We know Ron DeSantis is with Trump. But where is he on Florida issues?

The Ivy League-educated congressman from northeast Florida may wind up being more of blank slate policy-wise than any gubernatorial nominee in modern history.
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis speaks Tuesday in Tampa next to President Donald Trump. [Times]
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis speaks Tuesday in Tampa next to President Donald Trump. [Times]
Published Aug. 3, 2018|Updated Aug. 3, 2018

Ron DeSantis, the frontrunner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, gives primary voters four reasons to vote for him.

His plan to cut the tax burden on Floridians? Nah.

How he would shift Florida's education policy? Nope.

His four-point plan for easing Florida traffic congestion? His agenda for improving health care in Florida? His reform agenda for criminal justice?

No, no, and no.

The Republican congressman from northeast Florida wants Florida Republicans to know that A) He has Donald Trump's endorsement. B) He is conservative. C) He is a veteran. D) He is committed to thwarting a flood of illegal immigrants into Florida.

The Ivy League-educated congressman from northeast Florida may wind up being more of blank slate policy-wise than any gubernatorial nominee in modern history.

His Republican rival, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, has issued policy papers outlining his plans for public safety, for career training, promoting faith-based programs, and improving veterans services. Click on the "Issues" tab at, and you'll see what he has to say about conservative principles, gun rights, jobs and the economy, immigration reform, and education.

At, there's no issues tab, let alone any mention of a policy agenda for Florida.

Instead, you'll see that DeSantis, 39, is no fan of a Democratic congressional candidate in New York who identifies herself as a democratic socialist.

Also this about DeSantis: "Iraq Veteran. #1 Conservative in FL. Endorsed by President Trump."

The campaign makes no apologies for its indifference to Florida issues in the primary.

"In the general election, voters want to know what you want to do," campaign manager Brad Herold. "We plan on having a very robust discussion of the issues in the general election."

The policy-free agenda is both by design and necessity for a campaign with far fewer people on the payroll than Putnam's.

"We're running a shoe-string campaign. We don't have policy experts and consultants to write white papers," said Herold, acknowledging that the campaign has ignored numerous questions about specific issues.

"If we answered all of them we would not have time to do everything else in the campaign. We just decided early on we were not going to answer those questions until we build out a communications team. But it's going to happen in the general election," Herold said of the campaign that also declined invitations to speak to newspaper editorial boards about Florida issues.

Putnam, an amiable career politician who relishes wading into policy discussions, has criss-crossed the state holding Q & A sessions with voters. He won endorsements from nearly 50 sheriffs, the attorney general, assorted law enforcement groups and, through campaign donations dwarfing what DeSantis has reeled in, practically every major business interest in the state.

"Adam Putnam is the only candidate who has shared a robust vision to create jobs, put vocational and technical education back into middle schools and high schools, secure our borders, and keep power in the hands of Florida families — not Washington or Tallahassee," the Putnam campaign said in a statement.

White papers don't win elections, however. The DeSantis strategy is working. Polls show him handily leading Putnam.

"Most Republican voters say, 'Trump likes Ron DeSantis? Okay, well I like Trump,' " Tony DiMatteo, a Putnam supporter and former Pinellas County GOP Chairman, dismissing the significance of DeSantis' virtually non-existent platform.

Thanks to the president's knack for consuming so much media attention, this is an election cycle where, especially in the Republican primary, all politics is national rather than local.

A recently released Florida Atlantic University poll found that the number one issue for Florida voters was immigration (29 percent of all voters, and 43 percent of Republicans), followed by health care (26 percent) and the economy (13 percent).

"The danger of the political climate these days and the whole idea of 'throw the bums out, let's get someone new' is that the average voter may not know much about the track record of a candidate," said Cindy Graves, a prominent Republican activist in Jacksonville.

Rick Scott was a political newcomer, she noted, but he had a deep business background as CEO of a health care corporation. DeSantis has an impressive resume — Yale University, Harvard Law, Navy JAG — but no experience leading a large operation.

"He's very intelligent. Very. And so were the professors who taught him, but that doesn't mean they should be governor of our state," Graves said. "You have to have a proven track record, and you have to have the experience of having managed people. Going, 'Rah-rah, I really believe in border security' doesn't bring a flood of upstate New York businesses relocating to Florida."

If you catch DeSantis on Fox News or, far less likely, see him campaigning in Florida you definitely will learn that he strongly supported moving the Israel embassy to Jerusalem and really, really dislikes the Robert Mueller investigation.

As a member of the House Freedom Caucus (the government "Shutdown Caucus" some critics call it), it's fair to assume a Gov. DeSantis could be uncompromising when it comes to limiting the size and scope of state government.

But DeSantis also appears to be closer to the Democrats on key environmental issues, particularly Everglades restoration.

Unlike Putnam and Putnam's allies in sugar industry he supported building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to shift water to the south and would like to see it larger. He said he also is open to more regulations on developments that effect runoff and contribute to the algae blooms effecting many Florida communities.

Conventional wisdom among Florida's political establishment is that DeSantis would be much easier for Democrats to beat in November, because he is too rigidly conservative for Florida's overall electorate.

Truth is, we don't know enough about DeSantis' plans and don't have a sufficient track record to back up that conclusion.

"The governor is not necessarily an ideological p—-ing match," DeSantis told me in May when I asked him about the view that he is out of step with a purple state.

"I'm going to bring a philosophy that I do believe in limited government and I want to empower individuals rather than empower bureaucracy. But ultimately you've got to articulate where you want to take the state and how that's going to effect people's lives. That is really what the voters are going to be looking for."

If that's what voters are looking for, DeSantis two months later still seems in no rush to give it to them.