Ron DeSantis defends actions against pro-Palestinian student groups
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, defended his actions against radical pro-Palestinian student groups and his decision to stay in the race despite lagging behind Donald Trump in the polls.
DeSantis was questioned by Kristen Welker on NBC's “Meet the Press” about whether he was waiting for the former president's “legal troubles” to affect his chances. Trump is facing 91 criminal counts in various cases, including one brought by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg earlier this year.
DeSantis denied that he was banking on Trump's downfall. He said that Bragg's case had actually boosted Trump's support among Republicans.
He said, “I think that gave the former president more support. I think people felt that he was being treated unfairly, which he was in that circumstance.”
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The Florida Gov. also responded to the criticism he received for announcing last week that the State University System of Florida would stop funding the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group. Some, including his 2024 rival and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, accused him of violating free speech.
DeSantis rejected that claim, saying that the SJP had aligned itself with terrorist groups like Hamas, which launched a deadly surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
“This group, they themselves, said in the aftermath of the Hamas attack, that they don't just stand in solidarity — that they are part of this Hamas movement,” he cited.
“And so you have a right to go out and demonstrate, but you can't provide material support to terrorism.” He asked: “Are we just gonna commit suicide as a country and let groups metastasize who were openly siding with brutal terrorist organizations?”
“I don't think that's a recipe for a successful country,” he added.
DeSantis has portrayed himself as a staunch ally of Israel and boasted about Florida's recent move to help a private company evacuate people from the war-torn country.
Last week, Rep. Randy Fine (R-Fla.), the only Jewish Republican in the state legislature, switched his endorsement from DeSantis to Trump, citing DeSantis' lack of vocal opposition to neo-Nazi harassment in Florida.
DeSantis dismissed Fine's criticism as a publicity stunt. He said: “Well, he's just trying to get his 15 minutes of fame. I mean, this guy was singing my praises a couple of months ago. He's got his different reasons why he's doing that. We have acted very, very swiftly and decisively.”
While DeSantis acknowledged the political impact of Trump's 91 criminal counts, he also said that “ultimately, it's not about the past.”
“It's not about all these other issues.” He said: “It's ultimately about how do you get in and reverse the country's decline.”
Trump is facing 34 counts for alleged hush money payments to silence porn star Stormy Daniels and others during the 2016 campaign. He is also facing two federal cases: 40 counts for alleged classified document hoarding and four counts related to 2020 election subversion, as well as 13 counts for alleged 2020 election tampering in Georgia.
He has denied any wrongdoing in all cases.
Welker also pressed DeSantis about Florida's gun laws after the Maine mass shooting that killed 18 people and wounded 13 others by a US Army reservist who police said had mental health issues.
DeSantis said, “I would be more aggressive on some of those fringe people who clearly are demonstrating signs that they're a major danger to society.”
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The governor firmly rejected the proposal for red flag laws, which would allow authorities to temporarily seize an individual's firearms if witnesses report concerning or erratic behavior. DeSantis explained his stance, stating, "I don't believe in this idea that government can just take someone's property and then go through due process later."
Welker is scheduled to co-moderate the upcoming third 2024 GOP debate, which will take place in DeSantis' home state on November 8. She will be sharing the stage with fellow NBC anchor Lester Holt and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.