There was a brief moment this weekend at Turning Point USA’s Student Action Summit where I thought Ron DeSantis had it in the bag. TP USA, of course, is the non-profit that fosters conservative ideology among high school and college-age kids. And in an era of generational tide-turning, where Gen Z is ascendant and baby boomers are fading, DeSantis’s young fogeydom has always seemed like a political asset. He looks like a young guy from the 50s, and is surrounded by some 2024 hopefuls who could be his Appalachian grandparents.
The crowd was practically delirious on Friday as the Florida governor strode onto the stage, accompanied by pyrotechnics and a fog machine, which I have never seen before at a conservative activist conference. Some 5,000 screaming college students leapt to their feet, many of whom didn’t sit down for his tightly-constructed 45-minute speech until pestered by staff. The positive energy in the Tampa Convention Center was palpable as they left. I could hear many eagerly chatting about how awesome DeSantis was and debating whether he was better than Trump. For a brief moment, I sensed the possibility for a 2024 vibe shift.
That sense was obliterated, however, when Donald Trump, the ultimate boomer, took the stage the very next night and gave a speech that strongly hinted he’d soon announce a presidential bid of his own, as has long been assumed, and previously reported by my Puck partner Tara Palmeri. Though Trump arrived more than an hour late, and spoke for an hour and a half, this group of youngsters crammed themselves up to the front of the stage to get closer to him, and raucously applauded when he strode onstage (this time, just with the fog machine). Then the entire hall stood for a whopping eight minutes before being prompted to sit down as he began his rambling remarks. They left the halls in their MAGA hats at 9:45 p.m., chanting “Four more years” and “We want Trump!”