As many of you know, I was one of a few reporters traveling with Governor Ron DeSantis on his trade mission to Israel. This trip was controversial for some people. The First Amendment Foundation and assorted media outlets balked at the (ceremonial) Cabinet meeting that was held at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. DeSantis’ administration attempted a workaround, streaming video to and even having an invocation delivered from Tallahassee (presumably to make the case that the meeting was co-located). However, the prayer was just four words in when it was cut off by a message asking for a conference call passcode. From there, a symmetry: three attempts to re-establish the link. Eventually, CFO Jimmy Patronis delivered a prayer, and life went on.
The meeting was not particularly substantive, yielding a resolution of support for Israel and a few informational sessions with Israelis, including a woman whose husband was stabbed to death. Each Cabinet member pledged fealty to Israel, with Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried describing her visit to Auschwitz a quarter-century prior, and saying that steeled her resolve to protect and defend Israel. Democrat Fried largely went her own way during the week, missing many of the events the Republicans attended. However, she was there at the Cabinet meeting, and at the last-day confab with embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A major drama during the trip was whether or not scandal-ridden Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would meet the Florida Delegation. Midweek, the Knesset (Israel’s legislature) voted to dissolve after Bibi failed to assemble a governing coalition. Meet they did, however. DeSantis has bet heavily on Netanyahu, and his Likud party in general, and much of this excursion was devoted to signaling his support for Israel’s right to assert itself in military and security spheres.
I asked DeSantis if he thought he was betting too heavily on Netanyahu, who’s clearly damaged goods even if the September election goes his way. Indeed, the Israeli leader is facing indictment for corruption. He has thus far failed to convince the attorney general to push back his trial, and it’s hard to imagine anything changing that. As we know from local politicians who have faced corruption charges over the years, the legal machinery has its own momentum, and it is implacable. Despite those points, DeSantis isn’t worried, at least not on a live mic. He called Netanyahu a strong leader, though he did issue a caveat: He’s willing to work with whoever wins. The real question, though, is how to build relationships with other parties when Likud is the brand he’s yoked to.
During a trip to Gush Etzion, an Israeli settlement, the governor contended that Palestinians weren’t interested in having their own state so much as ensuring that Israel did not exist. He also found a way to castigate Andrew Gillum, his defeated opponent in November, with spurious and now-irrelevant claims of Gillum’s support of the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement. As Israelis would agree, the winner writes the history.
DeSantis (again, after I popped the question) also addressed the Robert Mueller press conference last week, in which the special counsel said that he couldn’t exonerate the president on obstruction of justice charges.
“Here’s what I can tell you as a prosecutor,” DeSantis said. “Prosecutors are not in the business of exonerating.” “If there’s enough evidence to charge and prosecute, you do it. If there’s not, then that’s the end of the story.”
Mueller, of course, believes his hands were tied. But Trump asserts the case is closed. Ultimately, it is up to Democrats in the House to force the issue with investigations, should they want to take that tack.
While DeSantis walked the Trump/Bibi tightrope, his frenemy Rick Scott was taking a walk down memory lane, holding hurricane prep pressers around the state as if he were still governor. DeSantis loyalists don’t have much use for Scott. The transition was rocky, especially for an intra-party hand-over of power. Scott had a party in the Governor’s Mansion after DeSantis moved in. And there are those, in both the executive and legislative branches, who think DeSantis works more collaboratively with his troops, while Scott preferred to staff his team with “yes men.”
In that context—and in the context of both believing they can be president in 2024—there is a real rivalry and there will be continued jousting. Last week, it happened when the men were 6,000 miles away from each other.