FLORIDA — The Republican primary is heating up as new candidates enter the race for the White House. But if the GOP primary comes down to a one-on-one battle between Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, Evangelical voters will play a significant role in determining who will win the nomination.
DeSantis has already positioned himself as a solid choice for much of Trump’s conservative base. In an interview with CBN News, DeSantis said his bold leadership is what turned purple Florida into a red state.
“WE’VE GOT TO BEAT BIDEN”
“We need to do the same thing nationally,” DeSantis told the conservative Christian media company founded by the late Pat Robertson. “We’ve got to beat Biden.”
“I had a record percentage of evangelicals here in Florida, but I also had a record with Hispanics and record for a Republican with women voters – and that’s with bold colors, not with pale pastels we led,” DeSantis added.
DeSantis says a strong conservative leader must win in 2024 “because if Biden gets in again, the left is going to destroy this country even more than it [already] is.”
On the other hand, Trump has risked support among Evangelical groups – who have been the most loyal – by attacking DeSantis from the left and criticizing the work of Florida’s governor and Legislature.
“There have been a lot of Republicans through the years, you know, who have said they would do things,” DeSantis said. “But when it really gets tough, you know, are you able to stand your ground and do it?”
PROTECTING THE UNBORN
With cooperation from Florida lawmakers, DeSantis said he was able to deliver the heartbeat bill to protect unborn children with a detectable heartbeat, which he says is a big deal to conservative Christians.
“While I appreciate what the former president has done in a variety of realms, he opposes that bill,” DeSantis said. “He said it was ‘harsh’ to protect an unborn child when there’s a detectable heartbeat.”
“I think that’s humane to do,” DeSantis added. “I think pro-lifers have been wanting to see, you know, good pro-life protections – whether it’s Florida or Iowa under Kim Reynolds.”
“I was really surprised because he's a Florida resident and I thought he would compliment the fact, you know, that we were able to do the heartbeat bill, which pro-lifers have wanted for a long time,” DeSantis said. “He never complimented, never said anything about it. Then he was asked about it and he said it was ‘harsh.’”
A DEEP OFFENSE TO CONSERVATIVES
In 2016, it took a while for Trump to get Evangelical Christians on board. He lost the Iowa caucus to Ted Cruz in 2016 because he lost Evangelicals.
Later in 2020, according to exit polls, Trump won 81 percent of the Evangelical vote and 76 percent of the total vote. These voters remained loyal to Trump throughout various trials and impeachment attempts.
But in the past few months, widespread reports have indicated that Trump has alienated Christian leaders because of his recent conduct and Republicans’ underwhelming performance during the 2022 midterms.
Trump said the real midterm problem was an extreme anti-abortion position by the GOP, a comment that deeply offended many traditional Catholics and conservative Evangelicals who experienced a renewed fight to protect the unborn in both red and blue states after the historic Dobbs decision reversed Roe v. Wade.
The Atlantic recently reported that Evangelical leaders in Iowa and elsewhere would not commit to voting for Trump again in the 2024 primary even before his indictment in New York and Florida.
“GOD CREATED A FIGHTER”
DeSantis sees an opportunity and is touting his record in Florida as the warrior the conservative movement needs to fight back against the decline of Western Civilization.
“I don’t think there’s any elected official in the country who’s not only stood up for the values that we all share but has actually beat the left back on these things,” DeSantis told CBN News.
“We’re winning in Florida against gender ideology,” DeSantis added. “It is not in our schools. I just signed legislation saying teachers are not allowed to demand pronouns from the kids. I had Walt Disney World come down on me and fight me on that. All these other Republicans are actually taking the side of Disney.”
Just before his reelection as Florida’s Governor, the DeSantis campaign released an ad modeled after a famous speech by Paul Harvey in 1978 explaining that “God created a farmer.” But in the DeSantis version, it was “God created a fighter.”
In March, DeSantis agreed with Piers Morgan when asked if he leaned on his faith after the tragic death of his sister in 2015.
“You start to question things that are unjust, like ‘Why did this have to happen?’” DeSantis told Morgan. “You just have to have faith that there’s a plan in place – trust in God – there’s no guarantee that you’re going to have a life without challenges and without heartbreak.”
In his most recent political speeches, DeSantis has occasionally referenced the Bible, often in connection to his identity as a fighter, telling supporters to “put on the full armor of God.”
DeSantis is not running on subtlety, and his technique of using language related to Biblical and spiritual warfare seems to be working.