Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisSupport for governors sliding in states without vaccine mandates: survey Vaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' MORE rallied a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to fight the “failed Republican establishment,” highlighting the ongoing battle over the direction of the GOP in the wake of former President TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE’s electoral defeat.
In opening remarks on the second day of CPAC, DeSantis cast himself as an acolyte of Trump and his brand of conservative populism, echoing the former president’s attacks on “open borders,” foreign labor and “military adventurism.”
In doing so, DeSantis previewed a fight to prevent the resurgence of the so-called establishment Republicans, who have challenged Trump’s vision for the party.
“Florida’s leading on the issues that matter to conservatives,” DeSantis said. “We don't spout hollow rhetoric. We take decisive action.”
“We cannot, we will not, go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear,” he continued. “We reject open borders and instead support American sovereignty and the American worker. Building a movement on amnesty and cheap foreign labor is like building a house on a field of quicksand.”
DeSantis’s remarks were largely in line with the reputation he has built in recent years as a staunch Trump loyalist. But the governor’s speech also marked something of an attempt to cast himself as a successor to Trump ahead of a potential 2024 presidential bid.
DeSantis, who was first elected in 2018 and faces reelection next year, has seen his political star rise among conservatives over the past year as he toed Trump’s laissez faire line on the coronavirus pandemic and rejected calls from public health officials for more stringent policies.
CPAC itself moved this year from its usual location in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., to Orlando, Fla., due to Florida’s more lax restrictions.
DeSantis touted his handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, welcoming CPAC attendees to what he dubbed “our oasis of freedom.”
“We look around in other parts of our country and in too many places we see schools closed, businesses shuttered and lives destroyed,” DeSantis said, adding that while many other states implemented strict lockdown procedures in the face of the pandemic, “Florida lifted people up.”
The governor has earned praise from conservatives for his response to the public health crisis, though his state has recorded some of the highest numbers of infections and deaths in the nation due to the coronavirus. He also received backlash in Florida recently after threatening to divert vaccines from communities that had criticized his pandemic response.
Still, there appears to be an appetite for a potential DeSantis presidential campaign. A survey fielded last week by Trump’s former pollster Tony Fabrizio found DeSantis leading two other prospective presidential candidates, Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRepublicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE and Rick Scott, among Florida Republican voters in a hypothetical three-way matchup.
In that poll, DeSantis carried the support of 64 percent of respondents. By comparison, Rubio and Scott scored 12 percent and 10 percent, respectively.