Utah GOP cheers Ron DeSantis for Florida’s policies on abortion and Disney, but would they elect him president?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also addressed ESG investing, diversity policies and transgender health care in his keynote speech to Utah Republican Party delegates.

Ron DeSantis insists that he’s not yet a presidential candidate for the 2024 race, although, if it were up to Utah Republican delegates, the Florida governor would be heading to the White House.

According to a straw poll the Utah Republican Party held during its annual organizing convention on Saturday, nearly 55% of delegates — some of the most politically engaged Republicans in the state — said DeSantis should be the president. Former President Donald Trump, who has declared his candidacy for the 2024 race, placed second with around 30% of the informal vote.

Last fall, nearly 100 Utah politicians signed a letter encouraging DeSantis to run for president. But according to a poll from earlier this month, Trump is still favored among Republican voters in the Beehive State, with 41% telling OH Predictive Insights that they want Trump back in office, while only 23% of GOP voters in that poll preferred DeSantis.

Still, the Utah Republican Party asked DeSantis to headline its 2023 convention. And based on the straw poll, standing ovations from delegates and a hug from Sen. Mike Lee, it appears the Utah GOP is ready to embrace DeSantis.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Sen. Mike Lee hugs Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prior to his keynote address at the Utah Republican Party 2023 Organizing Convention at Utah Valley University's UCCU Center on Saturday, April 22, 2023. At right is Lee's wife, Sharon Lee.

Here are five takeaways from DeSantis’ keynote address at Utah Republicans’ annual convention:


During his nearly 50-minute keynote address, DeSantis promoted Florida’s new abortion restrictions to the cheers of Utah GOP delegates. Just nine days prior the governor signed legislation establishing a six-week abortion ban in the Sunshine State.

“We have stood for life by enacting the heartbeat bill in the state of Florida,” he said.

Although DeSantis has signed the bill, it only goes into effect if the state’s current 15-week ban is upheld by the Florida Supreme Court, the Associated Press reported.

Utah’s near-total abortion ban is still on hold due to pending litigation, while an 18-week abortion ban remains in effect. Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed a ban on abortion clinics starting next year and further restricting abortions for victims of rape or incest.

Gender-affirming health care

The Florida governor discussed Utah’s recent ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors and highlighted his push to do the same in Florida.

“We’ve already done this through our medical board, and it’s sad that we have to do this, and I know Utah has had to do — we are going to prohibit for minors, gender surgeries and puberty blockers,” he said.

Florida’s medical board banned gender-affirming care for minors in February, according to USA Today. State lawmakers in Florida are considering a couple of pieces of legislation to enshrine the ban into law.

Environmental, social and governance investing

DeSantis told Utah delegates that he was going “kneecap ESG in the state of Florida” — or financial investment based on a framework around environmental, social and governance concerns.

“The people side with us on believing that we need an economy and businesses that are focused on their core missions, not corporations pursuing a woke agenda with shareholder assets,” he said. “We reject ESG, we reject woke banking.”

In his speech, DeSantis said they aren’t going to let massive companies use ESG to run around the constitutional system.

“We need to stop the woke from taking over our economy,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd.

In March, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, DeSantis and 17 other Republican governors signed a letter criticizing President Joe Biden’s support for ESG, calling it a “direct threat” to the American economy.

Diversity, equity and inclusion in education

In discussing education, DeSantis said Florida will be the first state to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education. The state’s legislature is currently proposing a bill to ban DEI at public universities.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah delegates show their support for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he delivers the keynote address at the Utah Republican Party 2023 Organizing Convention at Utah Valley University's UCCU Center on Saturday, April 22, 2023.

“They say it’s diversity, equity and inclusion,” DeSantis said. “In reality, it’s a Trojan horse to try to impose a left-wing ideological agenda on our universities and on the students. How it’s really practiced, DEI, it’s really discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination, and that has no part in our public system.”

Earlier this year, a bill to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion in Utah’s public universities was shelved after the sponsor deemed it “too harsh.”

He added Florida is leading the way in eliminating critical race theory in K-12 education. The state’s board of education banned critical race theory in public schools in 2021, according to AP.

Walt Disney

Ever since The Walt Disney Co. first spoke against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill in 2022, tensions between the entertainment company and DeSantis have been high. Recently, the Florida governor has attempted to take over the special tax district which houses Disney’s theme park in Orlando, a move he celebrated during Saturday’s speech.

“We are not going to allow massive corporate welfare, period, but especially for a company that is going down the road of having gender ideology in elementary school,” he said.

DeSantis recently expanded the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation to ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades, according to PBS.

“But you know, [Disney doesn’t] run the state of Florida,” DeSantis told Utah’s GOP delegates. “We run the state of Florida and we’re gonna do what’s right for the children of Florida.”

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