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DeSantis back in SC as 2024 hopeful seeks to revive campaign

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in West Columbia, South Carolina, at the nonprofit Celebrate Freedom Foundation hangar.
Maayan Schechter
SC Public Radio
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in West Columbia, South Carolina, on Tuesday, July 18, 2023.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, July 18, 2023, became the first Republican presidential candidate to file for South Carolina's GOP presidential primary.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that former President Donald Trump “should have come out more forcefully” as rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

But he said the Department of Justice efforts to seek criminal charges is a “different issue entirely,” after Trump announced via Truth Social that he’s been notified he’s the target of a DOJ investigationlooking into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“We want to be in a situation where you don’t have one side just constantly trying to put the other side in jail,” DeSantis told reporters. “And that unfortunately is what we’re seeing now.”

DeSantis made those remarks Tuesday in West Columbia after rolling out his U.S. military policy proposal. Earlier, DeSantis became the first Republican presidential candidate to file for South Carolina’s GOP presidential primary on Feb. 24.

If elected president, DeSantis said his administration would get rid of any so-called “woke” initiatives, put emphasis on recruitment and bring back service members who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, with back pay.

“That was wrong,” DeSantis said to veterans and their families at nonprofit Celebrate Freedom Foundation’s hangar at the Columbia Airport. “That was an example of civilian and political people bowing to the hysteria in society at the time about COVID, and trying to jam that down the throats of our military service members.”

DeSantis’ South Carolina trip comes as the GOP hopeful seeks to change course before the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary on Jan. 15 and 23, respectively.

Trump has continued to dominate polls, showing DeSantis in second.

Trump backers take a second look at DeSantis

On Monday, DeSantis held atown hall event before some 900 folks in Tega Cay, where the two-term governor shared his vision for America and contrasted himself with Trump, as several in the audience see DeSantis as a more viable alternative.

A self-described hardcore Trump supporter told DeSantis during the question-and-answer session that he had won her over in making his case as the Trump alternative.

“I appreciate what President Trump did,” DeSantis said. “How they treated him when things like Russia collusion was a disgrace and he was treated wrong. He was treated in ways that were unconstitutional. But here's the thing, the question for us now is what are we going to do about it? And we need to end the weaponization of government. I will get that done.”

DeSantis took seven questions, ranging from school lunches to Israel and funding for Ukraine to his stance on the safety of mRNA vaccines, such as those that were given emergency use authorization during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They develop these things (vaccines) and you can’t sue for any side effects so their incentive isn’t to create the safest product because they know they’re going to get liability protection so their incentive is to rush as much out to market as they can,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis, who won accolades from conservatives for not shutting down Florida during the pandemic and fighting federal health guidance, petitioned the Florida Supreme Court in December to convene a statewide grand jury to look into misrepresentations and any potential lies that were made about COVID-19 shots.

The large turnout for DeSantis was on par with crowds he drew during three stops across the Palmetto State during his first swing on June 2 just days after his formal announcement.

Despite the large crowds and raising nearly $20 million during the first six weeks of his campaign, he faces slipping poll numbers and is burning through cash that’s primarily coming from high-dollar donors leading him to change staffing and messaging strategies.

Tyler Johnson, a 57-year-old from Tega Cay who works as a software product manager, was impressed by DeSantis’ ability to speak frankly and from his heart on a variety of domestic and foreign issues without notes or a teleprompter.

Johnson, who remains undecided, would’ve asked DeSantis not how he’s different from Trump, but South Carolina’s two homegrown candidates former Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott.

“I was and still am a huge Trump supporter, from a policy standpoint, but I personally would like to see different approaches to invoke those policies,” Johnson said. “So I think the demeanor of a DeSantis or Tim Scott or Nikki Haley is more aligned with where I’d like to see the country go.”

Johnson added he’d support whoever becomes the nominee.

Back in West Columbia,DeSantis returned to his military proposal when asked how he’ll overcome Trump’s popularity among Republican voters in South Carolina, home to a handful of military installations.

“I am the only candidate running who has actually served in our military and that is a veteran [in] both parties, on either side,” DeSantis said. “Upon election, I’ll be the first candidate elected whose actually served in a war since 1988.”

State Rep. Steven Long, R-Spartanburg, commended DeSantis for building support in South Carolina, saying the candidate is on an upward trajectory. It’s that grassroots effort that caught the interest of state Rep. Richie Yow, R-Chesterfield, who remains undecided.

“Seeing that someone cares about us,” Yow, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran, said, “kind of excited me a little bit.”

Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) is a news reporter with South Carolina Public Radio and ETV. She worked at South Carolina newspapers for a decade, previously working as a reporter and then editor of The State’s S.C. State House and politics team, and as a reporter at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville in 2013.
Gavin Jackson graduated with a visual journalism degree from Kent State University in 2008 and has been in the news industry ever since. He has worked at newspapers in Ohio, Louisiana and most recently in South Carolina at the Florence Morning News and Charleston Post and Courier.