Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday in Peoria teased at a presidential run he’s widely expected to announce later this month.
It’s a theme he’s honed in upon in recent appearances before friendly crowds.
In a campaign-style speech at the Peoria and Tazewell County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner, DeSantis said it’s time for the Republican Party to look forward and offer what he calls a positive vision for the future, instead of nursing past grievances.
“There is no substitute for victory. We have to reject the culture of losing that has infected our party in recent years,” he said. “We have no more time for excuses. We need the courage to lead and we need the strength to win.”
DeSantis defined winning as producing results by governing, contrasting it to entertaining, building a brand, or virtue signaling on social media.
Former President Donald Trump is running again in 2024 after losing to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020. Trump has repeatedly denied the results of that election, falsely alleging voter fraud swayed the results.
Most polls currently show Trump leading DeSantis in a hypothetical Republican primary faceoff, though those races are still months away.
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Dunlap), an Illinois honorary co-chair of Trump’s 2020 campaign, praised DeSantis in his introductory remarks.
“We want to win in 2024. We need a winner. Governor DeSantis has a record as a winner,” said LaHood.
Most of DeSantis’ keynote address leaned heavily into the controversial culture war bona fides for which he’s become known nationally, to the elation of many conservatives and the chagrin of many liberals.
He decried the so-called “woke mind virus” as things like critical race theory, corporate ESG investment strategies, and trans women competing in women’s athletics.
“Don’t tell me that babies are born racist. Don’t tell me men can get pregnant,” he said. “That is not true. And we are not going to indulge in that. And because the woke represents a war on truth, we have no choice but to wage a war on woke. And that is what we’re doing in Florida.”
DeSantis touted his battle against Disney after the company criticized a law forbidding teachers from talking about sexual orientation and gender identity with young students, and said he’s about to sign a bill banning diversity, equity, and inclusion policies at public universities, calling DEI “a veneer to impose an ideological agenda on the campus.”
The governor also claimed he saved Florida from turning into a “Faucian dystopia” by rejecting many of the COVID-19 mitigation recommendations of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Illinois Democrats hurled barbs at the Florida governor for days ahead of his Friday appearance, with Gov. JB Pritzker declaring the state stands against his “hateful agenda.” DeSantis got in his own jab.
“I’m a little bit disappointed that your governor said I wasn’t welcome in Illinois. Because I seem to remember, when he was locking down this state, he sent his family to my state to live in our freedom in Florida. I didn’t say they weren’t welcome,” he said.
Protests by progressive groups greeted DeSantis outside the Peoria Civic Center on Friday afternoon.
The Florida governor said the 2024 election is a referendum on President Joe Biden and his policies. He said he believes the Republican Party can sweep races across the board if it presents a positive vision for the future.
“Decline is a choice. Success is attainable. And freedom is worth fighting for. I’m proud of what we’ve done in Florida. But I can tell you this, I have only begun to fight,” he said.