Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking in Kansas on Sunday, gave every indication that he wants to capitalize on the latest wave of attention since sending migrants to Massachusetts last week.
“This is a crisis. Now it’s getting a little bit more attention,” DeSantis said, drawing a standing ovation as he spoke about the southern border and nodding to the headlines he pushed when he flew 50 migrants across the border to Martha’s Vineyard.
DeSantis’ reception in Kansas reinforced that last week’s stunt did more than raise awareness of the border crisis or divert migrants who might eventually end up in Florida (though no one said that was their destination). It also thrust the Republican leader, who is running for re-election this fall, into the national spotlight as he considers whether to run for president in 2024.
The Kansas rally was the fifth stop on a national blitz by DeSantis on a tour coordinated by the conservative group Turning Point Action to promote a new generation of conservative candidates and test his brand of politics.
DeSantis’ state-by-state road trip mirrors former President Donald Trump’s battleground rallies ahead of his term and planned entry into another bid for the White House, and has served as a precursor to a hypothetical first fight. The two biggest names in the GOP. On Saturday, Trump held a rally for Republican Senate candidate JD Vance in Youngstown, Ohio, where DeSantis wowed a large crowd last month. From Olathe, Kansas, DeSantis is expected to travel to Green Bay to rally for Wisconsin GOP gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels, about 90 minutes from where Trump did the same in August.
DeSantis’ crackdown on immigrants has bolstered the GOP base and won praise from Republicans, some of whom predict DeSantis will pay off politically.
Conservative radio host Pete Mundo, speaking earlier in the program, called the flights organized by the Florida governor “one of the smartest political moves I’ve ever seen in my life” and suggested sending protesters to Martha’s Vineyard outside the event. GOP Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas said in his remarks that he asked DeSantis on stage, “How could I get a ticket to drive one of those buses across the border to Delaware Beach?”
The actions of DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who sent the migrants to Washington, were widely criticized by local officials in the cities where the migrants arrived unannounced, as well as by Democrats and the White House. President Joe Biden has accused Republican governors of “playing politics with people.”
But in the days since migrants arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, turning the affluent vacation destination into a waypoint for asylum seekers, DeSantis has doubled down on his decision to participate in Florida. The Legislature vowed to use “every penny” of the $12 billion budgeted to transport more migrants across the border, even though state law says the money is intended to move people from within its own state.
DeSantis told the crowd in Kansas that his move exposed the hollowness of sanctuary cities that advertise themselves as welcoming to outsiders. The 50 migrants were “basically given a lottery to get to the richest sanctuary jurisdiction in the country,” DeSantis said, adding that there were “job listings” on the island and hotels where the migrants could stay.
“You are talking about 50 people. Did they get a job? Have they been set up? No,” DeSantis said of Martha’s Vineyard residents. “They called the National Guard and deported those people from the island the very next day.”
Migrants were taken by boat to Cape Cod, Massachusetts 48 hours after their arrival to receive additional services. Despite not being warned of the arrival of the migrants, the local people quickly mobilized food and shelter.
“We now see that as self-congratulatory virtue signaling,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis’ recent actions — and many others — drew a positive response from GOP candidates in deep red Kansas.
“I’m all for it,” said Derek Schmidt, the attorney general for Republican gubernatorial candidate DeSantis was campaigning in Olathe.
Schmidt faces Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, an out-and-out politician who Trump is hoping to win again in a state he won just two years ago. Schmidt’s chances have been complicated by state Sen. Dennis Pyle, a former Republican running for governor as a conservative Independent.
Despite the toss-up nature of the race, it has flown largely under the national radar compared to other closely watched contests for governor and U.S. Senate. Kansas made headlines last month when voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortion in the state, fueling Democratic enthusiasm across the country to take up the issue in November.
DeSantis’ visit to Kansas was indicative of his influence in all corners of the Republican Party. Not only did he draw a large crowd, but Schmidt made it clear that if elected he would model his governorship after DeSantis.
“I want a future for our great state of Kansas that looks more like Ron DeSantis in Florida than where Joe Biden and Laura Kelly want to take this country,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt highlighted the policies DeSantis would support, many modeled after the divisive social struggles Floridians have experienced over the past two years. Kansas promised to have a parental bill of rights, ban the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, and ban transgender women and girls from participating in women’s collegiate athletics, all actions DeSantis has already taken.
“You have a legislature here that is going to produce a lot of good legislation,” DeSantis said. “You just need a governor who will sign the legislation. And you can make that happen.”
Ahead of the planned rally in Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers called for Michels and DeSantis to hold a rally a couple of miles from Lambeau Field before the Green Bay Packers’ home opener against the Chicago Bears.
“Wisconsinites don’t want a touchdown, a radical state ruined on Sunday, and they don’t want Ron DeSantis here either. Tim Michels continues to show the voters of Wisconsin that he is wrong with our state, and holding an event with one of the most divisive politicians in the country before a Packers game is another red flag,” Evers said in a statement.
Meanwhile, in Kansas, Republicans assured viewers that they had made sure the incident did not conflict with a Kansas City Chiefs game. The city’s much-loved professional soccer team played Thursday night.
DeSantis joked, “(The organizers) said they wanted to do it on a Sunday afternoon and I said, ‘The Kansas City Chiefs better not play.'”