DeSantis the divider? His conservative agenda is designed for campaigns and comes with lots of opposition

In an audacious display of the style that’s increasingly Gov. Ron DeSantis’ brand, he signed controversial election legislation into law Thursday — at an event open only to 800 cheering supporters at a campaign rally.

The governor, who is up for re-election next year, is widely expected to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

He’s sought to brand himself, especially in the just-completed annual legislative session, as the potential candidate most closely aligned with former President Donald Trump — in both style and substance — with priorities that appeal to the Republican base in Florida and the rest of the country.

Earlier this week, DeSantis said he was ordering a Jan. 11, 2022, special election to fill the vacancy created by the April 6 death of Congressman Alcee Hastings. His plan would leave the seat open for more than nine months, far longer than normal — and delay the overwhelmingly Democratic congressional district sending a new representative to Washington, D.C., to become part of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s majority.

Besides the election law, DeSantis championed the attempt to prevent social media companies from determining who can post on their platforms, banning businesses from requiring their employees or customers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations, and cracking down on the kinds of protests that erupted last year after the police killing of George Floyd.

“Republicans doubled down on these issues to appeal to the base,” said Sean Foreman, a Barry University political scientist, at times passing laws “that we don’t seem to need.”

The election law is a clear example. Republicans are pushing election law restrictions in states throughout the country, and that’s what DeSantis and Republicans did in the Florida Legislature — even though none cited any problems with the running of recent Florida elections.

In fact, DeSantis himself bragged about the way voting was run in Florida — immediately after the 2020 election. DeSantis said it was so well done that Florida had permanently shed its reputation as a national laughingstock unable to correctly conduct voting.

But then Trump refused to admit he lost — and began spreading the false narrative that widespread voter fraud was the reason President Joe Biden won.

The election changes come after those false claims have been repeated so often, and echoed by so many other Republican leaders, that the party’s rank-and-file voters are suspicious, and think the 2020 election was riddled with fraud even though there isn’t evidence to support that contention.

By February, DeSantis was on board. He appeared in West Palm Beach to announce he wanted the Legislature to change state voting laws.

The February promise was delivered before a rally of mostly maskless supporters at the Airport Hilton in West Palm Beach. DeSantis promised he’d return after the annual legislative session to sign the election changes into law.

That’s what he did Thursday, in front of many of the same people.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is seen through a window during a bill-signing event in West Palm Beach that was broadcast on the Fox News show

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is seen through a window during a bill-signing event in West Palm Beach that was broadcast on the Fox News show “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning. Hundreds of DeSantis’ supporters attended the event, which featured DeSantis signing a controversial elections overhaul law live, but only the “Fox & Friends” television staff was allowed inside the event. Florida news reporters and photographers were prevented from entering and were forced to watch the rally through the windows. (Joe Cavaretta / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

The coup de grâce: The event was coordinated with Fox News, so the governor’s action would be shown live to a national audience of Republicans and Trump supporters, the very people he needs to please in the 2024 presidential campaign.

A woman in a Donald Trump cap guarded the door to make sure no one without permission could get in. Florida reporters and photographers were excluded from the event the governor’s spokeswoman said was a “Fox News exclusive.”

And DeSantis acting on election legislation is just what that audience wants to hear. It’s become an article of faith among many Republicans that there was fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

A CNN national poll released April 30 found 65% think Biden legitimately captured enough votes to win the presidency and 30% said he didn’t legitimately get enough votes to win the presidency.

But among Republicans, an overwhelming 70% didn’t think Biden legitimately won enough votes to win the presidency, with 23% of Republicans saying he did win the presidency legitimately.

The CNN poll found 46% of people surveyed felt the biggest problem in U.S. elections is voting rules are not strict enough to prevent illegal votes from being cast while 45% said the rules make it too difficult for eligible citizens who want to vote to cast a ballot.

Among Republicans however, 87% said the rules aren’t strict enough to prevent illegal votes from being cast. Democrats have the opposite view, with 76% seeing election rules as making it too difficult to vote. The view among independents is tied at 44%.

The Power Lunch – Florida Politics Newsletter


A lunch-hour look at what’s trending in Florida politics.

Democrats have labeled Trump’s claims that he won as the “Big Lie.” Just this week, Trump issued a statement in which he sought to rebrand and take over the term “Big Lie” and give it the opposite meaning. “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!,” Trump said.

On Thursday, Trump again issued a statement claiming the election was “corrupt” and “the greatest Fraud in the history of our Country! An even greater Hoax than Russia, Russia, Russia, Mueller, Mueller, Mueller, Impeachment Hoax #1, Impeachment Hoax #2, or any of the other many scams the Democrats pulled!”

DeSantis, with Thursday’s action and event, helped perpetuate Trump’s view and possibly his own prospects with Republican voters. “I love the guy and what he’s doing for Florida,” said Barry Victor of West Palm Beach, who attended the event.

Andrew Brett of Oakland Park, who wore a “Trump DeSantis ‘24″ T-shirt that also included Trump’s 2016 “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, called DeSantis “the greatest governor in the United States.”

No evidence of fraud

There is no evidence that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Republican elections officials and in multiple states and cybersecurity experts in and out of government said there was no widespread fraud. Elected Republicans who supported former President Donald Trump’s re-election certified President Joe Biden as the winning their states.

Federal judges appointed by Trump issued multiple opinions finding there was no basis to the claims of irregularities.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Biden was the clear, legitimate winner. And Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, said there was no evidence of fraud that could have changed the election outcome.

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