(AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)

Florida Governor and 2024 GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis spoke to Brian Kilmeade about his campaign issues including Disney, coronavirus lockdowns, and attacks from Trump and other Republican candidates.

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Rough Transcript

Brian Kilmeade [00:00:00] And one thing is pretty clear in between. The thing that’s going to stand up, the stand out and the Santas family is when last week Governor DeSantis officially became a candidate and he had his first full week last week, I should say, out on the trail in New Hampshire, as well as you know, in Iowa. And with me right now is the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. Welcome, Governor.

Ron DeSantis [00:00:38] Hey, how you doing?

Brian Kilmeade [00:00:38] I’m doing good. So we’re the first four. We’re the first week feel like for you.

Ron DeSantis [00:00:43] I’ll tell you, it was incredible. We expected that we would get a good response. But in every place Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, the crowds exceeded our expectations. People were really excited to be out there and really appreciated the message. I think that a lot of these Republicans in these other states, of course, they know me now. They like what I’ve done in Florida, but they don’t really know everything we’ve done and they haven’t necessarily seen me in person yet. And so what we found is when people were able to do that, we had a lot of people say, yeah, I didn’t know what I was going to do in this primary, but sign me up. And so, you know, these first few states, I mean, in the state of Florida, you know, we have millions and millions of votes cast. Iowa be probably less than 200,000. New Hampshire a few hundred thousand. We had more votes in Miami-Dade County in my reelection than that. So getting out and meeting the people personally, I think, is something that’s really, really important. And and we really started off very, very well. But what people want to change, they understand the country is going in the wrong direction. And we papered all these places. We did five stops in Iowa, four in New Hampshire, three in South Carolina. And I think what we showed is Biden is not going to be able to get away with just sitting in his basement on this campaign because we are going to run him ragged all across this country, holding him accountable for his failures.

Brian Kilmeade [00:02:02] Which is the most frequent question you get, because I was used to this. I mean, they’ve been doing this for decades was the question that they have for you that might have surprised you a little bit.

Ron DeSantis [00:02:11] I’ll tell you, Bryan, people are because I’m a veteran, I’m the only veteran that’s running. People are very concerned about the state of our military. They see the politicization of it. They see a lot of woke ideology going in. They saw a lot of warriors being driven off with the COVID vaccine mandate, which was a huge disaster. And a lot of the veterans and military families really want to see that ship righted. And so I think they’re looking to me as somebody that has experience to be able to do that. But I heard that in all three states where, you know, obviously South Carolina, you’d expect it’s a very heavy military, a lot of military families. But I’ll tell you, people in Iowa, people in New Hampshire, that was something they were sensitive about. It may not get as much play as some of the other issues, but that was there. And then I think, of course, they are so sick of this border issue that’s been going on for a long time. I mean, you know, Biden made it worse than ever, but it’s been going on for years and years, decades, really. And we’re going to put it to a conclusion. We’re going to get it done. And I think they really want to see see action on that. But I think they understand, you know, you got to be you got to be disciplined. You got to have a good plan. You got to execute this stuff. And so we’ll get that done. And then finally, I would say and you can appreciate this, Brian, because you spend time in Florida, but, you know, I can be in western Iowa and someone will come up to me and they will say, hey, thank you for fixing the Sanibel Causeway. I was like, Well, you know that they’re like, well, you know, my my, my, my, my father’s got a condo down there. I have a place down there or something. And so even in places, you know, Iowa, New Hampshire, far away, people are following what’s going on in Florida. And they have they have some type of a connection to our state.

Brian Kilmeade [00:03:55] So I was amazed personally. I know. I know you’re going to be taking on Trump directly. He’s been taking you on for about three months. You’ve been indirectly going back because you weren’t a candidate and now you’re more directly going back. Nikki Haley last night went at you with CNN and talked about your war with Disney Cut one.

Speaker 3 [00:04:11] So here you have DeSantis, who accepted 50,000 and political contributions from Disney. He went and put their executives and their lobbyists on prominent boards throughout Florida, and he went and basically gave the highest corporate subsidies in Florida history to Disney. But because they went and criticized him, now he’s going to spend taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit. It’s just like all this vendetta stuff. We’ve been down that road again.

Brian Kilmeade [00:04:41] We and he went on to say that your reaction to her assessment of your war with Disney?

