After months of veiled jabs and dodged questions, DeSantis’s case against Trump — the polling leader for the GOP nomination — is coming into clearer view. DeSantis has told supporters he expects to ramp up his jabs at Trump but meet the former president’s relentless and often personal attacks with more select rebuttals focused on policy — rather than “get in the gutter” with Trump, as one donor put it while recounting a conversation with DeSantis.
In an interview with conservative host Glenn Beck, DeSantis briefly praised Trump’s handling of the economy Thursday, before saying Trump undid much of that work by listening to the White House’s top medical adviser Anthony S. Fauci — who also served as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — at the start of the pandemic.
“He did great for three years, but when he turned the country over to Fauci in March of 2020, that destroyed millions of people’s lives,” DeSantis said.
On Thursday, DeSantis criticized Trump for growing the deficit, seeking to raise the retirement age for Social Security and opposing Florida’s new ban on abortions after six weeks.
Trump “is going left on a lot of the fiscal, he’s going left on culture,” DeSantis said during an appearance on “The Matt Murphy Show” on WTN. “I don’t know what happened to Donald Trump,” DeSantis said.
“This,” he added, “is a different guy today than when he was running in 2015 and 2016, and I think the direction that he’s going with his campaign is the wrong direction.”
The deepening radicalization of Trump
DeSantis’s comments are the most direct criticisms about Trump, his one-time ally. But the Florida governor is still tiptoeing around his core argument that Trump can’t win the general election — a point he’s made more explicit in private pitches to donors while arguing that unlike Trump, he can win the swing states that will decide the election.
A representative for Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Trump played a pivotal role in DeSantis’s rapid political climb.
DeSantis entered Congress in 2013, and helped found the hard-line conservative group the Freedom Caucus, which animated much of the anti-establishment fervor that would later propel Trump to the Oval Office.
When Trump became president, DeSantis — who was still in Congress at the time — regularly appeared on television to defend him. Then, in 2018, DeSantis found himself mired in a crowded Republican primary for governor and courted Trump’s support.
Analysis: Trump vs. DeSantis is about to get weird
Trump endorsed DeSantis, who went on to win the primary and general election. The relationship seemed to cool, however, during the pandemic, and as Trump-backed candidates faltered in the 2020 elections.
Since hinting at a presidential run, DeSantis has largely left it to his surrogates, including the Super PACs supporting his candidacy, to explicitly spell out Trump’s shortcomings.
DeSantis himself had mostly avoided direct engagement with the former president. When DeSantis made his presidential run official Wednesday evening in lengthy appearances on Twitter Spaces and later on Fox News, he did not directly attack Trump’s record or even mention his name.
That changed on Thursday, when DeSantis began to sharpen his attack on the Republican front-runner.
When a radio host in New Hampshire asked DeSantis how he will beat Trump, DeSantis said, “Well, I think a lot of what he’s doing is showing everybody that he understands that I’ve got a good chance to beat him because he doesn’t criticize anybody else.”
“And he added almost $8 trillion in debt in just four years as president,” DeSantis told Jack Heath of “Good Morning New Hampshire.”
“So I think the attacks that he’s doing honestly show that I was right on those issues and he wasn’t.”
DeSantis says, if elected president, he’d consider pardons for Jan. 6 offenders
On “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show,” a host asked DeSantis if he would consider giving pardons to people convicted of crimes linked to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. DeSantis said he would be “aggressive in issuing pardons” to people treated unfairly. When asked if that could include “a grandma who got arrested and prosecuted” as well as “all the way up to, potentially, Trump himself,” DeSantis indicated he would, though he did not name the former president.
“I would say any example of disfavored treatment based on politics or weaponization would be included in that review,” DeSantis told the hosts, “no matter how small or how big.”
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