In a recent interview, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis broke from the majority of Republican voters by stating that Donald J. Trump lost the 2020 election. This departure from the prevailing orthodoxy comes as DeSantis’s Republican presidential nomination rivals attempt to find new lines of attack against the former president, who is currently facing legal troubles.
DeSantis acknowledged the unsubstantiated nature of Trump’s false claims about a rigged election last Friday, after years of avoiding direct answers on the subject. During the 2022 midterm elections, DeSantis even campaigned for Republican candidates who vehemently denied the 2020 election results.
Now, DeSantis’s more aggressive stance indicates that his Republican competitors are trying to capitalize on Trump’s legal problems. However, their attempts to expose weaknesses in Trump’s position and acknowledge reality have not resonated with Republican voters. According to a recent CNN poll, approximately 70% of Republican voters still believe that President Biden’s victory was not legitimate, despite widespread evidence to the contrary.
DeSantis’s stance may put him at odds with the Republican base, but it may also help him assuage the concerns of big-money donors. One prominent donor, Robert Bigelow, stated that he would withhold further contributions unless DeSantis adopted a more moderate approach. The governor’s campaign is currently experiencing a fundraising shortfall and has recently laid off a significant portion of its staff.
In recent weeks, as part of a campaign “reboot,” DeSantis has granted more interviews to mainstream news outlets, breaking from his previous pattern of exclusively speaking with hosts from Fox News and conservative pundits. He has taken the opportunity to critique Trump’s age, his failure to fulfill promises of “draining the swamp,” and what he perceives as a “culture of losing” within the Republican Party under Trump’s leadership.
Despite his criticism, DeSantis has also defended Trump against the criminal charges the former president is facing, characterizing them as the politicization of the federal government against a political rival of President Biden. Overall, DeSantis’s comments suggest that he is slowly moving toward more direct confrontation with Trump, rather than making an immediate break.
During the NBC interview, DeSantis emphasized the need for Republicans to shift their focus beyond the indictments against Trump and towards challenging President Biden. He also stood by Florida’s new standards for teaching about slavery in schools and provided an explanation for his campaign promise to shoot migrants suspected of smuggling drugs across the southern border. Although he did not offer specific details on how law enforcement would identify these individuals, he suggested that the decision-making process would be similar to that of police officers or individuals operating in war zones.
In conclusion, Governor DeSantis’s departure from the Republican orthodoxy on the 2020 election outcome showcases the growing divisions within the party. While some of his rivals have openly spoken out against Trump, their arguments have not gained traction with Republican voters. DeSantis’s more forceful response on the election question may help him address concerns of big-money donors but also puts him at odds with the party’s base. As he continues to reboot his campaign and grant interviews to mainstream media outlets, DeSantis is inching closer to direct confrontation with Trump while still defending him on some issues.