Ron DeSantis, the right-wing Republican governor of Florida, has fueled speculation about a future US presidential run with a high profile speech lambasting Joe Biden, the media and what he termed “wokeism”.
DeSantis, who is both an ally and possible rival to Donald Trump, delivered the attack at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the biggest annual gathering of grassroots conservatives in the US.
The governor was speaking in Orlando in his home state, but the broad and national sweep of his address, which did not mention Trump by name, was consistent with eyeing a potential White House run in 2024 or 2028.
“I can tell you there’s one fellow that just hates Florida: his name is Joe Biden,” said DeSantis, setting himself up as the voice of opposition to the incumbent US president, whose name elicited boos in the cavernous ballroom.
“Always trying to take pot shots at Florida and he does things like take our medication. He stiffs storm victims of relief just because he doesn’t like the governor. He doesn’t like Florida. He doesn’t like me because we stand up to him.”
The crowd cheered and applauded DeSantis, 43, who went on to rail against Biden over border security, crime and the economy. “The inflation is because of his policies and we’re not going to let anyone forget that. So all told, he’s had the worst first year of any president since the 1800s.
“And as Biden flounders, Florida is leading on issue after issue ... We are in the process of getting money from the legislature so that if Biden is dumping illegal aliens into Florida from the southern border, I’m rerouting them to Delaware. We’ll do some in DC and Hollywood as well.”
The reference to Biden’s home state was a populist crowd pleaser – it produced a resounding roar of approval – that Trump himself would have envied. Indeed, DeSantis’s speech was a model of Fox News talking points that mocked “lockdown” politicians for holidaying in Florida, which he declared the least restrictive state in the nation during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an attack on Biden’s chief medical adviser, infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, DeSantis declared: “From the very beginning, we refused to let this state descend into some type of Faucian dystopia where people’s freedoms are curtailed and their livelihoods are destroyed ... Florida has defeated Faucism. Freedom has prevailed in the sunshine state.”
He added: “I really believe had Florida not led the way, this country could look like Canada or Australia.” Florida is such a bastion of freedom, he claimed, that people are settling there as they flee from “leftist governments” in America and around the world.
The slogan at this year’s CPAC, where Trump is due to speak on Saturday, is “Awake not woke”. DeSantis tapped into the resentments of the audience – some of whom wore “DeSantisLand” caps and flags – by launching a broadside at so-called “woke culture”.
He boasted about banning critical race theory (CRT), an academic discipline that studies how racism is embedded in US law and institutions that, despite not taught in America’s public schools, has been caricatured and demonized by the right.
“They want us to be powerless, they want us to be voiceless, they want us to be second-class citizens,” said DeSantis, who is running for reelection as governor this year, “And what are these ideological aims? The woke is the new religion of the left, and this is what they have in mind.”
Many major institutions – including big tech companies – have become “infected with this woke virus”, the former Republican congressman added. “You look at the corrupt and dishonest legacy media in this country and what they’re doing to divide us and what they’re doing to prop up the regime”.