Breakfast at a Florida restaurant is never for the faint of heart.
There’s the biscuits and gravy, the cereal, the oversized breakfast tacos, the waffles, the pancakes, the corned beef hash, and, of course, the drip coffee.
If you survive all of this, and if you nudge the locals a little, then the impassioned yet divisive politics of this state and nation will come out.
The moment I mention Ron De Santisthe cards are on the table.
“I love him… I think he’s doing the things most of us would like him to do,” says Patricia Barra.
“It’s just held Florida very productive; opened through COVID. I think he wants to make America the way we used to have it.”
Her husband, Gerald, wraps up her thought: “Californians moving to Florida, Massachusetts people moving to Florida, New Jerseyers moving to Florida, New Yorkers moving to Florida. It’s gotta be something!”
But, one table away: “He’s a bigot, a white supremacist, a trump wannabe…” says Robin Mix.
They say the Starlite Diner is a Daytona Beach landmark, an unofficial community meeting place for locals. What better place, then, to learn more about the governor of Florida?
This is where the political career began for the man who wants to be president.
Daytona Beach is in his old neighborhood when he was a Congressman, long before it made a national sensation.
I came to find out what the allure is and whether that landslide vote for governor last year could really propel him all the way to the White House.
‘Make America Florida’ is his line. It’s a nice play on his fan-turned-enemy slogan, Donald “Make America Great Again” Trump.
Read more on Sky News:
Florida’s controversial governor: Five things about DeSantis
Disney abandons plans for new campus following DeSantis dispute
Florida school bans poetry reading at Biden’s inauguration
Trump is the clear favorite to clinch the Republican Party presidential candidate. But DeSantis is behind him and hoping to close, fast.
It’s Trumpian without the chaos. Maybe he can maintain a policy in which Trump has failed to do? This is exciting for some; scary to the others, and it turns out they’re all represented at the Starlite Diner this morning.
The atmosphere of his fans reflects the view that America has lost its way and needs to return to traditional, conservative values.
“He would make a great vice president”
“I like the idea…” says another diner when I tag her Make America Florida.
“I think he would make a wonderful vice president under President Trump…” says another.
It reflects what some see as the conservative dream ticket, unlikely as that may be given the couple’s current animosity.
If there’s one theme that gets to the heart of what Ron DeSantis is about, it is culture wars – his war woke up.
He acknowledged that cultural issues — tapping into the idea that values have been eroded — so often resonate more with voters than issues like the economy.
Trump recalled a time when America was seemingly bigger. DeSantis went further, identifying issues that, to his conservative supporter base, represent the erosion of society: jobs.
“We will fight revival in schools, we will fight revival in corporations. We will never give in to the revival mob. Florida is where revival goes to die,” he says over and over in various guises.
Yet even channeling Churchill to Florida, not everyone here at the Starlite Diner is buying it.
“You know, the big thing is that he wants to get rid of the awakening and I’m happy to be awakened too,” says Peter Stephenson.
“You know, I feel like the definition of wokeness is having an acceptance for all kinds of people.”
His wife, Karen, adds, “And this stuff about all the gays and everything. Let them live. Let everybody get along.”
Ron DeSantis has never explicitly said anything against the gay community.
DeSantis’ policies represent the erosion of minority rights, critics say
But his policies, at least to his critics, represent an erosion of minority rights, whether gay rights, racial rights or the freedom to be whoever you want to be.
“He wants to do everything like the 1950s TV shows where all the people were white, all the people were ‘normal.’ Dad goes to work, mom stays home. We can’t go back to the 1950s. But that’s what want want,” says Robin Mix.
His recently published book is called The Courage To Be Free.
Critics say there is a deep irony that a man who defends freedom has been so busy limiting so many different things.
ON on abortion introduced legislation banning it after six weeks.
In drag shows, laws now make it illegal for children to be present. There are restrictions on gender-neutral toilet facilities. He was elected governor with these policies as promises.
And then there is the so-called book ban. It is a title that is not entirely accurate.
He has not banned books, but has taken a hard line on what books are available to schoolchildren of different ages. In this sense, some books are banned for certain age groups.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen some books in some of these libraries — you’re talking about middle school kids — some of the stuff that ended up there is incredibly creepy stuff,” he said recently.
The governor’s grassroots support comes from mothers like Tina Descovich, who founded the “Moms for Liberty” group here in Florida. It now has branches nationwide.
Hold up a book in hand as we chat.
“Gender Queer has lewd imagery everywhere. It was found here at a local middle school library that shared middle school with high school and was not only in the school but was on display in one of the display cases at the end,” she said. she tells me.
“Many school districts across the country have decided that this is appropriate for kids as young as six, so kids as young as 11 and 12 here in the United States.”
There is no evidence that this book is widely available to that age group across America.
But for Tina, her strong position represents leadership.
“He takes action. You know, we’re tired in our country and state of spineless, mind-changing, mind-changing, go-with-the-flow leaders. What we saw with Governor DeSantis as he looked at the facts, and made decisions as well if they were unpopular”.
“DeSantis is not for the freedom of all”
Along the coast, in one of Florida’s few remaining Democratic counties, I met Denise Soufrine, a teacher who is considering leaving Florida.
“It says we’re the Free State of Florida, and I don’t understand how you can say that when you’re limiting rights,” he says.
“The Moms for Liberty will say ‘we’re protecting the kids.’ Well, what about all the other parents who want their kids to be exposed to all kinds of ideas so their kids can grow up?
“I really don’t think that’s what this country wants. I don’t think so.
“That’s not what this country was founded on. And this governor isn’t for freedom for all people. He’s just for freedom for some people.
“Years ago, there were hardly any books in libraries featuring Black, African American, Hispanic characters.
“So, as a librarian, as a teacher, I’m someone who wants to make sure everyone in the class feels comfortable and knows they’re accepted.”
He adds, “There’s no nicety in any of the bills he’s pushing.”