DeSantis opens up about leaked debate strategy memo, vows to punch back in first GOP showdown
MANCHESTER, N.H. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’s ‘ready to do what we need to’ at Wednesday’s first Republican presidential nomination debate to deliver his message and defend himself from rival candidates.
The conservative governor also dismissed a leaked debate strategy memo from top advisors at the DeSantis-aligned super PAC, telling Fox News Digital on Saturday that ‘the memo is not mine. I haven’t read it.’
The apparent attempt by advisors at Never Back Down to float potential debate talking points to the governor grabbed plenty of headlines since the New York Times first reported on the documents a couple of days ago, and was viewed as another stumble for DeSantis world.
Among other things, the memo urged DeSantis to defend former President Donald Trump — the commanding front-runner for the GOP nomination — if, as expected, the former president comes under attack from other candidates. The document also urges DeSantis to ‘hammer’ Vivek Ramaswamy — another rival for the nomination whose standing is rising in numerous polls.
‘It’s just something we have put off to the side,’ DeSantis said in a brief Fox News Digital interview following a Never Back Down campaign event in Manchester, New Hampshire.
DeSantis is trying to change the narrative after a series of setbacks the past two months, which triggered weeks of negative stories spotlighting his campaign’s overspending, staff layoffs, change of leadership and other setbacks.
While Trump’s large lead over DeSantis has expanded this summer, the governor remains in second place in most surveys, ahead of the rest of the large field of Republican presidential contenders.
And his campaign argued earlier this week that ‘every candidate on and off the debate stage will have their knives out for Ron DeSantis’ at the first debate, a Fox News-hosted showdown in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Wednesday.
‘I know from the military, when you’re over the target, that’s when you’re taking flak. And if you look really in the last six to nine months, I’ve been more attacked than anybody else. Biden, Harris, the media, the left, other Republican candidates,’ DeSantis reiterated on Saturday. ‘And there’s a reason for that, because people know that I’m the biggest threat. So we view it as positive feedback. We’ll be ready to do what we need to do to deliver our message, but we absolutely expect that, and we’ll be ready for it.’
Asked whether his debate strategy includes punching back at rivals on the stage, DeSantis told Fox News, ‘Yes, that means defending ourselves but more importantly showing why we are the leader to get this country turned around.’
DeSantis said earlier this week in a local radio interview that retail-style politics — which have long been crucial in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that kick off the GOP nominating calendar — are a key for him to close the large gap with Trump.
On Saturday, DeSantis started his jam-packed day by marching in Londonderry, New Hampshire’s annual Old Home Day Parade, and shaking plenty of hands along the nearly one-mile route.
DeSantis also briefly met at the start of the parade with popular Republican governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire.
Sununu — a vocal GOP Trump critic — has been teaming up with many of the Republican White House contenders.
Sununu told Fox News that ‘of course, Gov. DeSantis can turn it around in New Hampshire. Look at the crowd he has here today . . . he’s working it on the ground, doing the retail politics.’