Trump v. DeSantis: Young conservatives debate the future of the GOP.

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – When Ex President Donald Trump As he took the stage in front of a crowd of more than 5,000 young conservative activists in Tampa this weekend, he welcomed the rock star he’s grown accustomed to in the seven years he’s reshaped the Republican Party. Is.

The night before, it was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who brought the crowd to its feet while headlining the day’s program at Turning Point USA’s annual Student Action Summit.

When asked who he would like to see as the party’s next nominee, Leo Malik, 19, of Barrington, Illinois, said, “Honestly, it’s like choosing one of your favorite children. “

Malik, wearing a “Trump was right” baseball cap, said both Republicans “have their pros, their cons.” For now, he said, he’s leaning toward Trump.

The sentiment reflects soul-searching within the GOP as a stealthy primary begins to take shape for the 2024 presidential nomination, dominated by Trump and DeSantis, at least for the moment.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses attendees during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, Friday, July 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.

Phelan M. Ebenhack by AP

There is no doubt that Trump is getting closer to announcing a third presidential campaign. But there is a real debate over whether he is the party’s best candidate to take on President Joe Biden, who is otherwise seen as a weak incumbent in the next campaign, which has been plagued by rising inflation, sinking Beset by questions about popularity and his ability to manage America. His 80s

Hearing this summer The GOP’s uneasiness about Trump has only been heightened by the House committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 coup. A pair of weekend editorials in the New York Post and Wall Street Journal — publications often owned by Trump friend Rupert Murdoch — highlighted the effect, criticizing the former president for refusing to call out crowds of supporters. made when they stormed the US Capitol. Blocking the peaceful transition of power.

“As a matter of principle, as a matter of character, Trump has proven himself unfit to be this country’s chief executive again,” the New York Post wrote.

But inside the Tampa Convention Center, the mention on Jan. 6 drew cheers as Trump’s “MAGA Movement” took the stage in a room that had the feel of a Las Vegas nightclub.

Young attendees dressed in sparkly heels and candy-colored cowboy boots danced to a DJ under laser lights before the program began. The speakers were introduced with WWE-style videos, elaborate pyrotechnics and smoke displays. Throughout the venue, ring lights were strategically placed in front of logoed backdrops for flattering photo ops. Outside, a small group of neo-Nazis briefly waved swastika flags.

The top draw was Trump, who again teased his future plans.

“I ran twice. I won twice and did much better the second time … and now we might have to do it again,” he said to thunderous cheers and chants of “Take it back!”

Attendees Cheer As Florida Gov. Ron Desantis Addresses The Turning Point Usa Student Action Summit Friday, July 22, 2022, In Tampa, Fla. (Ap Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Attendees cheer as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit Friday, July 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Phelan M. Ebenhack by AP

During his speech, Trump appeared intent on deflecting criticism from some quarters of the party that he is focusing too much on the divisive 2020 election, telling the crowd that he “has some really want to talk about the big issues”. But he soon returned to familiar complaints, calling himself the most persecuted politician in the country’s history as he came close to declaring a run.

“If I give up my beliefs, if I agree to remain silent, if I stay at home, if I announce that I will not run for office, Donald Trump’s cruelty will stop immediately,” he said. will be done. “But that’s what they want me to do. And you know what? There’s no way I’m going to do it.”

DeSantis, who often insists he is solely focused on re-election as governor, headlined Friday night’s program in an appearance that strongly suggested his ambitions extend beyond the state. .

He welcomed the crowd to the “free state of Florida” and highlighted the anti-Covid mitigation policies that made him a conservative hero during the height of the pandemic. And he bragged about his efforts to stop the debate. race And Sexual orientation Along with Florida classrooms His battles with Disney.

“We’ve had a tremendous success in the state of Florida. But we’ve only just begun to fight,” he said. “Because we’re on a mission to keep the state of Florida free and to save our great country.”

Ryan Malone, Right, Of Venice, Fla., And His Wife, Mariozzi Viteri Malone, Answer A Reporter'S Questions Outside The Tampa Convention Center At The Turning Point Usa Student Action Summit, Saturday, July 23, 2022, In Tampa, Fla. Have Been.  (Ap Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Ryan Malone, right, of Venice, Fla., and his wife, Mariozzi Viteri Malone, answer a reporter’s questions outside the Tampa Convention Center at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, Saturday, July 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. have been. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Phelan M. Ebenhack by AP

one Unscientific straw poll 78.7% of event attendees would vote for Trump in the GOP primary, while DeSantis came in second with 19%. No other potential candidate topped 1 percent.

And a lot of people were really into the Trump 2024 race.

“I love the idea, I absolutely do,” said Ryan Malone, 33, who recently moved to Florida from New York. While he is a big fan of DeSantis, he argued that Trump is best positioned to turn the country around what he sees as Biden’s failings.

“I think he will do more,” he said. “Again, I love DeSantis, he’s my 1A, right? But I think if we’re going to get out of this miserable period that we’re in, Trump is the guy to get us out of that hole.

Still, he worried about what might happen if the two ran against each other in the GOP primary.

“I don’t want to see bloodshed between the person who is the real leader of our party and then the person who you know is the second coming,” he said.

But his wife, Dr. Mariozzi Viteri Malone, 33, is eager for DeSantis to run. As an immigrant from Ecuador, she said she was offended by Trump’s rhetoric about Hispanics.

“Be good!” They said. “That’s all you have to do.”

Others were more strategic in their thinking.

Cameron Lilley, 29, said he personally likes DeSantis better than Trump, but still thinks another Trump pick makes sense for the party.

“I think Ron DeSantis is just throwing another opportunity at Trump,” said Lilly, who works for a defense contractor in Annapolis, Maryland. “I like DeSantis a little more. But I think if we want to have a permanent conservative in the White House, one more term of Trump, DeSantis as vice president, and then possibly one or two more terms. That’s the way to keep conservatives in the White House for more years.

Steven Dykstra, 22, had another reason.

“As much as I want DeSantis to be president — he’ll be a great president — I want him to stay in Florida,” said Dykstra, who attends Pasco-Hernando State College. If he had contested in 2024, he would not have been our governor. He has been a very good governor. “I think he should stay.”

Sidney Kinney, Left, And Johnny Kinney Of Orlando, Fla., Answer Questions From A Reporter Outside The Tampa Convention Center During The Turning Point Usa Student Action Summit, Saturday, July 23, 2022, In Tampa, Fla.  (Ap Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Sidney Kinney, left, and Johnny Kinney of Orlando, Fla., answer questions from a reporter outside the Tampa Convention Center during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, Saturday, July 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Phelan M. Ebenhack by AP

Orlando sisters Sydney and Johnny Kinney, who go by “The Patriot Sisters” online, said they are fans of both Trump and DeSantis, but don’t expect either to run in 2024. .

“I’ll still vote for him. We’re still there. But I’d like to see him in a different seat this year,” said Jenny, 23, of Trump. “If he runs, I mean, we’ll stand on the street for him anyway. But we want to see him start nurturing other people who have the same mindset.

Sydney, 21, said she was looking for a replacement, but wasn’t sure who.

“It’s a question of time,” he said. “Right now we need somebody who is, yes, strong, who is strong-willed, but somebody who is a little bit more kind of bringing it all together.”

But Zachary Roberson, 22, said if he ever had to choose between Trump and DeSantis, he would choose the Florida governor.

“He seems like a better version of Trump. So I’m hoping he runs for president,” said Roberson, a student at Florida Gulf Coast University.

As for Trump, Roberson suggested: “You can run for governor here in Florida.”


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