Four years ago this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis presciently warned in his first inaugural address that big-spending, high-taxing states were inspiring “productive citizens to flee.” DeSantis came into office with a flimsy mandate of just four tenths of one percent at a time when Florida had 257,175 more registered Democrats than Republicans. Republicans now outnumber Democrats in the state by more than 356,000 and, in the wake of his resounding twenty-point win in November, DeSantis's inaugural address last Tuesday felt like a warm-up for the 2024 presidential campaign.

In his 2019 speech, DeSantis spoke to Floridians,...

Four years ago this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis presciently warned in his first inaugural address that big-spending, high-taxing states were inspiring “productive citizens to flee.” DeSantis came into office with a flimsy mandate of just four tenths of one percent at a time when Florida had 257,175 more registered Democrats than Republicans. Republicans now outnumber Democrats in the state by more than 356,000 and, in the wake of his resounding twenty-point win in November, DeSantis’s inaugural address last Tuesday felt like a warm-up for the 2024 presidential campaign.

In his 2019 speech, DeSantis spoke to Floridians, but he seemed to be addressing all Americans, urging us to reconsider Florida as a model rather than as the butt of Florida Man jokes. Republican hopes in 2024 may hinge on this effort to recast the Sunshine State. It won’t be easy, but Florida can be re-branded, though DeSantis will likely need a secret weapon he may not have considered.

Though the media likes to diminish DeSantis as a Trump knockoff, his concise, sixteen-minute address was as focused and substantive as Trump’s speeches are a gallimaufry of complaints and rants. Trump is the businessman, but DeSantis is the one who is all business. Trump uttered nearly 9,000 words in his campaign launch, while DeSantis’s speech weighed in at 1,649. Though it obviously wasn’t a campaign launch, it still sounded like one at times.

“When the world lost its mind — when common sense suddenly became an uncommon virtue — Florida was a refuge of sanity, a citadel of freedom for our fellow Americans and even for people around the world,” he said.

DeSantis spoke of the “historic number of families” who have moved to what he called a “promised land of sanity,” one of law and order, fiscal restraint, and no Covid mandates. Freedom, a word he didn’t use once in his 2019 address, was the key theme of the speech. He also never mentioned the word “woke” four years ago, but his pledge to keep Florida as the place where “woke goes to die” was his biggest applause line of the day.

DeSantis is likely to find a receptive audience if he takes his anti-woke message nationally. An October Harvard-Harris poll found that 64 percent of Americans and 52 percent of Democrats blamed “woke politicians” for the recent increase in violent crime, while 77 percent of Americans said it was very or somewhat important to “stop the teaching of woke ideologies in schools.”

In his speech, DeSantis spoke of our federalist constitutional system as a “laboratory of democracy” where states can test governing philosophies, arguing that his have worked. The proof, he said, was in what he called the “mass exodus of productive Americans” from blue states, just as he warned four years ago. The demographic trend is undeniable and, as a resident of Florida, I would love to see our state be a model for governance. But selling Florida as a model of freedom or anything else will require a serious de-programming effort akin to the sort of re-education program South Koreans will have to do in the North when the Kim dynasty falls.

Media figures, celebrities, and other woke types view Florida as a dystopian nightmare. A growing number of Americans distrust the media, but influencers are sadly still, well, influential. The only way to break through to independents and wavering Democrats is to have them visit our state and see things for themselves.

DeSantis often speaks of the importance of the travel industry to Florida’s economy. As James Meigs put it recently in City Journal, DeSantis is no “progressive climate warrior,” but he is a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist who has “devoted considerable resources — and spent political capital — pursuing innovative environmental stewardship.” Many who have moved to Florida in recent years did so after visiting on a trip and liking what they saw. I’ve long been a believer in education through travel. A place you’ve never been to before is one you’re certain not to understand.

In DeSantis’s first term, he shipped migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. In his second term — assuming he runs for president — his campaign should spend part of their budget on free or subsidized trips to Florida to help de-program brainwashed Americans. Some of the blue-state visitors we entertained at my home in St. Pete during the early phases of the pandemic expected to find dead bodies piling up in the streets and were delighted to discover that this wasn’t the case.

Americans who believe the media narrative that Florida is a place of book banning will be delighted to find whatever books they desire in our bookshops. Those who think our GOP-led state is one of environmental degradation will be surprised how pristine our beaches and state parks are. Hapless media consumers from other states should also visit cities like mine — where buses are rainbow-covered and the Pride parade is by far the biggest party of the year — so they can see that the media narrative about Florida being hostile to gays is ludicrous.

The city of Tampa recently gave free trips to around 100 residents of Tampa, Kansas, in order to promote tourism, and a nonprofit called Birthright Israel offers young people of Jewish heritage free trips to Israel to help them connect to their Jewish identity. Perhaps Governor DeSantis ought to bring impressionable young people from around the country here to let them see how the place where woke goes to die is indeed a haven of sanity in a world gone mad.