In advance of a highly anticipated presidential announcement, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made his first appearance of the year in Michigan. In this battleground state, Democratic majorities have grown under the leadership of high-profile Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The visit highlighted the contrasting leadership approaches of the Republicans and Democrats, whose 2022 reelection victories elevated them to their respective parties’ rising stars.
As a result of Governor Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled legislature, Florida has moved to the right by fighting a culture war against what the governor calls “woke” agendas. Whitmer has been a leader in putting abortion rights into law and pushing for comprehensive gun reform in Michigan, where Democrats have full control for the first time in decades.
Whitmer has been a key ally of President Joe Biden and a conduit for his leadership in their party and for what is possible under Democrats. DeSantis is among the most prominent prospective candidates seeking to unseat Biden in 2024.
This was one of DeSantis’ first appearances outside of Florida since former President Donald Trump was indicted. With all eyes on Trump, it has been difficult for other candidates for the Republican nomination to garner much attention.
Trump frequently attacks DeSantis, much like he did with Whitmer, whom he called “that woman from Michigan” during his presidency. Trump has been very critical of DeSantis lately. On March 25, he said at a rally in Waco, Texas, that the Florida politician was not loyal and was “falling like a rock.”
Thursday’s excursion began with DeSantis speaking at a Republican event in the state’s geographic center. He avoided mentioning Trump but criticized Biden, describing him as “weak” and controlled by the far-left elements of his own party.
DeSantis told the audience he was bringing a message of optimism based on what they have accomplished in the free state of Florida and outlined his “agenda.” DeSantis drew distinct policy parallels to Michigan in education and COVID-19 lockdowns.
DeSantis said that he recalls individuals escaping lockdowns in Michigan during the COVID outbreak. He noted that Michigan’s parents told him they were dissatisfied with the institutions and everything else.
State Representative Bill G. Schuette, a Republican from the Midland area, introduced DeSantis by referring to Michigan as “the anti-Florida.”
Since the beginning of the Florida legislative session in early March, DeSantis has worked to expand the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which is about parental rights in deciding how your children are educated in Florida schools. DeSantis has eliminated books from Florida schools that teach sexual education and gender ideology to elementary schools. He also went against the College Board regarding an AP book that taught critical race theory and encouraged racism and gender ideologies. While critics complain that he banned the books, DeSantis’ team points out that Florida allows people to read whatever they want. Additionally, DeSantis supported a six-week abortion ban that the state has started enforcing.
Thursday evening, DeSantis delivered a speech at Hillsdale College, a small Christian classical liberal arts institution in southern Michigan. He said that the school was a “model” for how he wanted to change Florida’s New College, a small liberal arts school that he says teaches students leftist ideas.
Outside of the Midland event, there were over 100 demonstrators. Pamela Pugh, the president of the Michigan Board of Education and a graduate of Florida A&M, was at the protest and said that the protesters were telling DeSantis that hate speech has no place in Michigan. A protester’s placard also referred to Michigan as “the anti-Florida.”
Michigan could be the fifth state to hold a Republican primary, and the results could be very important in deciding who will be the Republican nominee for president. Bryan Posthumus, the floor leader for the Michigan House Republicans, traveled to Florida in December to give DeSantis a letter urging him to run for president.
Posthumus told The Associated Press he would endorse DeSantis for president of the United States of America.
In the seven years since Trump’s victory, Michigan voters have spurned Republicans by a large margin. In addition to holding legislative majorities, Democrats also hold the offices of governor, attorney general, and secretary of state at the state level.