(Ben Sellers, Headline USA) The murmured undertones in every corner of the Heritage Foundation’s leadership summit spoke to a Republican identity crisis as the party tries to reconcile two very different visions.
The summit brought together many policymakers with close ties to the Trump administration and even some who had been integral in the prior Reagan administration as it found itself in a similar spote in the shell-shocked aftermath of the Jimmy Carter presidency.
It was their burden to embrace the best part of both of these constrasting worldviews without seeming overly schizophrenic.
Helping them in that effort was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the event’s keynote speaker, who brough together some notably Trumpian policies on immigration, energy and other crucial issues—while also courting the conservative establishment by quoting Reagan twice and trying to capture his overall spirit of fearless optimism over grievance.
“Leaders get ahead of public opinion, chart the course, and then people follow,” DeSantis said.
He also said that America needed a “determined and disciplined chief executive to root out politicization and corruption in Washington, D.C.
Some Capitol Hill insiders speculated that he was likely to make his own entry into the GOP presidential primary promptly after the end of the Florida legislative session on May 5.
DeSantis avoided making direct references to Trump but did indirectly address the ex-president’s recent criticism of his standoff with Walt Disney World.
Addressing attacks earlier in the week from Trump and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, DeSantis said it was not conservative but rather “corporatist” to roll over to companies like the woke Disney leviathan.
But he came out strongly in favor of Trump’s signature 2016 policyto address the ongoing immigration crisis.
With immigration “you need to do a lot of things, but you do need to actually construct a wall along the southern border,” he said.
He quickly followed up by touting his experience getting construction projects done like rebuilding the Matlacha Bridge to Pine Island completed after it was destroyed by Hurricane Ian.
Despite projections that it would take weeks, DeSantis said he was able to get the construction done in three days.
“I just raised that because I’m willing to send those guys in Florida to the southern border to build a wall, so come on, Joe,” he said addressing President Joe Biden who has been hammered for ignoring the open-border problem altogether.
DeSantis also called for America to regain its energy independence as it succeeded in doing under Trump, and he waded into cultural issues such as fighting the corporate ESG movement that allows an “end-run around the Constitution” through corporate bullying and coercion.
Like Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who spoke the previous day, DeSantis openly channeled the spirit of Reagan and appeared determined to drive home the parallels by twice quoting the Gipper.
He made reference to Reagan’s famous joke that the most terrifying words someone can hear are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
On a more serious note, DeSantis recalled the words from Reagan’s 1967 inaugural address as governor of California that “freedom is never more than one generation from extinction.”
“I think Reagan was right,” DeSantis said. “Our freedom is fragile. Our freedom needs someone to stand up for it.”
Despite the bleak picture that the current political landscape has painted about the country’s future, “we need to reject the pessimisim that is in the air,” he said, because freedom is a choice.
DeSantis’s speech came as the Heritage Foundation released an 880-page treatise, Mandate for Leadership, that it hoped would be a road map for the next Republican president to enter the White House battle-ready.
The book drew expertise from more than 50 chapter authors and sought the consensus of roughly 300 experts.
Lead editor Paul Dans said that the book sought to be “candidate agnostic” and serve as a resource to any future leader, regardless of who prevails.
That, he said, would include Trump, even though the former president has rarely yielded to other opinions that don’t fall in step with his own instincts and values.
The book’s authors did “such a good job that you cant help but embrace [it],” Dans said. “You kind of ignore this a little bit at your peril.”
Ben Sellers is the editor of Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/realbensellers.