Gov. Ron DeSantis took the stage Sunday to the sounds of fireworks and a bumping bass as he was introduced to thousands of screaming young conservatives at the Tampa Convention Center.
The event, called the Student Action Summit, featured prominent national figures like Donald Trump Jr. and former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
It was organized by Turning Point USA, an organization aimed at building an organized and active conservative presence on high school and college campuses.
DeSantis greeted the crowd by welcoming everyone to the “free state of Florida.”
“We believe in lifting people up, not locking people down,” DeSantis said to a roar of cheers.
Much of the governor’s speech centered on his administration’s accomplishments, including anti-rioting legislation and the passing of the transgender athlete bill.
He also mentioned his Saturday trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he met with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. DeSantis had sent 50 state law enforcement officers to Texas to help with border security.
“Governor Abbott has got a very difficult situation, you have a president, Joe Biden, who’s come in and basically embraced open borders,” DeSantis said. “He reversed the policies that succeeded under Donald Trump.”
During his 30-minute speech, DeSantis said that when he spoke with those who had been detained at the border, their final destination was commonly Florida. He believes Biden needs to stop “releasing criminal aliens ... and yes ... finish the border wall.”
To that, the rambunctious crowd responded with chants of “Build the wall.”
The event was aimed at young conservatives, between the ages of 15 to 26. The founder of Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk, is just 27 and moderated some of the night’s events.
For many attendees, the chance to be around like-minded people and prominent conservatives inspired them to travel thousands of miles.
Dominique Phillips, 19, is the chapter president of Turning Point at the University of Arizona. She has attended all of the organization’s events this year, after COVID-19 made it difficult to come together.
She was drawn to politics after COVID-19 shutdowns.
“I didn’t agree with what the left was doing to our country,” Phillips said.
After becoming chapter president, Phillips was in charge of getting the group re-recognized at her university. She says she met difficulties, like no responses from administration and missing paperwork.
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“It’s definitely not easy on campus,” Phillips said. “But it’s not as hard as I thought it would be, either.”
Energizing a younger generation of conservatives is a main goal for Turning Point, and Devon Langston, 31, wanted to see political figures like Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump Jr.
“I wanted to see what the new mentality was, what they’re teaching the next generation,” Langston said. “I thought they were engaging and unifying, and unifying to their audience.”
DeSantis ended his speech by inviting the audience to lead in the conservative movement.
“You have got a lot on your plate,” DeSantis said. “I’ll be leading the charge down here in the Sunshine State ... I’ve only begun the fight.”