DeSantis book tour begins with intra-party conflict

Supporters of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wait to file into a Books-A-Million where he signed copies of his just-released book in Leesburg, Fla., on Feb. 28, 2023.

BY NATASHA HOLT, Alachua Chronicle correspondent

LEESBURG, Fla. – About 150 Floridians lined up outside the doors of a Leesburg bookstore Tuesday evening, waiting for the opportunity to get Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature on his new book and chattering about the next two years of presidential politics. 

DeSantis has steered clear of talk of a presidential run, but Tuesday had all the appearances of a campaign launch. 

On the official release date of his book “The Courage to Be Free,” the 44-year-old governor crossed the state to sign books and speak about his “Blueprint for America’s Revival.” Book tour stops on Tuesday included Venice, Hallandale, Leesburg, and The Villages. The tour will continue today, when he’ll visit Miami, Naples, and Palm Beach.

From L: Fred and Sheilah Itson and Barbara and Ron Spangler, all recent transplants to Florida, wait for Gov. Ron DeSantis to arrive at his book-signing event in Leesburg, Fla., on Feb. 28, 2023.

Sheilah Itson arrived hours early to be one of the first in line to meet the rising-star Republican. She and her husband, Fred, now residents of The Villages, moved from California in 2021. They saw what Florida had to offer and decided that it was the “right direction to go.” 

The Itsons had to leave their family behind, including young grandchildren, when they left California. So, when thinking about who to support in 2024, she said she’ll choose the candidate likely to make decisions that positively affect her family on the other side of the country. 

“I’m going to go down the path of protecting my family in the future,” she said. DeSantis, she said, seems to be the candidate who could give her grandchildren “something more to look forward to in their future.”

If he runs.

Although she is a registered Independent, she said, “I’m a Trump person.” But she likes DeSantis more because he’s “very smart and poised and the total opposite of Mr. Trump.”

“That’s why I’m standing here,” she said. “I’ve never been in the political arena, ever. Never went to a rally. Never went to a book signing, ever. I’m 67 years old, and [DeSantis] has been the change for me.” 

With a handful of fellow Trump supporters waving to passing cars, former Republican congressional candidate Laura Loomer—an outspoken opponent of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—speaks with reporters near a book-signing by DeSantis in Leesburg, Fla., on Feb. 28, 2023.

Meanwhile, about a dozen supporters of former President Donald Trump were being told by a security guard and law enforcement officers that they must leave the “private property.” 

Their crime: wearing Trump gear.

The Trump fans, organized by former Republican congressional candidate Laura Loomer, had gathered in the mall parking lot. They stood about 100 yards from the bookstore and line, waving signs and flags showing support for the former president. 

When a security guard told them they had to leave, they demanded to know why. He said in a video Loomer posted to Twitter, “The DeSantis people are in there saying, had me come out to tell you guys not to be here while he’s here, signing the book.” When they pressed further, he said, “They told me to say anybody wearing Trump has to go right now.” 

A DeSantis spokeswoman referred questions about the incident to mall security and local law enforcement. 

Loomer recently mounted an aggressive campaign to pressure state lawmakers to keep in place a law that could deter DeSantis from announcing his candidacy for president. The problem for DeSantis is a law that has become known as “resign-to-run.” It requires that he must resign as governor once he officially launches his candidacy for president.  

Working in his favor is a Republican-controlled legislature, with supermajorities in the House and Senate. Leaders of both chambers have said publicly that it’s time to change the law. The legislative session starts on March 7.

It’s widely expected that the Legislature will make the change, allowing DeSantis to run without giving up the governorship. 

In an interview on “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show” on Tuesday, DeSantis said that he may “make an announcement” after the legislative session ends May 5. “I have a legislative session coming up. We have supermajorities now. And I’m going to be able to deliver a huge agenda for Florida,” he said. “And so that’s going to be my focus.” 

He said he’s promoting the book “partially because I’m proud of what we’ve done in Florida,” but he’ll focus on the legislative session for “probably three months.”

“And then we’ll get on the other side of that, and who knows? Maybe I’ll come on your show if I have an announcement to make.”

Loomer spewed a string of expletives when speaking about DeSantis. “He’s full of [expletive],” she said repeatedly about the governor. “This book tour is pretty disingenuous,” she said. “It’s not really a book tour. It’s a launch for his presidential campaign.” Because DeSantis raised money from Trump supporters, who wouldn’t have contributed if they knew that he was running for president, Loomer said, he has a duty to serve his full term as governor. 

