Gov. Ron DeSantis pledges to GOP presidential debate without Donald Trump

'I'll be there regardless,' DeSantis says
Posted at 5:54 PM, Jul 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-07 17:54:36-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's governor announced Thursday he will participate in this summer's GOP presidential debate, even if former President Donald Trump won't.

The Sunshine State's first lady also got into the spotlight this week ahead of 2024.

Plus, you can now chat with a virtual version of Florida's longshot presidential candidate, if you want. All of that and more in this week's recap of the campaign trail.

Follow the money

One of the best metrics for judging the success of a campaign is the amount of money it grabs from donors. Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his haul on Thursday, but it's not as much as you might think.

The initial news blast came on social media from DeSantis' presidential super PAC "Never Back Down." Officials offered a combined total of $150 million raised since March, $20 million for the candidate and the rest for the PAC.

The trouble is that more than $80 million isn't new money. As critics pointed out, it is transferred leftovers from DeSantis' 2022 re-election effort. Regardless, the DeSantis campaign touted the haul in the following statement:

"We are grateful for the investment so many Americans have made to get this country back on track," Generra Peck, DeSantis' campaign manager, said. "The fight to save it will be long and challenging, but we have built an operation to share the governor's message and mobilize the millions of people who support it. We are ready to win."

Will mamas make a difference?

Florida first lady Casey DeSantis was also on a mission to bring young mothers on board this week. While in Johnston, Iowa, she launched a nationwide "Mamas for DeSantis" effort, highlighting the governor's efforts to limit transgender athletes from participation in women's athletics and restrictions on the "instruction" of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida's public schools (K-8th grade).

"Do I care what a headline says," Casey DeSantis sid. "No, I care about protecting the innocence of my children and your children."

The first lady launched a similar effort during the governor's 2022 re-election campaign. It was a successful Florida strategy, helping him nab a nearly 20-point victory.

Growing support?

Trump remains the clear leader in primary polls for the GOP presidential nomination. On Friday, he launched a new effort to keep those numbers growing, seeking to capture farmers.

Speaking in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Trump predicted he would win the vital caucuses early next year and dubbed himself the "most pro-farmer president" ever.

The Republican said he would create more trade deals and an ethanol market to benefit the nation's growers. Plus, within hours of his inauguration, he vowed to repeal the current president's agriculture policies.

Trump also hit DeSantis — alleging he didn't back the former president's tariffs on China, though the governor is on record supporting them.

"Very simply, 'DeSanctus' sided with the communists in China," Trump said. "I sided with the farmers in America. Does that sound good?"

Trump, however, is not harvesting all the GOP endorsements he might want. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and his leadership team are staying out of it for now. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., told the Washington Examiner recently he had been too busy with work in Congress to make a decision.

"We got a lot of work to do right now — we're focused on that," Scalise said. "There will be a time because we got to get the White House back."

DeSantis plans to debate

The former president remains uncommitted to the first GOP debate in August. Trump is reportedly said to be eyeing the potential of scheduling a competing event during the same timeframe.

There was some speculation that, without Trump, Florida's governor would ditch as well. That doesn't seem to be the case after DeSantis gave a firm yes while speaking to Fox News this week.

"I'll be there regardless," DeSantis said. "I hope everybody who's eligible comes. I think it's an important part of the process, and I look forward to being able to be on the stage and introducing our candidacy and our vision, and our leadership to a wide audience."

I, Suarez

Finally, in what has to be a first for a presidential candidate, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez's super PAC has launched an AI chatbot version of the longshot candidate.

Complete with animated video responses, the program seeks to drum up interest in the campaign and the candidate's policies. It also offers an artificial intelligence version of DeSantis if prompted with a question of whether Suarez would support his competitor as the Republican nominee.

Supporters consider it an innovative way to attract attention, while critics on social media have labeled it "terrifying."