Ron DeSantis [00:04:47] How utterly bizarre. I mean, somebody does a campaign contribution you’re supposed to lay down for them. That’s not how I operate. People can support me or not support me. I call them as I see them. And if you’ve supported me, but you’re wrong, I’m going to do what’s right. Second of all, I did not give subsidy. They really Creek has been there for decades. You know that. That was there since the 1960s where they had their own government, had these massive subsidies. Yes, we unwound that and we ended their self-governing status, but it wasn’t anything that I gave for them. But I do think it’s interesting, all these other Republicans have basically sided with Disney on this. And also, I’m not suing them. They sued us. We’re going to win that lawsuit. Of course, we’re going to defend. But they’re siding with Disney. And at the end of the day, at the parent of three young kids, we are going to fight the sexualization of minors and children. We are going to fight anybody that’s trying to rob them of their innocence. And we are not going to compromise. Whether that’s standing up to a big £800 gorilla like Disney or anybody else, we’re going to stand with the children. And I think our voters want to see that because they understand raising kids nowadays is difficult. There’s a lot of people trying to impose an agenda on them, and they want somebody like me who’s going to stand there and offer protection. But I think there’s also the other issue of, you know, as Republicans, you can’t just be a lackey for corporate America. You’ve got to be willing to stand up for individual taxpayers. You’ve got to be willing to stand up for small business. So the days of Republicans just deferring to large corporations, I think, need to be over. Not all these other Republicans are willing to do that. But I think with me and what we’ve been able to do by fighting well, corporations and kneecapping ESG in Florida, we’re willing to stand up to these people because I think they’re trying to pursue an agenda that’s not in the best interests of our country.

Brian Kilmeade [00:06:36] Governor DeSantis, our guests, obviously. So you’re going to love this. The CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink, talking about one of the most powerful companies in the world, talking about his agenda, not to maximize profits, but to do this.

Speaker 4 [00:06:47] You know, what we are doing internally is if you don’t achieve these levels of impact, your compensation could be impacted. Okay, we’re doing the same. And so you have to force behaviors. And if you don’t force behaviors, whether it’s gender or race or just any way you want to say the composition of your team, you’re going to be impacted. And that’s not just not recruiting, it is development, as Ken said. And ultimately it’s still going to take time. But I am just as much shocked as Ken is that we have not seen more opportunities.

Brian Kilmeade [00:07:21] At a time in which it look like the Supreme Court was is pulling away and probably going to pull away from affirmative action. He’s saying it’s time to force change.

Ron DeSantis [00:07:31] So the issue with ESG is, one, the policies he wants to impose are bad policies. They want to kneecap domestic energy production. That’s bad for people’s pocketbooks because energy prices will be higher. It’s also bad for our national security because we will not be energy independent. But there’s also the larger issue of who the heck do these people think they are, that they govern our society? Nobody voted for him. And so our mantra in Florida is no economic or social transformation without representation. These are policies that could not win at the ballot box. And so they’re trying to do through corporate America what they can’t do in the electoral process. In Florida, we got rid of BlackRock in our state pension fund, $2 billion management. I took away because it conflicts with our NTSB stance, but I am not going to have this country governed by a bunch of jet setters going to Davos and hanging out at the World Economic Forum. That does not work for us. We’re going to make sure that we’re standing up for everyday Americans who are working hard and they need access to affordable energy and they need to be treated as individuals and not have to compete in the Woke Olympics just to get a job or just to get their kid in school.

Brian Kilmeade [00:08:45] All right. That’s interesting. So let’s talk about what’s happening in the world. Here’s Secretary of Defense Austin in response to China, refusing to meet his counterpart, refusing to meet with him. The destroyer being headed off within 150 yards by a Chinese ship and one of our fighter jets. They’re coming within 400 feet. This is what he said.

Speaker 5 [00:09:06] He will support our allies and partners as they defend themselves against coercion and bullying. To be clear, we do not seek conflict. Or confrontation. But we will not flinch in the face of bullying or coercion.

Brian Kilmeade [00:09:22] Is that the strength? Did you expect the secretary of defense have sounding like a diplomat? Would that be your secretary of defense’s stance? Would that be Ron DeSantis stance?

Ron DeSantis [00:09:31] No, of course not. I mean, first of all, we’ve got to recognize the CCP as the foremost threat that this country faces. President paying is very ambitious. He’s expansionist. He’s done a lot to build up their military. Now, they don’t have as powerful military as us, but they’re gaining on us. Clearly, their economy has grown tremendously over the last few decades, and that largely because I think of some bad American policy, which we could discuss later. And so the issue is the Chinese respect strengths. They respect inability to project power. And I think Biden has invited people to be more aggressive through his weakness. And so part of it is being willing to lay down the law and follow through with what you say and a variety of different issues. Part of it, though, I do think we need to be able to project more power in the Pacific. Some of that is having more naval strength than we have now. Some of it is dealing with the wokeness in the military. So morale increases and we get more recruits coming in. Some of it is dealing productively with our allies like Japan, Korea, India and Australia in that region. I think the goal needs to be to deter Chinese aggression and to prevent a conflict. Strength will do that. Weakness will invite a conflict.

Brian Kilmeade [00:10:47] So, Governor, no doubt about it, the president’s coming after you, the former presidents coming after you regularly. He thinks the fact that you’re running is disloyal and you really haven’t done that great a job in Florida. Do you feel were you hesitating a little bit about running because you’ve worked with him before?

