DeSantis says he’ll ‘actually’ build border wall and swipes at Trump as both campaign in New Hampshire

Addressing a town hall in Hollis, the Republican governor of Florida talked extensively about the new immigration policy proposal he released Monday in South Texas

Ron DeSantis
Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a town hall event in Hollis, N.H., Tuesday, June 27, 2023.Associated Press/LaPresse (Associated Press/LaPresse)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis promised Tuesday to tear down Washington’s traditional political power centers and secure the country’s southern border, pledging to succeed where former President Donald Trump failed as the two held dueling campaign events in the critical early primary voting state of New Hampshire.

Addressing a town hall in Hollis, DeSantis talked extensively about the new immigration policy proposal he released Monday in South Texas. He’s betting that the issue can energize GOP voters, even those who are 2,000 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Offering some of his sharpest contrasts yet with Trump, the GOP primary’s early front-runner, DeSantis suggested that he’d wall off the entire border and not come up short like the former president did.

“We’re actually going to build the wall,” DeSantis said. “A lot of politicians chirp. They make grandiose promises and then fail to deliver the actual results. The time for excuses is over. Now is the time to deliver results and finally get the job done.”

DeSantis’ immigration plan was the first major policy rollout of his campaign and calls for ending birthright citizenship, finishing the border wall and sending U.S. forces into Mexico to combat drug cartels — largely mirroring Trump’s policies. His ideas face long odds, requiring the reversal of legal precedents, approval from other countries or even an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

But the Florida governor also tailored his Tuesday message to New Hampshire, noting how tougher border security could eventually help limit the ravages of opioids, which have hit the state particularly hard, even as deaths from overdoses have climbed all over the country.

He promised the “most assertive” policy against drug cartels “any administration has ever had,” adding, “We have to do it because it will save lives.”

DeSantis has also tried to gain ground on Trump by questioning the former president’s continued hold on the national party. On Tuesday, the governor slammed the GOP’s “culture of losing” under Trump and mentioned the “massive red wave” that many top Republicans predicted but that never materialized nationally in last year’s midterm elections.

“We had a red wave in Florida,” DeSantis said, noting he easily won reelection last fall. “But that’s because we delivered results in Florida.”

Many leading Republicans remain fiercely loyal to Trump, but there is some evidence that the attacks against the former president are resonating. Speaking about Trump on Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said “Can he win that election? Yeah, he can win that election.

“The question is, is he the strongest to win the election?” McCarthy continued on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “I don’t know that answer.”

Trump was appearing in New Hampshire’s capital, Concord, on Tuesday for a luncheon hosted by a Republican women’s club and also planned to open his campaign’s state office in Manchester.

At his event, DeSantis took extended questions from the audience, a staple of New Hampshire politics that the governor conspicuously skipped the last time he visited. That contrasted with Trump’s appearance in Concord, where journalists were confined to a pen, chaperoned to the bathroom and told they could not speak to any attendees in the conference center ballroom or even in the hallways.

The governor was asked about people who voted twice for Trump because of promises to “drain the swamp” in Washington and lashed out again.

“He didn’t drain it. It’s worse today than it’s ever been,” DeSantis said. He added that such promises don’t go far enough because a subsequent president “can just refill it.”

“I want to break the swamp,” DeSantis said, pledging to take power out of the nation’s capital by instructing Cabinet agencies to halve the number of employees there.

The governor has previously asserted he would appoint more conservative Supreme Court justices than the three Trump appointed to the court, criticized Trump for implying the six-week abortion ban in Florida is “too harsh” and accused Trump of having generally “moved left.”

While conservative bona fides are important in heavily Republican states, they’re politically trickier in New Hampshire, a political battleground state with a more libertarian streak than Iowa or South Carolina, two other early voting states where evangelicals play a dominant role.

On Tuesday, DeSantis gave Trump credit for some issues like his administration’s China policy but avoided saying much about abortion. He signed a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in Florida, a move he described as “the right thing to do” last week at a Faith & Freedom Coalition conference of evangelical Christians.

DeSantis’ campaign angered some members of the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women by scheduling his town hall around the same time as their Trump event. The group complained that the DeSantis event is “an attempt to steal focus from” its own event and that other presidential candidates scheduled around it, though some members objected to that statement.

Trump’s first-place finish in New Hampshire’s 2016 Republican primary — after losing Iowa to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — helped propel him to dominance in the party. But his Democratic rivals ended up winning the state in both the 2016 and 2020 general elections.

Shortly before DeSantis spoke, meanwhile, Trump announced that his New Hampshire team features 150-plus dedicated activists and organizers throughout the state’s 10 counties.

“Once again, President Trump has demonstrated his commitment to helping grow the Republican grassroots in New Hampshire,” Stephen Stepanek, a Trump senior adviser, said in a statement.

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