- DeSantis’ performance in the Republican primary debate was praised by conservative media pundits for his pragmatic and straightforward approach, showcasing his stateside policy-based accomplishments.
- The governor managed to contrast his record with Trump’s campaign, standing out by focusing on his response to COVID-19 and highlighting his legislative victories.
- Pundits pointed to DeSanits’ collected presence, refusal to engage in petty arguments, and strong moments discussing issues like COVID-19 lockdowns and foreign policy, with some considering his performance the strongest of the night.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has found himself in the spotlight of conservative media discourse following his performance in Wednesday night’s Republican primary debate.
Emerging relatively unscathed and evading attacks from fellow candidates, DeSantis frequently cited stateside policy-based accomplishments, including those pertaining to education — an area he placed much emphasis on throughout his tenure as governor. Adopting a pragmatic, straightforward debate approach saw the Florida governor maintain a poised demeanor, bucking criticisms of poor public speaking skills.
Relying heavily on his legislative victories in The Sunshine State, DeSantis’ rhetoric framed a contrast to Trump’s campaign, which has consistently attacked him, as noted by columnist Stephen Kruiser of PJ Media.
“My favorite moment of his came when the Fox News moderators decided to waste time talking about [January 6th] and Trump. The other candidates played along, and DeSantis excoriated them for the nonsense of it,” wrote Kruiser, later adding that he “thought DeSantis did very well. He kept reminding people of his record during COVID, which is his primary strength against Trump. The hardcore MAGAs have been trying to rewrite that script, but –as the kids like to say — DeSantis has the receipts.”
Meanwhile, Fox News pointed to DeSantis’ “We need to send Joe Biden back to his basement” quip as the most memorable moment of the night.
“During his answer to the first question, DeSantis argued the nation is in “decline” and suggested it is problematic that Americans are struggling to make ends meet while President Biden’s son Hunter is selling his artwork for hundreds of thousands of dollars,” the network wrote in its post-debate reaction.
Notably, DeSantis appeared to veer away from debate prep that leaked instructing him to attack Joe Biden and the media, defend Donald Trump, and engage with fellow candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. When taking the stage, the listed prompts failed to materialize, with the governor seemingly reluctant to claim whether he would support Trump as nominee if he is convicted. Moreover, DeSantis had minimal interaction with Ramaswamy.
In a post-debate interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, DeSantis elucidated that “Nobody is entitled to be endorsed or supported,” diverting from the majority of the primary field that committed to supporting the former President.
Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, one of the first federal lawmakers to endorse DeSantis upon declaration of his candidacy voiced that the governor appeared Presidential in his poise and stage presence, mindfully returning to his key talking points amid repeated bickering matches between Ramaswamy and former Vice President Mike Pence.
“I think tonight he showed why he is the clear leader,” said Roy. “I think he was the clear winner of the debate. He was speaking directly to the American people, he showed how his track record in Florida is something people can get behind. There was a lot of noise on that stage; there was a lot of bickering and talking to each other. Ron DeSantis was the guy standing up there … and showed he believed this is a country in decline and that the Florida blueprint will provide a path to get this country back.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Byron Donalds, who expressed for DeSantis in the past but ultimately endorsed Trump, gave the governor some credit in his delivery while propping up the former President.
“The governor was good, but he wasn’t dynamic,” said Donalds. “He has to be dynamic because the true elephant in the room is Donald Trump. He’s massively ahead, and all of the policy that everyone is talking about — Donald Trump did it.”
Former White House Secretary Ari Fleischer noted that DeSantis adopted a forward-facing approach in his answers, culminating in what he referred to as the night’s strongest performance. Fleischer specifically pointed to the governor’s stances on COVID-19 lockdowns and foreign policy.
“I thought Ron DeSantis had the strongest night of any of the candidates on stage,” said Fleischer. “He did it with his answer on lockdowns, reminding people that Florida opened early when it was controversial to do so. He did it with his answer about the use of force involving Mexico and drugs. And he did it while focusing on the future instead of the past.”
Ed Morrisey of Hot Air drew attention to DeSantis’ collected presence, refusing to take on argumentative squabbles with fellow candidates.
“How did he escape without anyone else laying a glove on him? Two factors: He never took the bait from Ramaswamy (who seemed reluctant to take more than the ‘super-PAC puppet’ shot at him) and he stayed focused on his own record,” he said. “As a result, he ended up looking like the cool, calm head in the room. Other than not offering Pence a gracious nod for his role in following the Constitution on January 6 as others did — a minor error — DeSantis had a flawless national introduction. DeSantis made a very good case last night amidst the distractions of Ramaswamy.”
In a poll conducted by J.L. Partners immediately following the debate, DeSantis and Ramaswamy were perceived strongly by 504 registered Republicans, with 27 percent of the sample group stating that he had the strongest performance of the primary field, just one percentage point behind poll-topping Ramaswamy.
Republican voters say @VivekGRamaswamy won the debate.
— James Johnson (@jamesjohnson252) August 24, 2023