Gov. Ron DeSantis vouched for President Trump during a campaign rally in Panama City Beach Wednesday as Trump faced declining poll numbers in Florida – returning the favor for a president whose endorsement was key to DeSantis’ narrow victory in last fall’s governor’s race.
DeSantis, enjoying broad support some four months into his administration, described Trump’s response when Florida leaders urged him to save Tyndall Air Force Base, a major local employer that was nearly wiped out by Hurricane Michael. Military leaders, he said, were considering abandoning the facility.
“He didn’t flinch,” DeSantis told the crowd at the political rally. “He didn’t wring his hands. He said, ‘You go tell those folks we’re going to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base,’” DeSantis said.
Like Trump, DeSantis blamed Democrats for the slow-to-arrive disaster aid to the struggling Panhandle. He said Trump has “already done more for any community on the heels of one of these hurricanes.”
“He’s fighting in Congress to get people like [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Democratic Leader] Schumer to stop playing games with this and to pass more funding for us.”
Florida’s top Republicans – including Gov. Jeanette Nunez, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, U.S. Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz – joined the political rally, held in a solidly Republican part of the state.
Trump toured the Tyndall military base earlier in the day, and underscored his push to rebuild it. As for the rest of the disaster zone, he said the Department of Housing and Urban Development would send $448 million in disaster assistance. “This money will help communities get back on their feet. We’ve already given you many, many millions of dollars,” he said.
The federal disaster package has been stuck in Congress over an impasse on how much aid should got to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. Trump has wanted to send less than the Democrats believe is needed to help the island get back on its feet.
“Today, I’m doing the most allowed by law to support the people of Florida,” Trump claimed. “Because of the severity of the storm – category 5 – we will have the federal government pay for 90 percent of the cost in many circumstances. Now we need Democrats in Congress to work with us to pass an acceptable bill. We’re getting close.”
Trump recalled visiting the area soon after Michael. “I pledged to you unwavering support, and the support of our nation, until you have fully recovered and rebuilt. And we will never, ever, leave your side. We’ve already given you billions of dollars, and there’s a lot more coming.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it has spent $1.1 billion so far in hurricane relief, including 27,000 household repair grants, 11,000 Small Business Administration loans and $58 million in debris removal. Locals say that hasn’t scratched the surface.
At one point, Trump declared: “Now we have the best poll numbers that we’ve ever had.”
Not in Florida. The rally at Aaron Bessant Park came amid polls suggesting the president’s popularity is faltering in the state. Some 51 percent of Floridians said they would not vote for his re-election, according to a March Quinnipiac Poll. Only 31 percent said they would support him.
Meanwhile, a Bendixen-Amandi International Poll, also from March, showed that only 40 percent of Floridians believe Trump should be re-elected, and 53 percent oppose a second term.
And a Morning Consult poll taken in April shows that there is no state in the country where Trump’s approval numbers have fallen more than in Florida.
DeSantis, meanwhile, had a 62 percent approval rating in an early April Mason-Dixon poll. He insisted that Trump deserves Floridians’ support.
“I could not have had a president who was more engaged with what Florida needs and what this community needs,” DeSantis told those gathered at the GOP rally. “He deserves a lot of credit for that.”