"Hold the line, stand your ground, and never ever back down," Governor Ron DeSantis told CPAC attendees who had flocked to the state for the annual conservative conference.
The crowd had much appreciation for the one governor in the nation that has staked his reputation on his decision to eschew lockdowns, to keep his constituents employed, in school, and businesses operational.
After welcoming out-of-towners to the state, saying "we are an oasis of freedom." He lauded his state for keeping Florida's businesses and schools open, saying while other governors locked people down, "we lifted people up."
"Every Floridian has a right to earn a living," he said and cited the statistics on COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. "Florida got it right and the lockdown states got it wrong."
DeSantis' primary message was that there's no going back to the old ways for the GOP. "We cannot, we will not, go back to the days of the failed Republican establishment of yesteryear," he said.
He lauded Rush Limbaugh, who died this month after a fight with lung cancer, saying "Rush showed that fighting the left requires strength. And that conservatism devoid of backbone is doomed to fail. So at this moment in our history, and I think Rush showed us this, particularly now: Standing for the right things comes at a cost."
"You will be attacked, you will be smeared," DeSantis said, "and you will even be cancelled by the major organs of the political left. Now anyone can spout conservative rhetoric, we can sit around and have academic debate about conservative policy, and I'm not saying you don't do any of that. But the question is, when the Klieg lights get hot, when the left comes after you, will you stay strong, or will you fold?"
CPAC was held in Florida this year after the American Conservative Union was unable to hold the event in Washington, DC, which is the usual site of the conference. While Florida is open, with restaurants, bars, and amusement parks, masking is still enforced in the conference center.