DeSantis further questions Trump’s electability

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered blunt criticism of fellow Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in a new television interview, amping up his attacks on the former president’s electability as he faces four criminal indictments.

“CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell asked DeSantis in the interview, which aired Wednesday night, whether voters will elect someone who is facing 91 criminal counts.

“I didn’t think even before all this that the … former president should have run again,” DeSantis replied. “I think that there’s just … too many voters who, he’s a dealbreaker for them.”

DeSantis — who was among the group of candidates who said during the first Republican presidential debate last month that they would support Trump as the party’s nominee even if he were convicted — told O’Donnell that a convicted nominee has little chance, if any, of getting elected to the nation’s highest office.

“I think the chance of getting elected president after being convicted of a felony is as close to zero as you can get,” he said.

Responding to DeSantis in a statement on Wednesday night, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said that “DeSantis knows he has no shot of ever becoming the nominee.” Cheung also referenced a Washington Post report that a Republican election lawyer with ties to DeSantis and two other of Trump’s primary opponents are among those exploring whether Trump can be kept off the ballot for his role in fomenting the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

During the CBS interview, DeSantis also told O’Donnell that Trump broke a promise by adding trillions to the national debt.

“Republicans talk big when they’re out of power, but when they get in they don’t put their money where their mouth is,” DeSantis said. “Trump added almost $8 trillion to the debt in four years. He ran saying he was going to eliminate the national debt, maybe over an eight-year period, but he did make that promise. And they did the opposite.”

The comments, similar to earlier criticisms from DeSantis in August, are part of a broader set of rhetorical jabs the governor has recently lodged against his former political ally on the campaign trail. DeSantis and the others running for the Republican nomination trail the former president in the polls, leaving the candidates looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their party’s front-runner.

In some ways, DeSantis’s tepid critiques have evolved over time on the campaign trail.

At a town hall in New Hampshire in June, DeSantis ducked a question on whether Trump “violated the peaceful transfer of power,” even as he showed a new willingness to criticize the former president on other fronts.

Many Republican presidential candidates have tiptoed around the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. But DeSantis stands out for how carefully he has avoided placing direct blame on the former president, even as he has gone after him on other matters. He has responded to questions about the Jan. 6 insurrection by calling it everything from “unacceptable” on the day of the attack to, later, “a dead horse” and simply a media obsession.

In July, DeSantis shifted course and knocked Trump for his behavior on Jan. 6 — but he did not endorse a criminal investigation or charges against Trump and reiterated now-common Republican allegations that the Justice Department is politically biased. That month, he also suggested that, if elected, he would pardon Trump on any federal charges. In August, he said Trump clearly lost the 2020 election. He also called Trump’s often crude and personal insults as “phony” and “juvenile.”

“That is not the way a great nation should be conducting itself. That is not the way a president of the United States should be conducting himself,” the governor said in August. “I wouldn’t teach my kids to treat people like that.”

The two have also sparred over their respective pandemic responses in recent months.

Last week, DeSantis said during an interview on a conservative talk show that the former president “hurts himself” by criticizing Florida’s response to the pandemic. He said he believes Trump is only attacking him “because he believes that I’m a threat to his ambitions.”

Amy B Wang and Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.

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