‘We’re Not Schoolchildren’: DeSantis Scores Applause Line During Debate

With his political fortunes declining in recent weeks, many pundits suggested that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would need a particularly strong performance in Wednesday’s GOP presidential primary debate in order to reverse his sagging poll numbers.

Alex Conant, a Republican operative who worked on Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, advised that DeSantis needed to “prove that he’s better than his campaign” and “convince the voters open to moving on from Trump that he’s their guy.”

Most post-debate analysis suggests that, while he generally avoided inflicting any more damage on his struggling campaign, he did not emerge as the clear winner.

Nevertheless, there were some key moments that earned some enthusiastic support from the crowd.

One such response came early on in the debate after Fox News Channel moderator Martha MacCallum instructed the eight candidates on stage to raise a hand if they believe in human-caused climate change.

“Look, we’re not schoolchildren,” DeSantis shot back. “Let’s have the debate. I’m happy to start.”

He added that he did not believe conducting a debate with such visual stunts is “the way to do it.”

At another point in the debate, however, candidates were once again asked to raise their hands — this time to indicate whether they would support former President Donald Trump if he is the party’s nominee and has been convicted of a crime.

DeSantis played along, ultimately raising his hand after looking around to gauge the response of his rivals.

The Florida governor also attracted some cheers for his response to “Bidenomics” and the current administration’s heavy-handed approach to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Why are we in this mess?” he asked. “Part of it, and a major reason, is because of how this federal government handled COVID-19 by locking down this economy. It was a mistake. It should have never happened.”

Some analysts, however, believe the biggest red flag for the DeSantis campaign is not what happened on stage but what did not happen.

“It speaks volumes that just months after being the co-front-runner of this race, Ron DeSantis has fallen so far that none of his seven opponents onstage felt the need to attack him but instead went after a first-time upstart,” said Republican strategist Matt Mowers in reference to the multiple attacks on Vivek Ramaswamy during the debate.