Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told a crowd in Simi Valley on Sunday that the “woke mind virus” infiltrating schools, corporations and other institutions in California and other Democratic strongholds led to an influx of residents to his state, showing the popularity of his anti-liberal policies.
Widely seen as a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, DeSantis took a mild poke at California Gov. Gavin Newsom, much to the delight of the roughly 1,000 people who came to see him at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and lashed out at the pandemic shutdowns and vaccine mandates in what has become grist for his rise in popularity within the GOP.
“We have had a great experiment, a great test in governance philosophies,” DeSantis told an auidence in the library’s spacious Air Force One Pavilion. “The American people … have voted with their feet. And if you look over the last four years, we’ve witnessed a great American exodus from states governed by leftist politicians imposing leftist ideology and delivering poor results.”
Lacing his remarks with statistics comparing Florida’s record on education, business creation, tourism, unemployment and other measures with states such as California and New York, DeSantis said his state’s results “speak for themselves.”
DeSantis’ appearance in Simi Valley attracted both conservative luminaries, including former California Gov. Pete Wilson and actor Gary Sinise, and a throng of largely peaceful protesters. However, one of the entry signs to the library was spray painted with “Ron DeFascist” overnight. Simi Valley police said there were no witnesses and that library staff cleaned it before the event.
Attendees arriving at the library were greeted by about 100 protesters, many holding rainbow flags showing support for the LGBTQ community. “Say gay everyday,” read one protester’s sign, a reference to legislation DeSantis signed known as the “Don’t say gay” law by critics because it prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten-through-third-grade classrooms.
“I stand as a 52-year-old gay male who had the courage to fight in what I believe in,” said protester Ernest Cornish, who lives in Hollywood and runs a photography business. “God created me in his image, the way he intended me to be.”
Jane Wishon, a 67-year-old retiree from West Los Angeles, said DeSantis’ rhetoric on issues such as transgender people’s ability to use the restrooms of their choices is “dangerous.”
“Othering groups no matter what they are … makes some people feel better about themselves, but that’s not what our country is founded on,” she said.
DeSantis’ visit to California includes an appearance Sunday night at a private fundraiser for the Orange County Republican Party in Anaheim.
During his speech in Simi Valley, DeSantis touted his record on education, including the restrictions on classroom discussion of gender identity among young students, banning critical race theory, limiting tenure protection for university professors and increasing school choice options, including scholarships to private schools.
“We are not going to teach our students to hate this country or to hate each other. We are not going to divide students on the basis of skin color. We are going to teach them what is important is the content of their character,” he said. “I believe parents should be able to send their kids to elementary school without having an agenda jammed down their throats.”
The Florida governor, whose wife and two of his three children were in attendance, said he viewed these issues not only as a legislator but also as a “dad.”
Though DeSantis is not raising money for himself during this California trip, he is meeting with wealthy donors and influential Republican Party leaders here and at events across the country as he promotes his new book, “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.” Additional stops are planned in the coming weeks in Alabama and Florida, as well as the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Shortly before the book was released Tuesday, the Florida governor spoke out against Democratic policies during appearances in New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
Although DeSantis did not mention Newsom by name, he poked at him as he started his speech. DeSantis has a long-running feud with Newsom, who has accused the Florida governor to being a bully and criticized his approach to abortion, immigration and other issues.
“Your governor is very concerned about what we’re doing in Florida, so I figured I had to come by,” DeSantis said Sunday, to applause and laughter.
Newsom, in a statement released Sunday, welcomed DeSantis to the “real freedom state.”
“Just look at the data — California residents are safer, healthier and more prosperous than those unfortunate enough to have you as their governor,” Newsom said. “Oh, by the way, you’re going to get smoked by Trump.”
The sprawling mountaintop presidential library where DeSantis appeared is home to replicas of the White House’s Oval Office, Rose Garden and South Lawn as well as the graves of Reagan and his wife, Nancy. A host of four GOP primary debates, the library has practically become a requisite pilgrimage for Republican presidential hopefuls.
This is particularly true in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential campaign given California’s early March primary, which could be influential in determining the party’s nominee because of the size of the state’s delegation at the Republican National Convention.
Others who have spoken there include former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has announced a White House bid, as well as former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and former Wisconsin Rep. Liz Cheney.
About 37% of California Republican voters back DeSantis in the presidential contest, while 29% prefer former President Trump, according to a poll released in late February by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies that was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. The other GOP leaders mentioned above as well as other potential candidates received single-digit support in the survey.
DeSantis is viewed by some GOP political operatives as the party’s best chance to stop Trump from winning the nomination and sinking their chances of defeating President Biden.
Trump has already set his sights on his fellow Floridian, giving DeSantis nicknames such as “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
On Sunday, DeSantis did not mention Trump during his 45-minute speech. Instead, he focused on another former president — Reagan — by arguing that his efforts align with the priorities and core beliefs of the nation’s 40th president.
“It’s not easy to fight the fights. When we stand up and you’re standing for what’s right, and you’re standing for the things that President Reagan stood for, and so many other great leaders, there’s a cost to that in this day. The left is not going to let you advance his agenda without contesting it. They’ll smear you, they’ll attack you,” he said. But “we need to win the fight for freedom, and if we do, we will be winning one more for the Gipper.”