DeSantis seemed determined to show a different side of his personality on Friday at the Gathering — the two-day conservative conference in Atlanta — as he cracked jokes about college football, quipped about slow drivers and shared a sentimental story about his son playing baseball in Iowa.
Like other Republican contenders, he has either sidestepped Trump’s criminal charges or echoed a GOP narrative that they amount to a politicized prosecution.
He’s taken a slightly different approach to the 98-page Fulton County indictment, which alleges a vast pro-Trump conspiracy from the halls of the state Capitol to the election office in rural Coffee County.
Ahead of his arrival in Georgia, DeSantis told reporters in New Hampshire that he hadn’t yet read the charges but suggested that District Attorney Fani Willis is misusing her office by focusing on Trump.
“Atlanta has huge problems with crime right now,” he said, “and there has been an approach to crime which has been less than exacting.”
Many of DeSantis’ remarks focused on the conservative policies he adopted in Florida, his ongoing legal battle with the Walt Disney Co., and his pledge to bolster national security.
The Grand Hyatt Buckhead ballroom filled with cheers as he outlined plans to crack down on drug trafficking and leave smugglers “stone cold dead” if they’re caught illegally entering the U.S.
“We are going to authorize the use of deadly force against cartels,” DeSantis said. “If you have somebody coming in with the fentanyl in their backpack, if they even break through the border wall ... that’s the last thing they’re going to be able to do.”