TALLAHASSEE — Conservative social media influencers have flocked to Florida for “freedom,” “freedom,” and another reason: Governor Ron DeSantis.
The Republican governor’s team has courted popular conservative media and online figures, an effort that comes as former President Donald Trump appears to be turning against DeSantis. Some of those courting the governor’s staff are deeply involved in bolstering the anti-vax movement and downplaying the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
In early January — no less on March 6 — DeSantis hosted nine prominent social media stars in Tallahassee for a night that included stops at DeSantis’ office, dinner at the governor’s mansion, and drinks at Level 8 Lounge, a popular rooftop bar in near the Florida state house. Almost all of them have recently announced very publicly on social media that they have moved to Florida.
“Thanks for dinner, @GovRonDeSantis. I am no longer an enemy of the state!” Dave Rubin, a conservative television host and YouTube personality, tweeted to his million Twitter followers. He recently moved from California to Florida. “Florida is the future.”
Rubin, who was part of the group with DeSantis on Jan. 6, posted the tweet from the Florida governor’s mansion along with a photo of him next to DeSantis.
The Tallahassee meeting came less than a week before DeSantis’ State of the State address opening the 2022 Florida legislative session. DeSantis focused his nearly hour-long speech on themes that fuel the national Republican grassroots, including the state’s hands-off pandemic response and criticism of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert who is regularly condemned by Republicans.
“Stepping the clown show in Washington DC,” tweeted Jordan Schachtel, a conservative journalist who was at the Tallahassee rally, of DeSantis’ speech to his more than 167,000 followers. “The leader of the Free World is speaking.”
The meetings were hosted in part by Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press officer, who tried to minimize the influencers’ role in a statement to POLITICO, saying they are Florida residents who “have consistently supported the governor’s pro-freedom policies.” “.
“It turns out that a governor who stands up for individual rights against federal tyranny is popular among conservatives,” said Pushaw, known as the government’s right-wing whisperer.
Most of those on the Tallahassee trip did not respond to requests for comment, but Newsweek opinion editor Josh Hammer and Lisa Boothe of Fox News, who both live in Florida, sent identical emails in response to POLITICO’s questions. : “You can quote me like this: ‘Florida rocks.’”
Many conservative media stars, most of whom have long been some of Trump’s most vocal supporters, have hyped DeSantis in recent months for the governor’s rejection of Covid-related mandates and constant hammering at President Joe Biden. But support has grown in intensity in recent weeks, a spike easily noticeable on social media and podcasts across the conservative media ecosystem. That support is critical to helping DeSantis further expand his footprint with influencers in Republican primary politics ahead of his re-election in 2022 and as he weighs a bid for the White House in 2024.
“It’s really fascinating to watch Ron DeSantis climb,” said Sara Gonzales, a presenter on the conservative Texas-based BlazeTV network. “I say this, of course, as a native Texan. Florida, led by DeSantis, has rocked even Texas over issues that really matter to the average conservative.
That attention comes because DeSantis has also drawn Trump’s wrath. Trump has repeatedly said he would beat DeSantis in a GOP primaries, and last week the conservative One America News Network called conservative politicians who won’t say whether they got the Covid-19 booster shot “guts” — a comment that is becoming widespread. seen as directed at DeSantis, who was hesitant when asked about the matter but said he had been vaccinated.
Trump’s team would also like to highlight the role he played in making DeSantis a national Republican figure.
“The MAGA world has largely followed President Trump to Florida as it prepares for the future,” said Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesperson. “After introducing the world to Governor DeSantis via a Tweet in 2017, Floridians have reaped the benefits of President Trump’s America First candidates.”
“With DeSantis being re-elected, it’s an all-hands effort to push Governor DeSantis across the finish line once again,” he added, referring to DeSantis running for governor again this year.
DeSantis, without mentioning Trump, also escalated the clash on Friday by criticizing the former president’s early handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. DeSantis said the government listened too closely to Fauci about restrictions such as lockdowns.
“People like Fauci panicked, they followed the data from China, which is not reliable,” he said.
DeSantis also closed Florida for a few months in the early days of the pandemic, but was one of the first governors to lift restrictions in mid-2020.
“I think it would be a mistake if DeSantis didn’t run. The more Trump makes the mistake of linking the success of the vaccines to his ego, the more he alienates and insults his base,” said BlazeTV host Gonzales. “Many people who have supported Trump in the last election are starving for someone with the guts to speak for them without fear of repercussions, but also without the obvious baggage that Trump carries.”
“DeSantis fits that mold perfectly.”