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    DeSantis hits political talking points on international trip ahead of 2024

    Ron DeSantis was technically addressing Japanese business leaders on a trip meant to boost their ties to Florida. But part of his pitch at a Tokyo roundtable — a portion of which was soon clipped and posted online to the Republican governor’s Rumble account — sounded more like a message to his audience back home.

    “People have been voting very consistently with their feet,” the Florida governor declared, noting the many Americans moving to his state while some Democratic-led jurisdictions see their populations shrink. He didn’t just talk up Florida — he went out of his way to criticize Chicago.

    “Chicago used to be one of the greatest cities in America. It’s had huge problems, and there’s really major need to go a different direction,” DeSantis said. He alluded to a liberal candidate’s victory in this month’s mayoral race, arguing that the city elected someone who’s “going to keep going in the same bad direction at an accelerated pace.”

    For close watchers of DeSantis, it was a familiar talking point as he makes moves toward entering the Republican presidential race against Donald Trump and others — and one that reinforced the domestic political overtones of his international trip this week. Japan was DeSantis’s first stop on an “international trade mission” for Florida that gives the governor a chance to boost his foreign policy credentials heading into a presidential contest.

    Even as his office cast the travel as a narrow matter of state business, questions about his political future were unavoidable.

    “Governor, the polls show you falling behind Trump. Any thoughts on that?” a reporter in Tokyo asked.

    “I’m not a candidate, so we’ll see if and when that changes,” DeSantis said, appearing frustrated, with a wide-eyed expression ready-made for memes. A clip drew ridicule from critics and millions of views online, eclipsing his comments on foreign affairs.

    Trump’s team pounced, with adviser Jason Miller sharing a GIF and the former president issuing his latest statement bashing DeSantis’s efforts to “remove the stain from his failing campaign.”

    A spokesman for the governor’s office said political inquiries are outside their purview, and representatives for DeSantis’s political team did not respond to a request for comment.

    Despite the adage that “politics stops at the water’s edge” — the idea that American leaders should present a united front abroad — the governor has taken shots at his usual political targets in the United States, from liberal-leaning cities to President Biden.

    “Just going around Tokyo, I don’t think I’ve seen one piece of trash anywhere,” DeSantis said later in his visit to Japan, according to the Wall Street Journal. In Florida, he said, “we do a pretty good job, but there are some other states, some other cities in other parts of the United States, that could learn a thing or two.”

    Broaching such politics on an international trip might have been frowned on in the past, said Robert Lieber, an author and professor emeritus of government and international affairs at Georgetown. “But we’re in a new ballgame now,” he said, and “a lot of the rules of political etiquette have gone out the window.”

    Foreign policy — like the rest of American politics — has grown more polarized, he added.

    Past presidential contenders and their teams have used trips abroad to draw contrasts with their rivals — including the sitting president at the time — on foreign policy.

    In 2015, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie called President Barack Obama an ineffective negotiator during a trip to Britain. In 2012, Vice President Joe Biden rebuked Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) after his advisers criticized the Obama administration’s approach to Britain — speaking on the condition of anonymity because Romney’s campaign “requested that they not criticise the President to foreign media,” as the Telegraph put it.

    DeSantis also had criticism for Biden this week, joining Fox News host Sean Hannity from Japan to sound alarms about China. He started his trip in Asia at a time when many politicians have focused on China as the greatest threat to the United States, with plenty of 2024 hopefuls jockeying to take the toughest line against Chinese President Xi Jinping.

    “They are flexing muscle and I think the fact that Biden has been very weak on the world stage is emboldening them to do even more,” DeSantis told Hannity, underscoring how he has used the trip to message domestic audiences.

    Erin Perrine, communications director for the pro-DeSantis super PAC Never Back Down, also drew a direct contrast with the president, saying DeSantis “continues to show exceptional, strong leadership, including on the world stage” while Biden has “made America weaker, oversaw a disgraceful and deadly withdraw from Afghanistan, and invited aggression from China and Russia.”

    The White House declined to comment on Perrine’s assessment.

    DeSantis is expected to announce a presidential run soon, sometime after the Florida legislature finishes its business in May. Polling suggests he would enter the race as the closest rival to Trump, who has already focused his attacks on the Florida governor.

    But DeSantis has said very little about his thinking on 2024 in public, and Trump has only solidified his status atop the polls in recent weeks, even as he faces greater legal peril.

    A prominent DeSantis ally — Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who has endorsed him — suggested Monday that DeSantis should drop the pretenses on 2024 as soon as he can.

    “It looks and feels a little odd for him to act like a candidate with the trips and the speaking tours without actually being a candidate,” Massie told the New York Post. “That’s fine for a while, but I don’t think you want to overdo it from an optics standpoint.”

    South Korea is next for DeSantis, followed by Israel and the United Kingdom.

    DeSantis’s comments on foreign policy — where he has less experience than some other presidential hopefuls — have been polarizing. He drew some rebukes from both Democrats and Republicans this year after calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “territorial dispute” not central to American interests — a comment he later sought to clarify and claimed was “mischaracterized.”

    Since then, he has made clear that he views possible aggression by China very differently than Russian aggression.

    “They’re much more powerful, I think, than [President Vladimir] Putin and Russia are, and they really represent the biggest threat that we’ve seen to our ability to lead since the Soviet Union,” DeSantis said in an interview with conservative commentator Piers Morgan in March.



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