DeSantis finally punches back

Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at an event Friday, March 10, 2023, in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Ron Johnson) Ron Johnson/AP

DeSantis finally punches back

For months now, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has ignored the steady stream of lies and attacks sent his way by the loser of the 2020 presidential election, former President Donald Trump.

“I spend my time delivering results for the people of Florida and fighting against Joe Biden,” DeSantis told reporters when asked to respond to a particularly vile social media slander from Trump. “I don’t spend my time trying to smear other Republicans.”

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Smearing other Republicans seems to be all Trump does these days, at least when he is not fending off criminal and civil legal actions or hawking digital cards for his own personal enrichment.

But DeSantis’s calculus seems to have changed, as it probably needed to do. This past Monday, after a full weekend of calls from Trump acolytes demanding the Florida governor denounce a possible indictment of Trump by a Manhattan district attorney, DeSantis returned fire.

Asked by reporters at a press conference on digital currencies what he thought of rumors of an indictment, DeSantis first rightly attacked New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who has received almost $1 million from George Soros-backed groups, for being soft on crime. But then he added, “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 can’t speak to that.”

Whether you want to believe Trump’s assertion that he did not have intimate relations with Stephanie Clifford or not, it is universally acknowledged that she has performed in pornographic films under the name Stormy Daniels and that Trump personally paid her $130,000 to sign a nondisclosure agreement. This was the first time DeSantis publicly acknowledged what cannot be seen other than as an embarrassment for Trump.

DeSantis didn’t stop there, either. Later that same day, he sat for an interview with Fox Nation’s Piers Morgan and expanded his critique of Trump’s record and character.

First, he renewed his attack on Trump’s personal shortcomings, asserting that voters want their president to be like the Founding Fathers. “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?” DeSantis then invoked George Washington, who “always put the Republic over his own personal interest.”

Next, DeSantis attacked Trump’s handling of COVID, claiming, “I would have fired somebody like [Dr. Anthony] Fauci. I think he got way too big for his britches, and I think he did a lot of damage.” As the architect of both the nationwide COVID lockdowns and the chief enforcer of shutting down all investigation into the origins of the COVID virus, Fauci was enabled by Trump’s passivity. This will be a major liability for Trump in the presidential primary campaign.

DeSantis also took aim at Trump’s competence, contrasting his own Florida record with the former president’s time in the White House. “So the way we run the government is no daily drama, focus on the big picture, and put points on the board,” DeSantis said. In other words, a DeSantis administration would be staffed by competent professionals who are there to implement conservative policy, not drama queens.

DeSantis still has not declared that he is running for president. Waiting until the Florida legislative session ends in May fits his repeated narrative about focusing on serious work. He owes that much to the people of Florida who just reelected him by 20 points.

But DeSantis also can’t ignore Trump’s nonstop attacks either, and he seems to have realized this and adjusted accordingly. It does appear the attacks have helped Trump’s poll numbers. With DeSantis now actively engaging with Trump’s assaults, we have entered into a new phase of the Republican 2024 presidential primary. The battle is finally joined.

Republican primary voters will, we hope, choose a candidate who has not already lost to President Joe Biden.

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