In an unexpected move, Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, took his presidential campaign to a rodeo in staunchly Republican Oklahoma, aiming to assert himself as the primary alternative to Donald Trump. This endeavor comes at a time when the former president faces potential indictment, which could disrupt the landscape of the 2024 Republican primary race.
DeSantis sought to exude strength by strategically campaigning in one of the numerous states scheduled to hold GOP primaries on Super Tuesday, several weeks after the initial states cast their votes. Adding to his momentum, he secured the endorsement of Republican Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, the first governor to formally announce support for DeSantis.
The governor, speaking to an audience drenched in perspiration and fanning themselves with yard signs, went beyond his record as a cutting-edge Republican of the new generation. He presented a grander theme, urging Americans to embrace his call for fresh national leadership.
“Our duty is to safeguard what the nation’s founders referred to as the sacred fire of liberty,” proclaimed DeSantis, donning cowboy boots, in an event hall on the outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second-largest city.
Enumerating pivotal moments in American history such as the Declaration of Independence, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Normandy invasion during World War II, DeSantis underscored the instances when Americans rallied in times of crisis.
“Our generation is now summoned to carry this torch. It is not a responsibility we should evade,” DeSantis asserted. “Rather, it is a responsibility we should wholeheartedly embrace. We must stand resolute in defending the truth and core enduring principles that define America.”
Later, at a rodeo in Ponca, approximately 75 miles northwest of Tulsa, DeSantis paused to pose for photographs with his wife, Casey, and their 3-year-old daughter, Mamie, who sported a pink cowboy hat.
DeSantis proclaimed, amidst stands adorned in red, white, and blue, “Freedom is only one generation away from extinction.”
Trump’s legal turmoil presents both an opportunity and a challenge for DeSantis and other contenders in the presidential race. Multiple criminal cases, while initially boosting Trump’s polling numbers and fundraising, may ultimately undermine his claim of being the strongest general election candidate against President Joe Biden.
However, direct criticism of Trump regarding the criminal indictment risks alienating his steadfast supporters—the very voters DeSantis and his rivals hope to sway. This is particularly true for DeSantis, who continues to critique Trump’s policies but has chosen to denounce the case against the former president instead of overtly capitalizing on it.
The governor decried what he deemed “the escalating weaponization of federal agencies against individuals they dislike.”
“On day one, we will appoint a new director of the FBI. We will utilize our authority to hold people accountable,” DeSantis declared, igniting a burst of cheers from the audience outside Tulsa.
His super PAC also released a video in which DeSantis went further in his criticism while addressing the North Carolina Republican Party Convention on Friday night.
“I firmly believe in one standard of justice in this country,” he stated in the clip. “We need a president who will take action.”
Setting aside the indictment, DeSantis has gradually intensified his criticism of Trump, albeit indirectly, regarding his rejection of proposed changes to Social Security and Medicare spending. The former president has been opposed to any cuts to these programs.
Furthermore, the Florida governor has suggested that Trump’s stance on abortion rights may be less steadfast, pointing to his “harsh” criticism of DeSantis for signing a ban on most abortions before the sixth week of pregnancy.
Meanwhile, Trump himself campaigned on Saturday at Republican state conventions in North Carolina and Georgia. He dismissed the case against him as “ridiculous” and “baseless,” urging his supporters to rally ahead of a court appearance in South Florida scheduled for Tuesday. Consequently, Trump’s legal proceedings are likely to garner more attention than the 2024 GOP primary race for the foreseeable future.
The Justice Department’s case adds to the mounting legal jeopardy for Trump, who has already been indicted in New York and faces additional investigations in Washington and Atlanta that could lead to further criminal charges. Amongst the various investigations, legal experts, as well as Trump’s own aides, have long regarded the Mar-a-Lago probe as the most precarious legal threat.
Stitt’s endorsement holds significance in projecting strength beyond Florida’s borders. While DeSantis initially launched his campaign by visiting Iowa, followed by trips to New Hampshire and South Carolina—states that play a crucial role in the early stages of the primary calendar and attract the majority of candidates’ attention—his early stop in Oklahoma allows DeSantis to demonstrate his long-term commitment to the race.
Despite being the governor of Florida, primarily known for its beaches and theme parks rather than calf-roping or bull riding, DeSantis’s visit to Ponca was not his first rodeo, as they say. His wife was a runner-up in the NCAA equestrian national championships at the College of Charleston. In March, before officially entering the presidential race, DeSantis opted to forego the Conservative Political Action Conference and instead addressed a Republican Party dinner in Houston. However, not before enjoying a rodeo outing with his family.