“He was created in the image of Donald Trump. He owes his entire political career to Donald Trump. And now, he’s trying to have the Florida Legislature literally change the law only to benefit him,” she said. “I want him to stay put where he is, right now, for the time that he committed to when running.”

After the book signing, DeSantis traveled another 40 minutes northwest by car, ending the day at The Brownwood Hotel & Spa in The Villages, a heavily Republican retirement community consistently courted by statewide and national candidates of both major parties.

During his hour-long speech there, he focused on the actions he’s taken on issues such as the COVID-19 lockdowns, fighting “Big Tech,” and battling “woke ideology” in Florida schools and universities. He credited decisions he’s made on such controversial issues as the reason for his re-election in the 2022 midterms by a nearly 20-point margin over Democrat Charlie Crist. 

Crist, who resigned his post in Congress representing St. Petersburg during the 2022 campaign, served one term as a Republican governor from 2007-2011. He registered as an Independent during his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate seat that was won, and still held, by Marco Rubio. He later registered as a Democrat to face Rick Scott in a run to retake the Florida Governor’s Mansion. Scott, now a U.S. Senator, served two terms as the state’s top executive, and Crist was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat in 2015. 

The audience in The Villages cheered as DeSantis spoke of his reelection in November. “I was convinced that if you do the right thing, if you stand on principle, and if you explain to people what you’re doing, that ultimately everything would have worked out,” he said. “And of course, it did.”

  • Governor DeSantis it has been a true honor having you as our fearless leader these past few years. I will be even more honored to be your loyal subject as you reign as our Commander in Chief for 8 years starting in 2024!!

    • You, sir, should be ashamed to consider yourself a subject of anyone or any government. In America, we are not subjects, we are the Sovereign. Other than that, I too like DeSantis and back him strongly, however, he made a promise to serve Florida for four years. I say, let him run in 2028. That gives us strong contenders for the next 12 years. Ultimately, it will be up to him.

      • We will lose the White House in 2024 if we allow Trump to walk away with the nomination. He has no chance at winning. We cannot afford to have another Dem in the White House until 2028! Oh, and we won’t be facing Joe Biden – trust me.

  • Limited government is so overrated! I want elected officials telling colleges what they can teach, and private businesses how to run their business, and teachers and students what words are ok (and not ok!) to say, and what I can discuss with my doctor! Our legislature is spending WAY too much time on substantive legislation. Why fix the home insurance or infrastructure challenges we face? I want Culture Wars 24/7! Banning drag shows won’t improve my life by any available metric, but if it makes LIBERALS mad SIGN. ME. UP! DeSantis 2024 and FOREVER!

  • I’m so thankful for our Governor!

    I hate this infighting…I know politics is a contact sport, so to speak, but I hate that part. Why do Trump supporters feel the need to detract from DeSantis? Trump throws punches, and DeSantis isn’t punching back. So now Trump supporters are showing up at DeSantis’ book signings to try to stir something up.

    I was very thankful for President Trump’s policies, but it’s this part of his style is very off-putting. Maybe Trump had nothing to do with his supporters showing up to make a scene. If so, then I’ll retract this criticism.

    I wouldn’t want DeSantis supporters to protest at a Trump rally, either. It’s bad form.

    I’m already worn out with conservatives fighting each other. There’s so much to legitimately fight against…truly destructive policies to work together to fix. I want happy warriors who fight bad policies, not other conservatives.

  • Trump-DeSantis would not be a bad ticket. Don’t be surprised if it happens.

  • He’s the best. So good for our state of Florida. He has my vote!

  • Once again someone didn’t read the instructions. Parking lots for the purpose of enforcing Florida state statues are not private property.
    The property ‘owner or their designee’ can trespass the offenders in the presence of the police.
    Ronnie isn’t ready yet to be the Prez. To young and green behind the ears. Instead, Trump supporters should focus on electing him to office, not attacking DeSantis.

    • Since when is it okay for the citizens of this state to pay for the governor’s campaign efforts or for him traveling around on our dime for a book signing that he profits from? I was a strong DeSantis supporter until I realized that he and his wife seek the television cameras far too often in order to get exposure. He is and has been campaigning. Like Joe Biden, he is out there passing out our tax dollars for any group he thinks will become a supporter.

  • DeSantis will be a great President someday soon, but right now we need him in Florida more. Hopefully he waits until 2028.

    Being VP in 2024 would be a waste of his political talents.

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