Hundreds of people, including some of Long Island's top Republicans, filed into the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale on Saturday evening to hear Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, likely a challenger for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, speak. Credit: Thomas Lambui

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking on Long Island Saturday night, called the indictment of former President Donald Trump “flimsy” and said the state he governs has become the “promised land for many, many people over these last three, four years.”

DeSantis, who could challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, spoke before hundreds at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale.

He criticized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for the indictment of Trump and noted that former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) had campaigned for governor on removing Bragg from office.

“They’re trying to do all these legal gymnastics to act like it’s a felony,” DeSantis said to applause. “[Bragg] is doing politics. He has an agenda. That is not the rule of law."

Trump is facing multiple charges of falsifying business records, including at least one felony offense, in the indictment handed down by a Manhattan grand jury. He will be formally arrested and arraigned Tuesday.

DeSantis is on a national book tour and trying to raise his profile before a potential presidential campaign. His team said there would be no media availability at Saturday night's "The Florida Blueprint" event, which was sponsored by a newly registered nonprofit, And To The Republic.

Crowds at the Cradle of Aviation to hear Florida Gov....

Crowds at the Cradle of Aviation to hear Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speak. Credit: Tom Lambui

He asked the crowd at one point if New York’s larger state budget was leading to better services, and the crowd in unison yelled, “No!”

“Of course people want to go to greener pastures,” he said.

He also harshly criticized the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic and praised Florida’s response, saying health officials such as Anthony Fauci, the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “got almost everything wrong.”

He said the measures against COVID — which has killed more than 1.1 million Americans, including more than 87,000 in Florida, according to the CDC — were put in place because “people want to control your behavior.”

DeSantis closed his roughly 45-minute speech by urging the Long Islanders in attendance to “hold the line in defense of freedom.”

Some of Long Island's top Republicans were on hand.

Nassau County Republican chairman Joseph Cairo welcomed the crowd, and Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman in earlier remarks spoke of the county’s success and said: “We stole a page out of his book before he wrote it.”

There was a pro-Trump presence Saturday: Someone in the crowd, as DeSantis started to speak, screamed “Trump! Trump! Trump!” And MAGA and Trump flags were flying near Charles Lindbergh Boulevard before the event.

Also beforehand, several people with anti-DeSantis views were cordoned off in a corral outside. Police were directing traffic and monitoring the groups. 

CJ Mann, 54, of East Meadow, wore a Pride hat as she stood among a dozen protesters chanting “Go home DeSantis.” She said she felt DeSantis was “going against all the things I believe in.” 

“He’s slowly taking away gay, trans rights, women's rights,” she said. “He’s taking away books from schools. … Human rights should be above all things.”

DeSantis has made eliminating what he describes as liberal ideology in education a focal point of his conservative agenda, harnessing unease among some Republicans regarding what they view as inappropriate subjects being taught in schools.

Peter Webster, 73, a native of England, said he recently became a U.S. citizen and didn’t know much about DeSantis and was eager to hear some of his policies.

“Most of the people come here supporting him; I come to find out what’s going on,” he said.

— With AP and Scott Eidler

Latest videos

Newsday LogoCritical LI Information You NeedDigital Access$1 for 5 months