Hello from the third National Conservatism conference, meeting in Miami. Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the conference on the first night, and blew everyone away. It helped that he followed a dull but half-hysterical rant by Sen. Rick Scott, who fired a barrage of Republican cliches at the audience (watch it here). A conservative writer friend sitting across the room texted me during the speech to joke that this thing was so bad it's causing him to rethink all his convictions.
And then came DeSantis. His talk was workmanlike, but extremely effective, because he spoke plainly, talking about things he has actually done as Florida governor to advance conservative goals. I realize that sounds dull, but I assure you that for we who were in the room, it was anything but. After being bum-rushed by Rick Scott, it was great to be spoken to by a politician who addressed us as if we were real people.
He began by talking about why he did not defer to experts during Covid -- and why that worked out well for him. A statesman's job is not to automatically defer to expert opinion, DeSantis said, but to hear from a number of people around an issue, and to find a way to harmonize what they're saying. It was refreshing to hear a leader question the cult of expertise.
I wanted to stand up and cheer when DeSantis talked about how conservatives have got to get over their reflex to defer to Big Business. He spoke about how he believes that when Big Business is oppressing individuals, the state should come to their aid. He also lashed out at Republicans who sit back and allow bad things to happen because they are too listless or afraid to take a tough stand.
"Use the power you have!" he said. "I'm sick of the press releases. I'm sick of the interviews" -- meaning GOP pols who talk big but who don't follow through.
DeSantis briefly mentioned the Stop WOKE Act, which bans most DEI training in businesses of over 15 employees, and which has been partially blocked by a federal judge. He said, of employers, "They can't force you to affirm beliefs that you don't have." One of the biggest applause lines of the night came after he talked about what he did to slap Disney back into its lane when the woke corporation tried to strongarm the state into allowing gay activists and allies to present gender ideology to little schoolchildren.
For me, the best part of DeSantis's long speech was how he kept coming back to how the GOP has to take on Big Business on behalf of the little guy. This is Reagan-era Republican heresy -- but he's 100 percent correct. "Too many Republicans view 'limited government' as 'whatever Big Business wants'," DeSantis said. Capitalism is vital, he said, but it is a means to creating a Good Society; it is not an end in itself. Best line of the night: "The United States is a country that has an economy, not the other way around."
The governor tore into Big Tech, saying, "We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are doing the Regime's bidding when it comes to censorship." And: "They are de facto the enforcement arm of Regime ideology." This section of DeSantis's speech was so interesting. I've embedded video of the entire talk below, but if you don't have time to watch it, click on this link, which will take you to the passage near the end in which he discusses how so many institutions in American life have been captured by the Woke, and how he is unafraid to use the power of the state to push back against corporate and cultural monopolies that push the little guy around.
"Can we act to prevent our citizens from getting crushed by these major monopolies?" he asked. "They have an enormous amount of power over society. And so when people say oh, you're using government in the private sector, what I'm doing is using government to give space to the individual citizen to be able to be able to participate in society, to be able to speak his or her mind. I think that's absolutely an appropriate use of government power. ...To sit back and just do nothing while a bunch of Silicon Valley oligarchs are imposing an orthodoxy on this country, which views all of us as second-class citizens? No thank you, I'm not signing up for that."
DeSantis laid in to the administrative state, saying it has been weaponized to serve the Left's goals -- and Congress has allowed it to happen. He used this as an example of how the Left advances its goals through democratically unaccountable institutions.
"So many of these institutions have been captured by a failed, ossified ruling class," he said. "If you want to have an American revival, yes, it requires electing good people, having good policy. But it also requires a recognition that it's not just in the electoral realm, it's also in the administrative realm, and more and more in the corporate and technological realm. I think the Left is playing for keeps."
DeSantis is not a great public speaker -- he talks in prose, not poetry -- but what he said was galvanizing. Besides, his actions as governor speak louder than the empty words of other Republican politicians. Talking with conference attendees about the DeSantis speech, I found near-unanimous sentiment that DeSantis should be the 2024 GOP nominee -- but also near-unanimous belief that he could not beat Donald Trump in a primary match-up. The feeling is that Trump simply has too great a hold on too many GOP primary voters.
I find this incredibly frustrating. Ron DeSantis sounded many Trumpian populist themes, and has demonstrated in office his ability to use the power of state to make things happen. He knows how to govern in a common sense way, and has proved it. And it's not all about him. If DeSantis is the 2024 GOP presidential nominee, we will have a great national argument about issues. If Trump is the nominee, we will have a great national argument about Trump.
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Whether or not DeSantis runs for president in this next cycle, we saw and heard in DeSantis's speech where the future of the GOP is: with common-sense populism. That is, with standing up for the little guy against elites and the institutions they run, both public and private -- and not just standing up rhetorically, but with legislative and policy action. Did you ever imagine that you would hear a major Republican politician say a line like, "America is a country with an economy, not the other way around"? I didn't. It's true, and it's welcome. Whether it's 2024 or 2028, Ron DeSantis is the future of political conservatism in America. Watch the video below to see and hear why: