DeSantis takes shot at Trump during Utah campaign event, says GOP wave can happen with ‘no distractions’

Utah Senate President Stewart Adams, who endorsed DeSantis for president in 2024, said no governors ‘led like Gov. DeSantis did with COVID.’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to end “a culture of losing” in the Republican Party by becoming the next president, he told reporters at the Utah Capitol on Friday afternoon.

Ahead of a fundraising dinner with Beehive State donors, DeSantis, with over a dozen Republican state lawmakers standing behind him, took a shot as former President Donald Trump. More Utah GOP lawmakers lingered in the back of the news conference, hesitant, but considering backing an alternative presidential candidate in an electorate where Trump has previously not fared as well as in other red states.

“(Florida) has one of the lowest unemployment rates, one of the best economies and what is one (of) the fastest growing states in the nation, and I believe that’s why Gov. DeSantis needs to be president of the United States,” Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said, comparing the southeastern state to Utah.

DeSantis became a rising star in GOP circles for his state’s lax restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Adams cited those policies in voicing his support for DeSantis, saying, “No other state, no other governor, lead like Gov. DeSantis did with COVID.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rallies with Utah Republican lawmakers and supporters, hoping for a financial and political boost for his 2024 presidential campaign at the Capitol, July 21, 2023.

While nearly 100 Utah elected officials urged DeSantis in a letter last year to join the race, whether he can garner the same support among Utah voters remains a question. A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll of Republicans published Thursday places him four points behind Trump.

DeSantis took Friday’s news conference as an opportunity to take subtle jabs at his primary opponent, seemingly attacking Trump for his pending criminal charges.

“That red wave that was supposed to happen across the country (last year) ... can be done, but we just got to have no distractions — none of the other side things,” DeSantis said. “We need to focus this election on Joe Biden’s failures and how we’re going to be able to put America on a better path.”

DeSantis deflected questions about whether he hired too many staffers after firing a dozen earlier this week to cut costs, explaining that all of his campaign work is done in-house, but “all that stuff is background noise.”

He also defended his campaign strategy, telling reporters that he’s focusing on support in states with early primary election dates, like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well states with Super Tuesday contests, including Utah.

“This is a state-by-state race, and so that’s how we’ve set everything up,” DeSantis said.

A few supporters wearing shirts that said “Mamas for DeSantis” and “Make America Female Again” gathered outside the room where DeSantis spoke to public officials, their families and the media.

So did several protesters, holding signs criticizing Black history curriculums that were revised by the Florida Board of Education to conform with legislation signed by DeSantis. Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Jacksonville on Friday to show her opposition to the standards, which now include instruction that enslaved people benefited from skills that they learned.

“I think that they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed being a blacksmith into doing things later in life. But the reality is, all of that is rooted in whatever is factual,” DeSantis said Friday of the curriculum, calling them “the most robust standards in African American history” in the country.

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

July’s visit marks the second time DeSantis has come to Utah in the last three months, showering attention on a state with just 40 Republican delegates prior to the primary election next March.

Adams is hosting a pricey “Pioneer Day Barbecue” fundraiser for DeSantis in Pleasant Grove on Friday evening. The cost is a $1,000 donation for individual attendees, while a VIP option is $6,600 individually or $13,200 per couple.

As he prepared to leave for the celebration marking the arrival of Mormon pioneers in Utah, where approximately two-thirds of people are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, DeSantis emphasized to reporters that he’s driven by his faith in God more than his political philosophy.

“Politics has a role, but I don’t think it should be the number one divide in our country,” he said.