For Florida Governor, It’s a Reagan Conservative vs. a Sanders Socialist

Republican Florida governor candidate Ron DeSantis (left), and Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum. (Carlos Barria/Joe Skipper/Reuters)
The August 29th Committee convenes.

Editor’s Note: Florida GOP gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis kicked off his general-election campaign on Tuesday night with a “unity meeting” following a bruising August 28 primary against Republican rival Adam Putnam. Longtime NR contributor Neal B. Freeman keynoted the meeting on Florida’s Amelia Island. His remarks follow.

After the results of last Tuesday, we all feel a sense of urgency.

What did we learn from the primary?

We learned, first, that Rick Scott’s political machine is well oiled. If we can stop the blue wave here in Florida, Scott can win the Nelson seat and preserve Republican control of the U.S. Senate. We can even predict that Scott will win by 51 percent. Why? Because Rick Scott always wins by 51 percent. As I once told him, he’s just too cheap to pay for a landslide.

We also learned that we may have a rising star in the Republican party of Florida. If we can stop that blue wave, Judge Ashley Moody will be the next attorney general of Florida. She will be coming here in the next week or so and I urge all of you to get out and meet her. She could be something special.

We also learned that the Democratic party continues to disappoint. I confess that I was rooting for Jeff Greene to win the gubernatorial nomination . . . on the grounds that he was even more unelectable than Andrew Gillum. But over the course of the last seven days, Mayor Gillum has managed to change my mind.

His big idea — his campaign theme — shoved on him, and then on us, by his funder George Soros and his patron Bernie Sanders is . . . socialism.

Watching Mayor Gillum, you get the sense that he thinks he came up with this big new idea all by himself, as if he’s unaware that it’s been tried before: in Russia as Soviet Communism and in Germany as national socialism; in China as Maoist totalitarianism and in Cuba as Castro collectivism. Indeed, the history of the 20th century can be read as one long refutation of socialist fallacy. Mayor Gillum seems to be unaware that in all of those test kitchens, the experiment ended the same way — first in a failed economy and then in a failed state.

But if Mayor Gillum doesn’t know much history, he may have a more recent example in mind. There is a pure socialist state at work in our global economy just now. It’s Venezuela, which has embraced a high minimum wage, open borders, universal healthcare — the whole Gillum package. The results there have been predictable. The minimum wage has punished the poor and the unskilled, as also the young and the old. The lack of border controls has been no problem, now that all of the human traffic is outbound. And the medical system does in fact treat all patients equally. In Venezuela today, everybody receives inadequate medical care. Our friend PJ O’Rourke said it best: “If you think healthcare is expensive now, wait until it’s free.”

Socialism has failed, is failing, and will fail if it ever comes to Florida, because of one basic reason. We human beings don’t think of ourselves as machine-tooled parts in some giant contraption designed by committee and imposed by government. We don’t yearn to be fungible cogs in a scheme cooked up by the ideologically inflamed or the guilt-stricken rich. As someone once put it, we yearn to breathe free.

And then there’s the practical problem. Margaret Thatcher said it best: “The problem with socialism is that, eventually, you run out of other people’s money.”

The fourth thing we learned last Tuesday is that we had two excellent candidates for governor. Two smart, tough, competitive young men.

We say to Adam Putnam: Congratulations on your campaign. You gave us a clear and compelling vision for Florida’s future. We need you in our party. So get back on the horse and lead us to victory in your next campaign.

To Ron DeSantis we say: Congratulations on your campaign. It was a model of focus and discipline. Now do the same thing for the next two months, only better, and deliver us from the socialist delusions of Gillum, Soros, and Sanders.

I met Ron almost a decade ago. He was a young lawyer practicing in Jacksonville. He told me he was thinking of running for public office, so I asked him what he was doing to prepare himself. He said he was writing a book on constitutional governance. What a concept! Before going into government service he was inquiring into the proper functions of government.

We all know what those functions are at the federal level — providing for the common defense, administering the system of justice, preserving domestic order, securing the blessings of liberty and promoting the general welfare. Everything else is bureaucratic aggrandizement. Everything else is government overreach. Everything else is liberal license.

We know what those functions are because James Madison did us the great favor of writing them down. After which, for more than 200 years they became the guiding lights of the world’s greatest democracy – and the inspiration for dozens of other, younger democracies.

This much I know about Ron DeSantis. Before he’s sworn in as governor, he will have committed to memory – and written on his heart — the proper functions of Florida government prescribed by law and honored in tradition. That will be his writ, that much and no more, no less.

One last thing we learned this past week. It gives us a nice, warm feeling to hear the radio talkers say there’s no blue wave coming on November 6. That may or may not be true around the country. But we know it’s not true here. We saw evidence just last Tuesday that it’s already here. In more than a few places around the state, Democratic turnout almost doubled from the previous cycle in 2014. We can stop that wave, but only if everybody here, and everybody we can reach from here, maxes out on time, money, shoe leather, and elbow grease.

I understand that every even-numbered year some guy like me stands up in front of some folks like you and says, “This is the most important election of your life.” Well, this year, implausibly, it happens to be true. The Democrats haven’t elected a governor here since 1994. They are hungry for power. Ravenously hungry. Desperately hungry. They’ve had enough of fair and frugal government. They’ve had enough of free and prosperous markets. Well, I haven’t. Have you?


Neal B. FreemanMr. Freeman is a former editor of and columnist for National Review and the founding producer of Firing Line. This article has been adapted from his new book, Walk with Me: An Invitation to Faith.


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