Pro-Israel Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis arrived in Israel on Wednesday on the third leg of a global trade mission that is seen as a thinly veiled trip to bolster his foreign policy credentials ahead of a possible presidential run in 2024.
DeSantis downplayed presidential expectations in Japan this week, telling reporters, “I’m not a candidate. We will see if and when that changes.”
Former president Donald Trump, however, has already counted DeSantis as a candidate. Trump’s campaign released an attack ad against the potential rival on Wednesday, as a poll this week by WPA Intelligence showed that if DeSantis becomes the Republican nominee, he would beat President Joe Biden in a White House race.
DeSantis is expected to deliver a public address in Jerusalem on Thursday at the “Celebrate the Face of Israel” conference co-sponsored by The Jerusalem Post and The Museum of Tolerance. He will hold a press conference and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Israeli companies interested in investing in Florida.
According to the governor’s office, Israel is the 19th-largest foreign investor in Florida, with bilateral trade totaling $651 million in 2022.
MK Danny Danon (Likud), who met with DeSantis at an event on Wednesday night at the Museum, said the governor was a “true friend of Israel” and was among those who would help maintain the special relationship between the two countries.
“The deep bond between Israel and the US is based on shared values and is stronger than any challenge of one kind or another,” Danon said.
DeSantis's last visit to Israel
DeSantis visited Israel in 2019, when he took a strong stand in support of West Bank settlements, crossing the Green Line to make a stop at a Gush Etzion industrial park. His state has a strong history of standing by Israel including anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions legislation. During that trip, DeSantis said it was impossible to support BDS and be successful politically in Florida.
DeSantis arrived in Israel from Japan and South Korea and will head to Great Britain after his visit here.
Hutchinson declares presidential bid
Former Republican Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson formally launched his 2024 presidential bid on Wednesday, in a speech that portrayed himself as a more moderate alternative to party frontrunner Donald Trump.
Hutchinson, 72, who’s bid is considered a long-shot, had already broken with Trump this year after the Republican former president’s criminal indictment in March over hush payments to a porn star.
Unlike all the other declared and potential Republican White House candidates, who rallied behind Trump after the indictment, Hutchinson said at the time that Trump should pull out of the race.
In his formal announcement speech, Hutchinson did not name Trump, but appeared to break with him on foreign policy by decrying the isolationist approach Trump took to international issues when president.
“Isolationism only leads to weakness and weakness leads to war,” Hutchinson said. His formal kick-off speech followed an announcement earlier this month that he was running for president.
Hutchinson, who has little name recognition nationally, will present himself to Republican primary voters as a more moderate alternative to Trump and conservative firebrand DeSantis.
Reuters contributed to this report.