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DeSantis sharpens criticism of Trump, attacks former president’s character

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during an event in Des Moines on March 10. (Bloomberg News)
5 min

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) leveled his sharpest criticism yet at former president Donald Trump, rebuking the leadership style of his possible rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination and styling himself as a “winner.”

When DeSantis was asked by television host Piers Morgan in a recent interview how he is different from Trump, the governor assailed the former president’s character and his chaotic four years in office. The overt criticism came after months of tacit swipes at Trump.

“At the end of the day, as a leader, you really want to look to people like our Founding Fathers,” DeSantis said. “It’s not saying that you don’t ever make a mistake in your personal life, but I think, what type of character are you bringing? … I think the person is more about how you handle your public duties and the kind of character you bring to that endeavor.”

DeSantis cited George Washington, who “always put the Republic over his own personal interest.”

The governor said he took an alternative approach to managing the coronavirus pandemic and “would have fired” Anthony Fauci, who, as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was the top adviser to Trump on covid-19.

“Well, I think there’s a few things. The approach to covid was different. I would have fired somebody like Fauci. I think he got way too big for his britches, and I think he did a lot of damage,” DeSantis said, doubling down on his oft-repeated criticism of the country’s preeminent infectious-disease expert, who led the Trump and Biden administrations’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.

DeSantis also sought to portray himself as a more disciplined executive than Trump, whose term in the White House was marked by frequent changes of key personnel. “I get personnel in the government who have the agenda of the people and share our agenda. You bring your own agenda in, you’re gone. … So, the way we run the government, I think, is no daily drama, focus on the big picture and put points on the board, and I think that’s something that’s very important,” DeSantis said.

The interview will air Thursday on Fox Nation’s “Piers Morgan Uncensored,” but Morgan shared some highlights in a column for the New York Post.

While DeSantis is not a declared candidate for 2024, he has privately indicated that he intends to run, The Washington Post has reported. Trump and DeSantis have long shared a political alliance, although that has come under strain as the race to be the Republican flag-bearer has heated up.

The governor, like many other GOP politicians, had been wary of responding to personal attacks by the former president, who still has significant support among the Republican base. But Trump has been politically weakened by the generally poor GOP showing in last year’s midterm elections — during which DeSantis scored a landslide reelection win — and the former president’s campaign for the 2024 nomination has so far lacked significant support from the party’s top officials.

In the interview, DeSantis shrugged off Trump’s mocking nicknames for him.

Morgan asked, “What is your favorite nickname that Trump’s given you so far?” “Is it Ron DeSanctimonious or Meatball Ron?”

“I don’t know how to spell DeSanctimonious,” DeSantis answered. “I don’t really know what it means, but you know, I kind of like it. It’s long. It’s got a lot of vowels. I mean, we’d go with that. That’s fine. You know, you can call me whatever you want. I mean, just as long as you, you know, also call me a winner.”

DeSantis romped in his reelection bid in November while several Trump-backed candidates for governor and the U.S. Senate and House failed in what had been forecast as an optimal year for the GOP. During Trump’s four years in office, Republicans lost control of the House and Senate and then the White House.

What Republicans have said about a possible Trump indictment

The interview angered Trump allies, who also have been pressing his Republican rivals to back the twice-impeached president in the face of a potential indictment by a New York grand jury this week.

“While the entire conservative movement is united against the unjust indictment of President Donald Trump, Governor DeSantis is choosing to go off half-cocked and take shots on some low-rent vlog,” Taylor Budowich, who runs Trump’s main super PAC, MAGA Inc., tweeted. “DeSantis’ terrible political instincts are being reflected in all the public polls as he flames out faster than Piers Morgan’s ratings.”

Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, blasted DeSantis in a tweet.

“Ron DeSantis has finally shown his true colors,” he wrote on Twitter. “An establishment Never Trumper who despises the MAGA base and was faking it the entire time.”

DeSantis took another dig at Trump while speaking on a college campus Monday. He accused the Manhattan prosecutor’s office of being politically motivated in the pursuit of a Trump indictment, but he also cheekily referred to allegations that the personal lawyer for then-candidate Trump had paid at least two women to stay quiet about possible extramarital affairs to protect his 2016 run. Those payments are at the heart of the potential grand jury indictment.

“Look, I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair — I just, I can’t speak to that,” DeSantis said, to applause from the audience.