Attempting to meld his “anti-woke” politics with economic policy, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday unveiled a plan that he claimed took on corporate interests, business elites, federal government bureaucrats and foreign trade relations — forces he blamed for derailing the prosperity of American families.
“We will declare our economic independence from the failed elites that have orchestrated American decline,” Mr. DeSantis said during a speech at a bustling New Hampshire logistics-company warehouse, laying out the economic vision for his presidential campaign. “We the American people win; they lose.”
The governor linked a decline in U.S. life expectancy to suicides, drug overdoses, alcoholism and the struggles facing the nation’s working class. “This is not normal, this is not acceptable, and yet entrenched politicians in Washington refuse to change course,” he said.
His populist, anti-corporatist comments seemed intended to lift his standing with non-college-educated voters, a crucial Republican constituency that polling shows is not supporting Mr. DeSantis’s candidacy in large numbers. Only 13 percent of Republican voters without a college degree nationwide back Mr. DeSantis, according to the first New York Times/Siena College poll of this election cycle. Former President Donald J. Trump, the race’s front-runner, has attacked Mr. DeSantis as a “globalist” and a “RINO,” or Republican in name only.
Mr. DeSantis’s somewhat scattershot 10-point plan also includes goals to achieve energy independence, end President Biden’s climate change policies, rein in federal spending, expand vocational education and make colleges responsible for student loans. He also proposes revoking China’s preferential trade status, limiting “unskilled” immigration and cutting taxes.
In sum, the plan largely repeats standard conservative promises to stoke economic growth by reducing taxes on corporations and investors, and by cutting government regulation — proposals that are typically cheered by business lobbyists, despite Mr. DeSantis’s anti-corporate, “anti-woke” rhetoric. He would prioritize fossil fuel development, another longtime conservative plank. And his proposals to further reduce America’s economic links with China echo the plans of an emerging populist wing of Republican candidates, including Mr. Trump.
The governor’s speech is part of an effort to recalibrate his campaign, which laid off more than a third of its staff this month, as it failed to meet fund-raising goals. National polls show him trailing Mr. Trump badly. Mr. DeSantis has already reshaped the tactics of his campaign in the past week, opening himself up to more questions from voters and the media; holding smaller, less formal events; and condensing his lengthy stump speech. Now, his advisers say he is also resetting his message, with plans to talk more about the policies he would implement as president, as well as about his biography, rather than about his record in Florida.
Mr. DeSantis has already unveiled proposals on immigration and the military. Ahead of the first Republican debate on Aug. 23, he is also expected to introduce his foreign policy plans, using that topic and his economic strategy as the cornerstones of his campaign in the coming weeks.
But Mr. DeSantis, who prides himself as a policy expert, has a tendency to delve deep into details and to use a sometimes bewildering series of acronyms in his stump speeches. His allies say that getting into kitchen-table issues like the economy is a necessary shift.
“The average voter probably needs to be talked to on a higher level, not getting down into the weeds so much,” said Jason Osborne, the New Hampshire House majority leader who has endorsed Mr. DeSantis. Still, Mr. Osborne said, many party activists appreciated the governor’s attention to the finer points of policy.
On Monday, Mr. DeSantis littered his speech with references to the C.C.P. (the Communist Party of China), E.S.G. (environmental, social and governance standards used by corporations), D.E.I. (diversity, equity and inclusion policies) and C.B.D.C. (a central bank digital currency).
He saved some of his harshest words for China, saying that its Communist Party was eating “this country’s lunch every single day.”
In addition to revoking China’s “most favored nation” trading status, the governor said he would ban imports made from stolen U.S. intellectual property and would prevent companies from sharing critical technologies with China.
Mr. DeSantis also notably accused big corporations of contributing to what he called the nation’s “economic malaise” by adopting political ideologies.
Those comments reflected Mr. DeSantis’s embrace of the New Right, which argues that leftists have taken over many boardrooms and that conservatives must overcome their historical aversion to limited government interference in corporate matters and fight back. The governor has attacked those he calls “Chamber of Commerce Republicans,” meaning those more traditional members of the party who have criticized his ongoing feud with Disney.
”There’s a difference between a free-market economy, which we want, and corporatism, in which the rules are jiggered to be able to help incumbent companies,” he said, adding that he would ban individual stock trading by members of Congress and executive branch officials.
In addition, Mr. DeSantis derided government bailouts, citing the financial crisis in 2008 and the stimulus signed by Mr. Trump in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
And he pledged to make institutions of higher education, instead of taxpayers, responsible for student debt, a menacing shot at universities that escalates policies he has proposed as governor to overhaul Florida’s higher education system.
He also proposed a plan that borrows from traditionally liberal agendas: allowing borrowers to discharge their remaining student loan balances if they declare bankruptcy. While it is now possible for debtors to do that, many have found the process difficult and cumbersome, and liberal groups like the Center for American Progress in Washington have embraced such reforms in the past.
“It’s wrong to say that a truck driver should have to pay off the debt of somebody who got a degree in gender studies,” Mr. DeSantis said. “At the same time, I have sympathy for some of these students because I think they were sold a bill of goods.”
On the campaign trail, Mr. DeSantis often highlights his economic acumen by pointing to Florida’s surging economy, influx of new residents and the formation of new businesses. But the picture has grown less rosy this year, with inflation in Florida’s biggest metro areas rising faster than the national average. A troubled property insurance market and an affordable housing crisis have also complicated his message.
In response to a question from a reporter on Monday, Mr. DeSantis defended his record on the state’s economy, saying that his landslide re-election had allowed him to pass major legislation addressing the property insurance and housing issues.
“We’ve been working on this for a number of years,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s campaign has hit Mr. DeSantis repeatedly for his management of the state.
“Ron DeSantis should pack his knapsack and hitchhike his way back home to focus on the serious issues facing the great state of Florida,” Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, said in a statement.
Jim Tankersley contributed reporting.