Ron DeSantis [00:11:04] So here’s the issue. He has said how great we’ve done in Florida for years. He said we were one of the great governors. Florida’s one of the great state, Florida State open. They did it right there in code. But all this now he’s changed his tune and he’s saying Andrew Cuomo did better with his lockdowns in New York than we did during Cuomo during Florida and free state. I don’t think I could count the number of Republicans on my hand who would rather have lived under Cuomo’s lockdowns and would have rather lived under free Florida. So he’s just trying to sell people a bill, a good that is totally, absolutely ridiculous. And I don’t think anybody actually believes that. Here’s what I think. You know, I owe loyalty to the people that elected me, the people that elected me. They don’t need to be loyal to elected officials. It’s our job to be loyal to them, to their aspirations and to the larger cause. You know, be loyal to your faith and your family and your country, other politicians, You work with them to be able to advance a larger mission. But people need to earn it. You need to go out there and earn it. And I think what I would be able to do is we would be able to get this done against Biden, but then come in with a lot of energy and the executive office and have a really bold agenda that we’ll be able to implement and then also run for reelection, get reelection, and then have eight years to really institute lasting change. And I think that this is a critical moment for the country. We’re not going to get a mulligan after 2024. You know, some people tell me like, oh, well, you know, you should just quote, wait, the 28? Well, that would make sense if you’re running to be somebody. But I’m not running to be somebody. I’m running to do something. And I think 2024 is the country’s hour of need. And I think we’ll be able to get the job done for the American people.

Brian Kilmeade [00:12:48] Do you think that Trump is electable in the general?

Ron DeSantis [00:12:51] So I think that there’s a lot of voters who just aren’t going to vote for him who don’t like Biden. And you realize the country is going in the wrong direction, but they’re not going to go there. And I think that in 2016, the voters that dislike both Trump and Hillary, they sided with Trump. I think in 2020 and 24. It will be they dislike both, but they would probably default to Biden. So I think that they want a vehicle to go forward. But I think he’s got some issues with a state like Georgia, for example. You know, when they ran the Herschel Walker race, the Democrat in the runoff, they were just running ads in the Atlanta suburbs showing Trump endorsing Walker. The Democrats were running that because they knew that that would cause some of those suburban voters to vote to vote for their candidate. But at the end of the day, I think, you know, we have a great track record of Florida of reaching voters who had traditionally not voted Republican. I mean, when we’re winning over 60% of Hispanics, when we’re winning independents by 18 percentage points and we’re we’re winning Miami-Dade County by double digits. You know, that’s showing that strong leadership can attract people. And at the end of the day, you know, we’ve had three substandard election cycles in a row as Republicans. I think it’s right for us to bring new people into the party. But you’ve got to have that vision and you got to convert on it. We’ve shown an ability to do that in Florida like few others have.

Brian Kilmeade [00:14:14] Governors discouraging to be down 30, 40 points.

Ron DeSantis [00:14:18] Well, I don’t think we are in the early states, but I also think that, um, I just started running. I mean, a lot of people didn’t know I was going to run or weren’t sure. So, um, but I think we’re actually in really good shape. It’s a long run. We’ve got a great plan, and I think we’re going to be very strong Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, which is what you need to do if you’re going to be going to be able to win these things. And I would also note, you know, to the extent the poll, I don’t think the polling matters right now the extent it does, you know, the swing state polls, I’m beating Biden in places like Georgia, Arizona, whereas Biden is beating Trump in those places. And I would also say, you know, some of these same pollsters that are putting some of the stuff out, you know, they were putting out polls in my reelection saying I was only up by one or two points and I won by 20. So I take some of that stuff with a grain of salt. I think there’s been an effort to try to create narratives with polls for different people’s agendas. But here’s what I would also say that Brian. The way I’m being attacked. Trump has run almost 20 ads, 20 million and ads negative, attacking me, you know, with with frivolous and false smears. The corporate press is attacking me more than anybody else. The Democrats are attacking me. They would not do that if they didn’t think I was a threat. I mean, if they thought that I wasn’t, you know, in shape to really win this thing, they would just be ignoring me. But they’re not. They’re coming after me. I’m the one that’s taken most of the fire. And I think that’s an indication that people know that, yeah, we do have what it takes and that we’re a force to be reckoned with.

Brian Kilmeade [00:15:50] And I hope you’ll stay in touch with us along the way. I know you’re in Iowa over the weekend. You’ll be going to those early states while still governing a state and raising your family. That easy, Governor? Good job. I know you’re in fighting shape and ready to go for this. Best of luck.

Ron DeSantis [00:16:03] Okay. Thanks, Brian. We’ll talk soon.

Brian Kilmeade [00:16:04] All right. You got it. Governor Ron DeSantis.