• Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023


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DeSantis, Doubling Down, Presses Questions About Trump’s Character

In an interview with Piers Morgan, the Florida governor sought to strike a clear contrast with Donald Trump, calling himself a low-drama “winner.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, the closest prospective rival to Donald J. Trump in early polls of the 2024 Republican presidential primary, pressed forward with questions about the former president’s character and pointed to himself as a low-drama “winner” in an interview this week with the British media personality Piers Morgan.

The interview, which Mr. Morgan wrote about Tuesday for The New York Post, was striking in terms of how expansive Mr. DeSantis was and of his choice of interviewer: Mr. Morgan, like Mr. DeSantis, has been a target of Mr. Trump’s ire.

The interview took place at some point after an event Mr. DeSantis held on Monday in Panama City, Fla., where he criticized the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, who is expected to indict Mr. Trump on charges related to hush-money payments to a porn star who said she had an affair with him. After that event, Mr. DeSantis also highlighted Mr. Trump’s personal conduct.

In the interview with Mr. Morgan, Mr. DeSantis took clear aim at Mr. Trump’s often-criticized penchant for chaos and for hiring people who were at odds with his professed policy interests and who often leaked information to the news media.

“I also think just in terms of my approach to leadership, I get personnel in the government who have the agenda of the people and share our agenda,” Mr. DeSantis said. “You bring your own agenda in, you’re gone. We’re just not going to have that. 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.”

When Mr. Morgan asked Mr. DeSantis “if he meant to be as censorious as he sounded” in his comments on Monday mentioning Mr. Trump’s personal conduct, the governor replied: “Well, there’s a lot of speculation about what the underlying conduct is. That is purported to be it, and the reality is that’s just outside my wheelhouse.”

Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump, slammed Mr. DeSantis for the interview.

“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.”

Taylor Budowich, a top official at the super PAC supporting Mr. Trump and a former spokesman for the president, wrote, “While the entire conservative movement is united against the unjust indictment of President Donald Trump, DeSantis is choosing to go off half-cocked and take shots on some low-rent vlog.”

Mr. DeSantis, who has shied away from the mainstream news media, sounded a bullish note about running for president. He is expected to formally announce his candidacy in the coming months.

“If I were to run, I’m running against Biden,” Mr. DeSantis said. He added that he would keep his focus on “Biden because I think he’s failed the country. I think the country wants a change. I think they want a fresh start and a new direction, and so we’ll be very vocal about that.”

How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

Asked if he could beat President Biden, he said, “I think so.”

Mr. Morgan wrote in The Post that when he asked a question about the conduct of leaders, Mr. DeSantis responded, “You really want to look to people like our founding fathers, like what type of character? 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?”

He pointed to George Washington — who “always put the Republic over his own personal interest” — as an example.

At another point, he described “truth” as “essential,” a notable comment in a discussion about Mr. Trump, who is known for telling falsehoods and whose lies about the 2020 election have dominated political life in the country for two years.

Mr. DeSantis, who has faced attacks from Mr. Trump over Covid restrictions in Florida at the beginning of the pandemic, sought to turn the tables.

“The approach to Covid was different,” Mr. DeSantis said. “I would have fired somebody like Fauci. I think he got way too big for his breeches, and I think he did a lot of damage.”

In reality, Mr. Trump did not have direct control over Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the infectious-disease expert whom Republicans turned into a villain as the pandemic continued.

Mr. DeSantis, who graduated from Yale University, claimed not to “know how to spell” one of Mr. Trump’s nicknames for him, Ron DeSanctimonious.

“I don’t really know what it means, but I kind of like it,” Mr. DeSantis said. “It’s long, it’s got a lot of vowels. We’ll go with that, that’s fine. I mean, you can call me whatever you want, just as long as you also call me a winner, because that’s what we’ve been able to do in Florida, is put a lot of points on the board and really take this state to the next level.”

Mr. DeSantis’s aggression this week has surprised Republican operatives and Trump allies. His comments to Mr. Morgan came a day after Mr. Trump made a statement on his social media site, Truth Social, insinuating that Mr. DeSantis might be gay — a response to Mr. DeSantis’s comments about “hush money” and “porn stars.” (Mr. Trump has denied having an affair with Stormy Daniels, the porn star in the New York case.)

“Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are ‘underage’ (or possibly a man!),” Mr. Trump wrote on Monday. “I’m sure he will want to fight these misfits just like I do!”