Florida Governor Ron DeSantis studiously avoided even mentioning Donald Trump’s name for months, instead making veiled references to the “culture of losing” in the Republican party.
The veil is off.
In the days following his announcement that he would challenge Trump for the Republican nomination for president, DeSantis has accused him of “running to the left.”
He’s drawing contrasts with the former president on a range of issues including abortion, immigration and the economy.
And — in a move DeSantis portrayed as the ultimate betrayal of conservative values — he says Trump was “siding with Disney” in the governor’s feud with the massive corporation and cultural touchstone that’s also one of the state’s largest taxpayers and employers.
“I don’t know what happened to Donald Trump,” he told WWTN radio in Nashville. “This is a different guy today than when he was running in 2015 and 2016. And I think, I think the direction that he’s going with his campaign is the wrong direction.”
It was one of more than a dozen interviews with friendly media outlets since filing paperwork to run for president Wednesday. The first, with Twitter Inc. owner Elon Musk, was overshadowed by technical glitches that marred DeSantis’s long-awaited entry into the race.
But his newfound willingness to take on Trump directly is clarifying the contours of the Republican nomination fight. With DeSantis largely holding his tongue, his challenge to Trump was largely a debate over personalities and temperament.
Now, with DeSantis formally in the race and trailing Trump by 33 points, the governor is staking out harder-line positions on policy issues.
On spending, DeSantis said Trump shares responsibility for the nation’s $31 trillion in debt. “He added almost $8 trillion in debt in just four years as president,” he said. “I was right on those issues and he wasn’t.”
On abortion, DeSantis defended Florida’s newly enacted six-week abortion ban against Trump criticism that it was “too harsh” and that DeSantis didn’t know what he was doing.
“He’s running to the left,” DeSantis said. But he also stopped short of endorsing the national abortion ban favored by other Republican candidates. “I think at the end of the day, we’re going to save more lives with a bottom-up approach,” he told conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch.
On immigration, DeSantis accused Trump of supporting amnesty for undocumented immigrants as part of a 2018 immigration bill. “To hit me for taking the America First position I think is pretty strange,” DeSantis said.
The Trump campaign responded that as a congressman, DeSantis voted for a bill that gave legal status to some undocumented minors as part of a package of tougher immigration restrictions, before opposing a similar plan.
On crime, DeSantis criticized the First Step Act, Trump’s signature criminal justice bill, telling conservative podcaster Ben Shapiro Friday that it was “basically a jailbreak bill.” DeSantis voted for an early version of the bill but resigned from Congress before the final bill passed the House.
And DeSantis repeatedly expressed bewilderment over Trump’s criticism of his handling of the Walt Disney Co. DeSantis has moved to strip the company of its self-governing status over Disney’s objections to legislation prohibiting teaching on subjects of race and sexual identity. Disney canceled plans this month to move 2,000 employees to the state.
“What a mess it is,” Trump said Thursday. “He could have worked out an easy settlement, but no — he wanted to show the fake news how tough a guy he is. He’s not.”
DeSantis clapped back.
“He’s going left on culture. He’s even sided with Disney against me,” the Florida governor told WWTN. “He is siding with Disney and saying that I was wrong for standing up with them. So, you know, people have to make their decisions about which way they go.”
But at other times, DeSantis hewed closely to the Trump line. Asked about Trump’s insistence in a CNN interview that he could resolve Russia’s war against Ukraine “in one day, 24 hours,” DeSantis backed the former president.
“I don’t know that he can get it done in 24 hours. I mean, he’s prone to rhetorical flourishes,” he told Newsmax. “But I do think his instinct of trying to get a settlement rather than have this thing become a war of attrition — or heaven forbid, escalate, with Russia having the largest nuclear arsenal in the world — I do think that’s the right instinct.”