Touting his list of accomplishments in Florida and determined to rid the Republican Party of its “culture of losing,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis brought his campaign to a packed town hall in Hollis, N.H., Tuesday morning.
“Are you ready to help me send Joe Biden back to his basement in Delaware?” the candidate asked to loud applause.
To do that, DeSantis will first have to get past frontrunner Donald Trump, who was greeted Tuesday morning with new poll numbers from St. Anselm College showing his support at 47 percent, up five points from March.
Meanwhile, DeSantis’s support has fallen 10 points to 19 percent. Coming in third, fourth, and fifth were former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at 6 percent, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley at 5 percent, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) at 4 percent.
DeSantis didn’t talk polls, instead putting his emphasis on issues. Discussing foreign policy, he reminded the crowd he is the only military veteran in the field of 12 announced GOP candidates.
DeSantis also made education policy a central part of his opening speech. “Parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children,” DeSantis told the crowd. “You start coming for our kids, we’ve got problems! Kids should just be able to be kids without somebody trying to shove an agenda down their throat.”
On the issue of reforming Washington politics, DeSantis listed three constitutional amendments he would support: a balanced budget, a line-item veto for the president, and term limits for members of Congress.
While the air was thick with anticipation regarding what the governor might say about Trump or Trump’s competing Tuesday event, he didn’t engage. Rather, DeSantis used his own background to paint a contrast for Republican primary voters: his electoral success and accomplishments as governor versus Trump’s electoral skids and failures as president.
As part of his continuing attempt to be ‘Trump without the baggage,’ DeSantis promised to be more effective than the former president at accomplishing their shared policy goals while actually being able to win in November. “We’re not getting a mulligan in 2024,” the candidate said.
On illegal immigration, DeSantis promised, “We’re going to stop the invasion, we’re going to fight the cartels, yes, we’re going to build the wall, and we’re going to restore the sovereignty of this country.”
Criticizing Trump for not “draining the swamp,” DeSantis promised to go above and beyond what Trump could do while in office. “I want to break the swamp,” he said, unveiling his plan to instruct his cabinet secretaries to reduce their D.C. workforces by 50 percent as part of his overall goal to take power out of Washington if elected.
On COVID-19, DeSantis attacked all the major players, from the CDC and FDA to Dr. Anthony Fauci. “It did not work. It failed,” DeSantis said as he reiterated the need for a national reckoning about what happened during the pandemic. “Those agencies are in for a rude awakening because they have failed this country.”
Attendees who talked to NHJournal after the town hall said they liked what they heard.
“Using Disney as a perfect example…keeping that type of CRT and other things out of the schools, I think he’s a representative of that,” said Jay Landry of Methuen, Mass. “And he’s talking about it; not only talking about it, but he’s doing something about it.”
To Mark Johnson of Nashua, DeSantis’s record in Florida is his strongest asset. “I thought he touched on all the issues. I thought he brought in the experience of what he’s accomplished, that he’s not just a guy with a platform but a guy with a platform and a record to go with it,” he said. “I think the transformation he’s brought to Florida is the kind of transformation we need for the nation.
“And we have other fine candidates running who have solid principles and a solid platform, but he’s delivering and showed he can do it, so that to me is the difference,” Johnson added.
But at least one voter, who declined to give his name, said it’s past time for DeSantis to go after Trump head-on.
“If he’s going to beat Trump, he needs to be 10 times more charismatic. I don’t think he’s charismatic enough,” he said. “If he has the attacks of [former New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie, but his [DeSantis’s] policies, he is a winning candidate.
“When you attack Donald Trump, people like it….He has to viciously attack Trump. That’s the only way you’re going to win.”