(The Center Square) – President Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail with a fiery speech in a hangar at Orlando Sanford International Airport, but it was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who drew the most reaction from around the state.
Bellicose and a bit raspy, Trump praised himself, attacked Democrats and basked in “we-love-you” chants before a mask-less throng during a 65-minute address in near-90 degree heat.
“I feel so powerful,” Trump told supporters Monday night after being hospitalized 10 days earlier with COVID-19. “I’ll walk into that audience. I’ll walk in there, I’ll kiss everyone in that audience. I’ll kiss the guys and the beautiful women, everybody. I’ll just give you a big fat kiss.”
After addresses by Republican Florida U.S. Reps. Michael Waltz and Matt Gaetz, who mocked media for wearing masks, and GOP congressional candidate Leo Valentin, DeSantis took the stage and sounded very much like a 2024 presidential candidate appealing to Trump’s base.
While DeSantis framed national issues Trump would address in his speech, including the pending nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, he dedicated far more time to blasting the media and critics of his efforts to keep Florida’s economy open and a proposed bill targeting violent protestors.
“I’ve unveiled the strongest anti-looting, anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement piece of legislation in the country. And we’re going to pass this,” DeSantis said. “It says some things very simply. It tells our local governments, if you defund law enforcement, then the state is going to defund you. In Florida, it’s going to be a very simple message: If you loot, you’re going to jail. If you riot, you’re going to jail. And if you assault one of our law enforcement officers, you’re going to jail.”
Violent protests have been rare in Florida, and no local government in the state has pondered defunding police.
DeSantis warned Biden’s proposed COVID-19 policies would be a disaster for Florida.
“Biden has said if some scientist tells him to shut down, he’s going to shut down the country. That would ruin millions of lives. It will cost many lives,” DeSantis said. “We cannot let that happen. We’re not going to let them shut our schools. We’re not going to let them close our businesses. We are not going to let them shut down this country.”
DeSantis gleefully predicted election results will make the media cry.
“I can tell you on election night, when all of the people in the media are licking their chops because they want to see the president defeated, the minute Florida starts to turn, and the Panhandle comes in, you’re going to see all the smiles at CNN turn to tears, and they’re going to cry,” DeSantis said.
Mask-less, DeSantis high-fived supporters and, as documented by many media, rubbed his nose and sniffled during his address, spurring criticism from Democrats for flouting large-event social distancing and masking guidelines at the rally.
“[DeSantis] is giving maskless high fives at a [Trump] rally in Sanford, meanwhile we’re working on unemployment claim & trying to get people paid their benefits from a system that broke under his watch & is still broken,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, tweeted.