history. I think the Founding Fathers, they established a set of principles that are universal. Now, they may not have been universally applied at the time, but I think they understood what they were doing. They understood that those principles would be the engine for progress for generations to come. And that’s what’s happened. I think the Republican Party stands for merit and achievement and colorblindness, that is what we should stand for. So for example, in Florida, I’ve eliminated things at our universities like this DEI deal. They say it’s diversity, equity and inclusion, but it’s really very ideological, and they’re trying to impose an agenda. I think the way it’s actually practiced, it stands for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination. And it’s wrong let’s not divvy people up based on race, ethnicity, or gender. Let’s treat people as individuals, not as members of group. Of course, we’ll all come together and there say there should be no discrimination against anyone based on that. But that’s not just discriminating against ethnic or racial minorities. Of course you don’t do that. It also means you don’t discriminate against white and Americans or in the university setting, you don’t discriminate against Asian Americans just because they tend to have to have high performance. So individual achievement and merit has to be restored in this country. A colorblind society is what we should aspire to. And that’s what I’ll do as president. (Credit: DeSantis Campaign)

On a more personal note, DeSantis shared the reasons behind his decision to join the military as well as the lessons he learned from his passion: baseball. 

I played baseball all the way through college, and I wanted to do that as long as I could, if I couldn’t play then be involved in it somehow. And then 9/11 happened. And 9/11 really changed how I viewed the world, because I grew up in the 80s and 90s, particularly the 90s. It was like a holiday from history, we didn’t seem to have a care in the world. And that was a reality that brought to our shores when those terrorists killed those 3000 people. And so our nation was in conflict. I didn’t get anything in terms of money special, I gave up a lot of money in the private sector that I could have been able to do in order to serve. But I just felt that I’m blessed to be an American, blessed to be born and raised in this country. We were in conflict, and I felt that I should raise my hand and serve. And so we raised our hand to serve and also volunteered to go to Iraq. At the time, I was not forced to do that. It was something that I wanted to do. So I was there in 2007 and 2008 time period. And I learned a lot about what veterans go through, what our service members go through, what happens when they come home. And I’m going to put veteran’s issues on the front burner as commander in chief. 

From the time I could walk, I was involved with baseball. This was kind of my passion. And I think what baseball teaches you is one, you learn to deal with failure. You could be the best hitter in the league, and you’re failing 65% of the time. And that wasn’t always easy for me as a kid. I get upset if I didn’t get a hit. But you learn how to do that, you learn how to come back next time. You also learn, it’s a combination of individual sport, but also a team sport. When you’re in that batter’s box, no one else can do it, but you see the ball, you hit the ball, either do it or you don’t. But then in the grand scheme of things, you need to be able to get runners on base, you know, people drive people in, you need to play good defense and to do that. So it’s a combination of individual initiative, as well as a team sport. (Credit: DeSantis Campaign)

At present, DeSantis trails Trump and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley by a substantial margin in New Hampshire — the RCP average has him running a very distant third, though with Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie exiting the race, those numbers may shift somewhat. Can he close that gap in measurable fashion over the next six days? He appears intent on trying. 

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