DeSantis builds his conservative resume as Trump flounders

“Considering how relentless he is for the conservative cause, I can’t imagine a scenario where he ever lets off the gas,” said Christian Ziegler, the vice chair of the Republican Party of Florida. “But I especially cannot imagine him holding back after the voters sent him a crystal clear message in November that they want more — not less — of his conservative agenda.”

DeSantis has repeatedly said he doesn’t pay attention to polls, but his efforts keep resonating with Republican voters. Three polls released this week show the governor edging Trump, whose endorsement of DeSantis back in 2018 was a crucial factor in his winning that year’s GOP primary.

A long-time Tallahassee political consultant and DeSantis supporter insists the governor is remaining true to his brand and acknowledged DeSantis’ actions continue to help in a potential Republican primary that will include Trump, who announced his own candidacy in November.

“This is not self-aggrandizement to run for president,” said the consultant who was granted anonymity in order to discuss DeSantis freely. “These are issues that really matter to him philosophically.”

And DeSantis’s actions continue to attract attention among those with ties to the former president. Former senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, appearing on Fox News on Wednesday afternoon, called DeSantis’s remarks on same-sex marriage, which the governor delivered a night earlier on Laura Ingraham’s show, “quite eye opening and remarkable” and showed he is not a moderate.

It was on Ingraham’s program that DeSantis said there was “certainly no need” to pass a new federal law that enshrines protections for same-sex and interracial marriage. Even though most Republicans voted against the new law, Congress passed the measure with bipartisan support.

“They are using the power, I think, of the federal government in ways that will absolutely put religious institutions in difficult spots if you have people that are so inclined to be very aggressive against that,” DeSantis said. “There was certainly no need to do this and I do think that those concerns were valid.”

DeSantis’ rise to national prominence began three years ago amid the Covid-19 pandemic, when he opposed mask mandates and pushed to reopen businesses and schools much faster than many other parts of the nation. That positioning has only accelerated as he pushed policies dealing with immigration, education and health care that have drawn fierce criticism from Democrats and liberals — and earned a steady stream of coverage in both conservative and traditional media.

During his reelection campaign, DeSantis, however, spent most of his attention reminding voters about his Covid-19 policies, even airing one campaign ad that featured Florida residents thanking him for his anti-lockdown and anti-mandate stances.

DeSantis is building his resume as some in the GOP have begun turning away from Trump in the wake of the party’s lackluster showing in the 2022 midterm elections. Many Republicans are praising other candidates, including DeSantis, as the new face of the GOP.

A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

The governor’s decision to call for a grand jury probe to examine Covid-19 vaccines reignited attention to that fight — and could help him strengthen his support from those in the Republican base who share DeSantis’s growing skepticism about the shots. When Trump was in office, DeSantis visited the White House amid the push to create a new vaccine and was vocal about distributing them early on to senior citizens. But DeSantis’ public statements have shifted in the past year to more and more skepticism about vaccines, including whether they have harmful side effects for young people.

Much of the medical community, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FDA and Johns Hopkins, have emphasized that the vaccine prevents Covid infections and can lessen severe symptoms.

DeSantis’ announcement on Tuesday drew wide condemnation and outrage from Democrats and health experts.

“Floridians sure as hell aren’t worried about vaccine manufacturers and we respect our family, friend and neighbors to live their lives as they please,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “Ron continues to become more lost in extreme right fantasies as his presidential aspirations creed closer.”

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