Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touted his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state's approach to education on Sunday at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, where he also claimed the "woke mind virus" is leading to the demise of liberal states.
"We have had a great experiment, a great test in governance philosophies," DeSantis said. "If you look over the last four years, we've witnessed a great American exodus from states governed by leftists politicians imposing leftist ideology and delivering poor results."
DeSantis' visit to California, home to Gov. Gavin Newsom and Vice President Kamala Harris, came amid mounting speculation about his 2024 plans. Newsom, who's also been floated as a potential 2024 candidate but has denied plans to challenge President Joe Biden, has been publicly tussling with DeSantis for months.
Last year Newsom took out ads over the Fourth of July holiday in Florida saying "freedom is under attack in your state."
Without mentioning Newsom by name, DeSantis said on Sunday "I know you guys have a lot of problems out here, but your governor is very concerned about what we're doing in Florida, so I figured I'd have to come by."
Newsom, who returned to the state after the event, responded by saying "welcome to the real freedom state."
"Just look at the data – California residents are safer, healthier and more prosperous than those unfortunate enough to have you as their Governor," Newsom continued. "Oh by the way, you're going to get smoked by Trump."
More than 1,300 attended the event, according to Reagan Presidential Library staff, including former California Gov. Pete Wilson and actor Gary Sinise.
Overnight, the front entrance sign of the library was vandalized, according to Simi Valley Police. Graffiti on the sign read "Ron DeFascist." Library staff discovered and removed the graffiti ahead of the event.
Prior to DeSantis' arrival, there were roughly 25-30 protesters outside the front entrance with signs that read "Biden 2020," "Fascist," and "Dictator DeSantis."
Another sign read "Say gay everyday," a reference to legislation DeSantis recently signed in Florida known as "don't say gay," which prohibits discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
"They should not be teaching a second grader that they can choose their gender," DeSantis said to loud applause. "They may have gotten everything they wanted in Florida for the last 60 years but there is a new sheriff in town now."
DeSantis pushed ahead talking about his controversial higher education initiatives, saying Florida will pass legislation to make universities color blind, eliminate all DEI initiatives, and said all tenured professors must undergo a review every five years.
DeSantis said the 2020 pandemic gave voters a chance to re-evaluate their government and political leaders and as a result more people are moving to Florida. He said "poor governance in left wing states is why people are moving."
DeSantis also talked about crime, claiming that "woke ideology" is the reason liberal prosecutors in states like California continue to "coddle criminals."
"It is ideology run amuck. That is why the quality of life has declined in places in San Francisco, in New York City, and in Philadelphia and Chicago. It is all rooted in that and that woke ideology rejects the core foundational principles that made this country great," DeSantis said. "We will never surrender to the woke mob."
DeSantis also touted his large margin of victory in the 2022 gubernatorial race. He said his margin of victory grew from 32,000 votes in 2018 to over 1.5 million in 2022 because he executed his vision unapologetically.
DeSantis said he rejected the advice given to him after his close win in 2018: "Be careful" about rocking the boat. "My view was that I may have earned 50% of the vote but I earned 100% of the executive power and I intended to use it to advance the message," he said.
DeSantis said he's never looked at a single poll during his time as governor. "A leader is not captive to polls, a leader will help shape the public's opinion," DeSantis said.
DeSantis went on to headline a fundraiser in Orange County, which was attended by California GOP chairwoman Jessica Milan Patterson and conservative, San Francisco-based lawyer Harmeet Dhillon. The trip to California came after he visited Texas, where he said Florida and Texas were partners against "woke ideology."
DeSantis' travel this weekend coincided with CPAC, the annual gathering of conservatives, which was held in Maryland and featured former President Donald Trump, who used his keynote speech to trash DeSantis.