Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis will be in Utah on Friday as he tries to rev up his campaign. His visit comes on the heels of an interview on CNN on Tuesday where he said he wants to take the “woke” out of the military.

Utah state Sen. Todd Weiler, who has endorsed the Florida governor, confirmed to the Deseret News that DeSantis would visit the state Capitol on Friday afternoon, where he will hold a press conference. Weiler said he believes DeSantis also has several private events planned during his visit.

“I think (Donald) Trump’s always struggled a little bit in Utah,” Weiler said. “And a lot of people I’m talking to, including people that were big Trump supporters in 2016 and 2020, seem to be inclined to go in another direction.”

When asked why he was supporting DeSantis, Weiler said he was looking for a candidate who shares his values and “someone who has a chance of winning.” 

“DeSantis, I think, is the only Republican other than Trump right now who has a chance of winning. And my biggest fear is if we nominate Trump again as a party, that he’ll lose again, and so I would rather try something different.”

But while he’s held on in second place, DeSantis has fallen further behind the former president in the national polls, even as Trump faces a possible third slate of federal charges, this time related to his actions after the 2020 election.

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DeSantis was asked about news of possible new charges against Trump in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN on Tuesday, and while DeSantis said he doesn’t think Trump should be charged, he also said it was time to “look forward.”

“This country is going down the road of criminalizing political differences, and I think that’s wrong,” he told Tapper, adding he believes the FBI and the Department of Justice have been “weaponized against people they don’t like.”

But, he was quick to say, even as he hopes Trump won’t be charged, he doesn’t want Republicans to have to focus on the 2020 election in 2024.

“If I’m the nominee, we’ll be able to focus on President (Joe) Biden’s failures and I’ll be able to articulate a positive vision for the future,” he said. “I don’t think it serves us good to have a presidential election focused on what happened four years ago.”

While in South Carolina on Tuesday to file paperwork to be on the ballot in the early primary state, DeSantis also released his military policy, called “mission first,” based on his belief that the military needs to return to its primary mission.

In his interview with Tapper, he said he plans to “rip the woke” from the U.S. military and refocus defense efforts on “lethality,” while also pointing out he’s the only veteran running for president this year.

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DeSantis, who served in the Navy from 2004 to 2019, including assignments in Guantanamo and Iraq, said “woke” policies are “changing the character of the military.”

“It’s changing the culture of our services, and it’s creating a situation in which great warriors have been driven away. And recruiting is at an all-time low.”

His plan includes removing diversity, equity and inclusion offices from the Pentagon, prohibiting transgender Americans who have transitioned from serving in the military, and expanding the military’s recruitment efforts among young people.

On foreign policy, DeSantis said he’d like to pivot from focusing on Europe to focusing America’s efforts in the Asia-Pacific region, and he’d like European countries to do more to ensure security there.

On Ukraine, he said the U.S. should not “reward aggression,” but said he would like to bring a “sustainable and enduring peace” to the region by putting pressure on Russia over its energy exports and its relationship with Iran.

Tapper also asked DeSantis about his willingness to sign federal legislation on abortion, after he signed a bill in Florida that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

DeSantis said he is pro-life and would be a pro-life president.

“I think the danger from Congress is if we lose the election, they’re going to try to nationalize abortion up until the moment of birth,” he said.

He also said he’d reverse a Pentagon policy that pays for service members to travel to receive abortions.

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Responding to questions about his inability to climb in the polls, DeSantis pushed back on the “narrative” that he is losing.

“I would also just note Jake, there is a narrative ... they’ve been saying that I’ve been doing poorly for my whole time as governor, basically,” he said. “During COVID, oh, you know, he has the state open, he’s going to lose. Then he fought Disney, he’s going to lose. They always want to get there and it never quite works out.”

He said he’s focused on building out his campaign in early primary states like New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina.

Contributing: Katie McKellar

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