DeSantis Pitches Republicans Looking to Move From Trump

(Bloomberg) -- Ron DeSantis painted a picture of his conservative governorship of Florida as a nationwide model for Republican faithful, seeking to reaffirm a burgeoning GOP wing calling for him to take the party’s reins from Donald Trump.

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DeSantis didn’t mention the former president or the 2024 presidential race he’s widely expected to enter in a speech on Saturday night at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas. But he detailed the extent of his landslide re-election victory on Nov. 8 and his record that includes fighting coronavirus restrictions and so-called “woke” ideology.

“When you stand up for what’s right, when you show people you’re willing to fight for them, they will walk over broken glass barefoot to come vote for you,” DeSantis said, drawing a standing ovation. “We’ve got a lot more to do, and I have only begun to fight.”

Trump and DeSantis are on a collision course for the GOP nomination race, and both spoke at the coalition’s annual meeting along with other potential Republican presidential candidates. It was billed as an early 2024 event.

The former president, who launched his 2024 candidacy on Tuesday, went first with an address via video link that also drew a standing ovation, saying that the GOP is “a much bigger, more powerful party than it was before I got there.”

But several speakers and some attendees called for the GOP to move on from Trump after candidates he backed performed poorly in key Nov. 8 midterm races -- denying the party control of the Senate and governorships in key swing states and barely delivering the House. Under Trump, the party previously lost the House, Senate and the White House.

“We keep losing and losing and losing, and the fact of the matter is the reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everybody else,” former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said in a speech on Saturday that drew an enthusiastic reception.

Christie, a former Trump ally who has said he plans to decide early next year whether to run again after failing to clinch the nomination in 2016, called for the GOP to “get our house in order” by not being afraid to stand up to the former president and “against the lies, to stand up against the pettiness, to stand up against the self-interest.”

Many Republicans and donors are looking to DeSantis, whose 2024 prospects skyrocketed after his landslide re-election while Republicans struggled in other states. Polls show he’s the top choice among GOP voters after Trump because he supports the former president’s policies and adopts his pugnacious style without the political baggage.

Trump is “still the dominant force in the Republican Party,” said Norm Coleman, a former US Senator from Minnesota and national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition. But the GOP nominating process is just starting and other candidates will be considered, he said.

Some donors and activists at the meeting said they supported Trump in 2016 and 2020 and would back him if he wins the GOP nomination in 2024. But they’re wary about whether the former president can win and are eager to consider alternatives like DeSantis.

Lawrence Goldstein, 76, a commercial real estate broker from Los Angeles, said he prefers DeSantis because he’s been an effective governor while Trump is still focused on the 2020 election he falsely said was rigged and stolen, which alienates independents and swing voters.

“To me, that shouldn’t be the main issue,” Goldstein said. “It has to be someone other than him.”

Former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan echoed those sentiments in an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” saying he thinks Republican primary voters will move on from Trump and that the party will lose in 2024 if the former president is the nominee.

“It’s palpable right now,” Ryan said. “We get past Trump, we start winning elections. We stick with Trump, we keep losing elections.”

Besides DeSantis and Christie, other potential Trump challengers who appeared at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s meeting included former Vice President Mike Pence; former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo; former Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley; Texas Senator Ted Cruz; South Carolina Senator Tim Scott; Florida Senator Rick Scott, and outgoing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin withdrew after the shootings last week at the University of Virginia.

Haley said she doesn’t blame one person or bad candidates for the GOP’s disappointing midterms and said Republicans were outplayed by Democrats. Haley, who said last year she wouldn’t run if Trump did, teased a 2024 campaign and said now that the midterms are over, she’ll “look at it in a serious way” and “have more to say soon.”

In his speech on Friday night, Pompeo joked about the speakers appearing on a debate stage with Trump and “who knows what nicknames we might have” -- a reference to Trump labeling his rivals in 2016 to diminish them, which he has already started this cycle by calling DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

Candidate Quality

Pompeo hasn’t broken with Trump directly but has taken thinly veiled shots, including calling on Twitter for “more seriousness, less noise, and leaders who are looking forward, not staring in the rear view mirror claiming victimhood.” He also said he was more loyal to the nation, not a person.

“Personality, celebrity just aren’t gonna get it done,” Pompeo said in his speech.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who has been critical of Trump, didn’t mention him by name but said the party has learned the hard way that candidate quality matters and “let’s stop supporting crazy, unelectable candidates” in GOP primaries.

“We need to convince swing voters that we have the best ideas and solutions,” Hogan, a prominent GOP Trump critic who is exploring whether there’s a lane for him in the 2024 race, said in his speech on Friday night. “Excuses, lies, and toxic politics will not win elections or restore America.”

Pence lauded what he called accomplishments of the Trump-Pence administration, including moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. But he has broken from his former boss over whether he had the authority to overturn the 2020 election during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The former vice president has said he’ll give “prayerful consideration” during the holidays to running in 2024 and that “I think we’ll have better choices in the future” than Trump.

--With assistance from Todd Shields.

(Updates with Ryan comments from 14th paragraph.)

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