‘I Have Only Begun to Fight’: DeSantis Vows to Protect Faith at Religious Broadcasters Event
‘I Have Only Begun to Fight’: DeSantis Vows to Protect Faith at Religious Broadcasters Event

By John Haughey

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did not say he was running for president but he sure sounded like a man with plans beyond the Sunshine State during a Monday night address to the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) convention.

“Get ready. Put on the full armor of God,” DeSantis said in closing a 30-minute speech, paused 25 times for applause. “Stand firm for the truth and don’t ever ever back down. We appreciate what we’ve done in Florida. We’re proud of what we accomplished in Florida. But I can tell you this, I have only begun to fight.”

In welcoming delegates to the opening night of the four-day 2023 NRB International Christian Media Convention at the Orlando World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida, DeSantis painted a dark picture of troubled nation in the grip of a weak administration that has been hijacked by leftist progressive ideology.

“If you look around our country, it’s almost like things are upside down. There is a lot of pessimism out there but I think that what we’ve done in Florida should inspire people with a sense of hope,” he said.

One asset overlooked by the current administration in righting the nation, DeSantis said, is God.

“The people who are in power now do not like people of faith and so we have to get this government under control,” he said. “We have to make sure that the bureaucracy is ‘re-constitutionalized’ and, ultimately, the government is returned to its rightful owners: We the American people.”

But time is running out. The next election will determine the nation’s course for decades, which is why people of faith must lead the way, DeSantis told the Christians audience at the convention.

“American decline is not inexorable. It is a choice,” he said. “A great American comeback is attainable and freedom sure is worth fighting for. When you see the chaos and deceit in the world around us, it should prompt us to look higher.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up three just-signed bills related to higher education in the state—including one that bans diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices—at New College in Sarasota, Fla., on May 15, 2023. (Courtesy of the Florida Governor’s Office)

4,000 Outlets Reaching 90 Million Americans a Day

NRB’s annual convention, billed as the “world’s largest gathering of Christian communicators and ministry professionals,” is attended by representatives of more than 4,000 U.S. Christian radio and television stations with more than 200 media-related companies sharing 40,000-square-feet of exhibit space in the Marriott Convention Center.

The multi-billion dollar U.S. Christian broadcasting, publishing, and digital media industries reach an estimated 150 million readers, listeners, and viewers a week—more than the numbers who regularly attend weekly church services—with about 90 million Americans saying they experience Christian radio, television, digital media, or books daily, according to Barna Research and the Association of American Publishers.

Former U.S. House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) were among first-day speakers, addressing NRB audiences before DeSantis delivered his speech, which was followed by evangelist Franklin Graham’s keynote address.

The NRB traditionally invites the host governor of whatever state the annual convention is in to deliver a first-day address.

This custom proved fortuitous for DeSantis, providing him with a pivotal pulpit in what were likely among his last public remarks as a non-campaigning non-candidate for president, after obviously running for president for months.

The governor is widely expected to formally announce by May 24—within two days of his NRB speech—that he will challenge former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, confirming months-long speculation regarding his official entry into the race.

DeSantis is expected to declare his candidacy in his hometown of Dunedin, Florida, before appearing on the evening of May 24 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Miami, where top donors are assembling for a three-day campaign kick-off.

While not campaigning for president since February, DeSantis has toured 14 states—including the early primary states of New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina, each more than once, as well as Japan, South Korea, Israel, and the United Kingdom. He did so touting his book heralding “the free state of Florida,” and offering the “Florida Blueprint” as a framework for a prospective presidential administration.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nev., on Nov. 19, 2022. (Wade Vandervort/AFP via Getty Images)

Parent’s Rights, Disney, Israel

The governor recited his recent slate of legislative initiatives adopted by Florida’s GOP-dominated legislature, which include a “heartbeat” abortion bill, parents rights legislation, “the biggest expansion of school choice in the nation’s history,” bans on gender-changing surgery for minors, and eliminating marxist-inspired critical race theory and other “toxic ideologies” from the state’s K-12 curriculum—all while sustaining vibrant economic growth and low taxes.

“And if Disney doesn’t like that, well, here I stand. I am not backing down one inch,” DeSantis said to applause, referring to his squabble with the entertainment giant that has been pushing a progressive agenda. “I am going to do what is right and we are going to make sure we are standing up for our children, because our children are more important than the almighty dollar.”

When DeSantis assumed office in 2018, the governor recalled how was immediately able to appoint three Florida Supreme Court justices to succeed three liberal judges who had been on the bench for decades but were forced into retirement by a new state law requiring retirement at age 75.

“In the first month in office, I was able to turn the Florida Supreme Court from one of the nation’s most liberal to one of the most conservative,” DeSantis said.

There could be similar opportunities for the next president to do so over the next eight years, he speculated, musing that “there is a chance that you [the president] could be called upon to name replacements” for Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

“The issue with that is you can’t really do better than those two. They are the gold standard for judicial jurisprudence,” DeSantis said, pausing for applause. “And so, you [have] got to make sure we are appointing people as close to that standard as possible.”

Chief Justice John Roberts and “perhaps someone like [Justice Sonia] Sotomayor,” at least chronologically, may need successors by 2032, he said.

“It is possible over those eight years” to emerge with at least a 7-2 conservative-leaning majority on the Supreme Court that could be in place for the next 25 years, DeSantis said. “This is big stuff and it is important that this gets done right.”

The governor recounted his support for Israel, noting a theme at the NRB convention celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary as a nation state.

“I pledged as governor that Florida would be the most pro-Israel state in the United States and we delivered on that promise,” he said and was interrupted by applause, “because we understand it is the cradle of our Judeo-Christian tradition and those are the values that undergird our constitution and our republic.”

Among his first actions as governor, DeSantis recalled, was to take aim “at those who seek to marginalize and destroy the state of Israel,” including AirBnB, which was “doing BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanction] against Israel.”

“We put them on our ‘dink’ list in terms of investment and AirBnB backed down. We’ve made it very clear that BDS is DOA [dead on arrival] in the state of Florida,” he added.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, is sworn by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Muniz, left, to begin his second term during an inauguration ceremony outside the Old Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., on Jan. 3, 2023. Looking on is DeSantis’ wife Casey, second from right, and their son Mason. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

DeSantis opened his address by talking about how he and his wife, Casey, had collected and saved water from the Sea of Galilee during a trip to Israel early in their marriage to baptize their future children with.

They baptized their oldest daughter, Madison, with the Sea of Galilee water after she was born in 2016. When their son, Mason, was born in 2018, however, their lives had changed and things weren’t as simple as they had been before.

“My first act as governor was to go back to the governor’s residence and get Mason baptized,” he recalled, but the water from the Sea of Galilee was nowhere to be found.

“We’re middle-class people. We never had anyone pick up for us, so the holy water was in this bottle like one you can get from a convenience store and we left everything as it was” to go to the inauguration and when they returned, “there was no more water from the Sea Galilee.”

Everything had been cleaned up by the Governor’s Mansion staff, he said.

Word quickly got to the Sea of Galilee from Tallahassee.

“Within 24 hours, a beautiful jar full of water from Sea of Galilee” had arrived from Israel, DeSantis said.

“And that sat on my desk until our daughter, Mamie, was born in 2020 and we used the water for her,” he said.

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