IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Salix, Iowa, on May 31, 2023.
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Salix, Iowa, on May 31.Scott Olson / Getty Images

DeSantis distilled: How the candidate is introducing himself to GOP voters

The governor leaned heavily on his record in Florida across his first campaign swing, which included speeches in two key early states.

By , and

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis hit the stump last week for his first big campaign swing through Iowa and New Hampshire, road-testing his campaign's pitch to Republican primary voters for the first times as a declared candidate.

That meant DeSantis was deploying his stump speech for the first time — and the second, and the third, and more. A few of the specific lines may have varied occasionally from stop to stop, but the themes stayed constant, giving insight into how the Florida governor wants to introduce himself to Republican voters who may have heard of him but want to know more about him.

DeSantis leaned heavily on his record in Florida across more than half a dozen speeches in two key early nominating states, focusing especially on policies that intersect heavily with families and children: the response to Covid-19, "wokeness" and public education. This is how the key themes emerged.

A war on wokeness

At the core of DeSantis’ stump message is the underlying mission to “leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history.”

From “woke” military policies and banking practices to university professors and major corporations like Disney, DeSantis has made clear one of his main priorities once in the White House is to “wage a war on woke” in America.

The Florida governor also focused on transgender athletes, saying it is “wrong for a swimmer to compete on the men’s team for three years, and then switch to the women’s team,” claiming it takes opportunities away from girls and women.

And DeSantis continued his targeted attacks against Disney for their role in “injecting sexuality” in their youth programming, calling the corporation an “800-pound gorilla” that he wasn’t afraid to stand up to. DeSantis went on to ridicule Disney’s opposition to a bill he signed banning gender identity and sexuality instruction up until the eighth grade, saying “it is wrong for a teacher to tell a second grader that they may have been born in the wrong body or that their gender is a choice.”

Leaning in on education controversies

DeSantis ties his war on wokeness into another of his top issues on the stump — education, and in particular the argument that he's been a defender for Florida's public school students against the ideology of the left.

He regularly rattles off the list of policies he’s already implemented as governor, including the elimination of diversity, equity, and inclusion funding for public universities, calling the initiative “a veneer for ideology being imposed on the students.” He also discussed restricting transgender medical care for minors, saying physicians who perform gender reversal surgery to minors belong in a jail cell.

"We've drawn a very clear line in the sand in the state of Florida, we need to draw this across the country: The purpose of our school system is to educate kids, it’s not to indoctrinate kids," he said Thursday in Laconia, N.H.

"We’re not teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other with your tax dollars. No," DeSantis continued. "Instead, we’re putting a renewed emphasis on American civics on teaching about the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights on teaching kids what it means to be an American."

A 'reckoning' on the federal Covid response

DeSantis spoke at length this week about his response to the coronavirus pandemic as Florida’s governor, framing his decision-making as putting the good of his constituents over his political future.

“When Covid was hitting, and we had all these things, you know, raining down on us, you know, I had to make a judgment,” DeSantis said in Sioux City on Wednesday. “To me, a test of a leader is: Are you willing to do the right things in the face of intense criticism and opposition? Are you willing to stand all alone for what’s right, even when it may not be popular in the moment?”

He also used the topic as an opportunity to take aim at the Trump administration’s decision making in the pandemic, blaming Dr. Anthony Fauci, a former top federal public health official, for over-emphasizing Covid restrictions early in the pandemic, and calling for a “reckoning” over the federal government’s “disastrous” pandemic policies

“Vis-a-vis Covid-19, Fauci-ism was destructive to this country. Fauci-ism was wrong,” DeSantis said at another event.

The line of attack tracks with some of the messaging DeSantis employed in his 2022 gubernatorial re-election campaign, where he ran an ad attacking Fauci, with writing on the screen that said, “[Fauci] can’t stop freedom in Florida. Fauci can pound sand.”