DeSantis allies scramble to clarify after he criticizes ‘listless vessels’ for Trump

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and his presidential campaign over the weekend attempted to clarify comments he made to a reporter when he said that Republicans cannot be “listless vessels.”

DeSantis made the comments in an interview published Friday by the Florida Standard, an online politics outlet that describes itself as center-right.

“The movement has got to be about what are you trying to achieve on behalf of the American people,” he said in the interview. “And that’s got to be based in principle. Because if you’re not rooted in principle, if all we are is listless vessels that are just supposed to follow whatever happens to come down the pike on Truth Social every morning, that’s not going to be a durable movement.”

Over the weekend, Trump supporters seized on the words and compared them to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 critique of half of Trump supporters, when she said during a fundraising speech that they could be put in a “basket of deplorables.”

“To Hillary Clinton, Trump supporters are ‘deplorables,’” Karoline Leavitt, spokeswoman for Trump-aligned PAC Make America Great Again Inc., said in a statement. “To Ron DeSantis, they are ‘listless vessels.’ The truth is, Trump supporters are patriots.”

During the interview on Friday, DeSantis described the split in support for him and Trump within the party, criticizing “huge Trump supporters, like in Congress, who have incredibly liberal left-wing records” without being specific about whom he was referring to.

“Then you have other people, you know, like a Congressman Chip Roy, who has endorsed me, Congressman Thomas Massie,” he said. “These guys have records of principle fighting the swamp that are second to none. And yet, they will be attacked by some of these people and called RINOs.”

Ultimately, he added, “a movement can’t be about the personality of one individual.”

The DeSantis campaign said that the governor was speaking about Trump and some of his congressional allies, not his followers. It also accused the media of refusing to “report the facts surrounding” his comments.

“Donald Trump and some congressional endorsers are ‘listless vessels.’ Why? Because Trump and D.C. insiders feel he is entitled to your vote,” DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin said in a statement. “Ron DeSantis believes your trust should be earned and has the vision, plan, and record to beat Joe Biden and reverse the decline of our country. That’s why Ron DeSantis will be showing up on Wednesday night to debate, and Donald Trump will not.”

Ken Cuccinelli, a former Trump administration official who founded a super PAC backing DeSantis, said on CNN on Sunday that the governor was “talking about some of the folks in D.C. who’ve endorsed Trump.”

“He’s talking about the more general environment and referring to all of us collectively,” he said. “We can’t just sit back and take all of this and be listless vessels. We have to move ahead with a different vision that was not Trump-assigned.”

But those in Trump’s orbit continued to hammer away at DeSantis. Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, posted on Twitter, now known as X, that DeSantis “just had his ‘Basket of Deplorables’ moment. Not good!”

The Florida governor’s campaign has been struggling in recent weeks to regain footing by replacing his campaign manager, and to recover from bad press and contend with leaked memos, such as a report in The Washington Post that described how he seemed to create a special pathway of access for wealthy donors.

The latest issue also comes as a new CBS News poll published Sunday found that DeSantis continues falling behind Trump in the GOP nominating contest. Trump is polling at 62 percent, while DeSantis comes in at 16 percent. All other Republicans in the race are polling in the single digits.

The poll also found that 9 in 10 Republican voters want the candidates to focus on making a case for themselves rather than on making a case against Trump. Notably, the poll also found that, among Trump voters, 71 percent believe that what he says to them is true — 63 percent say the same thing about their friends and family.

On Sunday morning, the Trump team made use of those figures.

“President Trump is always right,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung posted on X alongside a screenshot of the poll.

Hannah Knowles and Lori Rozsa contributed to this report.

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