Trump and DeSantis are fighting for the heart of the GOP in Florida

“If I were to announce that I would not run for office, the persecution of Donald Trump would stop immediately,” Trump said at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit. “But that’s what they want me to do. And you know what? There’s no way I’m going to do that.”

Several recent surveys have shown Republican voters moving away from Trump and toward DeSantis. The Florida governor, who has repeatedly said he is focused on his 2022 re-election bid, is also beating Trump in fundraising.

In Hollywood, Fla., on the state’s Atlantic coast, the Florida Republican Party held its annual Sunshine Summit, a two-day event funded largely by money DeSantis raised for the Florida GOP. State Republicans, including DeSantis, gathered at the Seminole Hard Rock, where some of the state’s top GOP officials conducted formal party business just feet from bikini-clad hotel guests and gambling players in slot machines.

More than 250 miles away in Tampa, the conservative student organization Turning Point USA also held a summit that featured speeches from the congressman. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham and Trump, among others. The former president’s appearance came just a day after he held a rally in Prescott, Arizona, to support Kari Lake in her bid for governor there.

“We’re going to get our freedom back,” Trump said during his nearly two-hour speech in Tampa. “We are going to recover our freedom. We are going to recover our destiny. We will return, very soon, to our country”.

The audience at Trump’s event was mostly young people from around the country, and he clapped and cheered throughout his speech. He received his biggest applause when he hinted that he would stand for election, although he did not give any details.

“All this corrupt establishment does to me is preserve their control over the American people,” Trump told the estimated 5,000 people in attendance. “They want to hurt me in any way so that I can no longer represent you. Obviously, they want me not to be the candidate because they never talk about anyone else.”

DeSantis gave a speech to the same crowd in Tampa on Friday.

The Florida GOP event in Hollywood, Florida was much smaller than the Turning Point conference and was heavily influenced by DeSantis.

For the first time in the event’s seven-year history, it limited which media could attend, giving inside room access to right-wing outlets that give positive coverage of the governor. Traditional party figures were also largely replaced by social media influencers with massive followings who have recently moved to Florida and become some of DeSantis’ most vocal supporters, with conservative commentator Dave Rubin and Fox News personality Lisa Boothe among them.

“We in the state of Florida will not allow the legacy media to get involved in our primary,” DeSantis said in opening remarks at the Florida GOP event on Saturday. “I’m not going to have a bunch of left-wing media asking questions of our candidates.”

The potential showdown between the two is a major point of tension within national Republican circles as DeSantis, who relied on Trump’s endorsement in 2018 to win his party’s nomination for Florida’s Republican governor, has seen as his popularity soared, as demonstrated by his followers. to the state republican act.

“I love President Trump, but he’s the left that the Democrats use to run against. Without him, they have nothing. There’s no platform,” said James Lefebvre, an attendee at the Sunshine Summit, who was sitting in one of the Hard Rock restaurants asking passers-by if they support DeSantis for president.

“I like a jerk for president, I like him a lot, so that has nothing to do with it,” he added. “I think DeSantis can unify people a little bit more, and without him the Democrats have nothing.”

He said DeSantis’ fights at the state level have resonated with him and conservatives nationally, notably pushing Florida’s Republican-led Legislature to strip Disney of its self-governing status after it expressed opposition to DeSantis’ legislation banning lessons about gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms through third grade. Opponents branded the bill “Don’t say gay.”

Trump’s presence over a state he won by more than three points in 2020, however, has not gone away. Even those who said they support DeSantis to run in 2024 would not attack the former president. Despite the near-daily negative press surrounding the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol that left at least five people dead, Republicans still seem unwilling to let Trump go.

Diana Jimenez, a 25-year-old New Jersey resident who attended the Tampa Turning Points USA event, said she was impressed with DeSantis but not ready to endorse him for the presidency.

“I was very close to him, I was able to talk to him personally,” he said. “I don’t think he should go to DC, he should just stay down here”

Instead, he said Trump should run for president.

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