BOCA RATON — Housing and Urban Development Secretary and Palm Beach Gardens resident Ben Carson got the top billing at the Palm Beach County GOP’s annual Lobsterfest on Thursday night, but there was also plenty of buzz for Ron DeSantis — the gubernatorial candidate backed by President Donald Trump — and for longtime Trump friend Roger Stone.
Both DeSantis and his rival in the Aug. 28 Republican primary, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, were scheduled to attend the 450-attendee dinner at the Polo Club. But Putnam got tied up at a previously scheduled meeting in Miami and couldn’t get to the Palm Beach County event on time, Putnam spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said.
So DeSantis, accompanied by wife Casey and 4-month-old son Mason, had the crowd of party activists and donors to himself.
While a line formed to get pictures with DeSantis, Carson and U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, in a VIP reception area, Stone arrived in a seersucker suit and generated his own crowd in the lobby.
Longtime Trump friend Stone’s name has frequently been mentioned in special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation of potential collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
“I know that there is no evidence of Russian collusion, Wikileaks collaboration or anything pertaining to John Podesta’s devastatingly incriminating emails and me,” Stone said. “It’s not inconceivable that the special counsel could conjure up some other bogus offense in an attempt to get me to testify against the president, who I’ve known for 40 years. I’m not going to do that.”
After being interrupted by several people asking to get pictures with him, Stone added: “I wouldn’t rule out cooperating with him on some other basis if I can be helpful, but I will never testify against the president.”
Stone said there’s nothing for him to testify against Trump about “that I know of, but they may think otherwise.”
DeSantis has rocketed to the top of GOP polls since Trump tweeted his “full endorsement” in late June. The president also flew to Tampa last week to appear with DeSantis at a rally.
Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee member Steven Ledewitz of Boynton Beach, a Putnam supporter, said he’s seen a decided swing among local Republicans to DeSantis since Trump’s endorsement.
“It’s certainly helped Congressman DeSantis quite a bit,” said Ledewitz. “And he (Trump) is technically the leader of the party, so he’s got a right to do that. I wish he hadn’t, but he did.”
DeSantis said Trump’s June 22 endorsement helped his campaign, but he also pointed to a Fox News debate a week later and other factors.
“It’s a positive impact, but he had tweeted for me in December and then did another tweet, but ultimately you’ve got to bring it home,” DeSantis said. “We had a debate in late June, I finally started spending money after getting $12 million dumped on me. I think it was a combination of the tweet, the debate and then the fact that we started being on TV.”
DeSantis crowed about his polling numbers in the race for the Republican nomination.
“I am kicking his keister in South Florida…I will win Palm Beach, Broward and Dade with significant margins” in the GOP primary, DeSantis said.
Carson, who told the partisan crowd he was appearing “as a private citizen with concerns about what’s going on in our country,” discussed the vehement opposition to Trump on the left.
“I don’t think it’s President Trump himself that the left is concerned about, it’s what he represents that they’re concerned about. He represents America. He represents the true values of the things that made us into a great nation and that’s what they don’t like,” Carson said.
“Why is there a Trump derangement syndrome going on? Why are there so many people that are just mad, irrationally mad?” Carson said. “Actually, it’s kind of logical if you stop and think about it. They have been attempting to fundamentally change America for decades. Now when I say ‘they,’ I’m talking about the Fabians, the socialists, the communists, the liberals – now they call themselves progressives. As soon as you figure out who they are they change their name, but they’re the same people. And they don’t like what this country represents. And they want to change it to their ideal, which is a government that takes care of you from cradle to grave, takes care of all your problems, but you give them all the power and they are the all-knowing. The problem is that system, wherever it has been tried, has failed.”