Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has sparked controversy by admitting in an NBC interview that former President Donald J. Trump lost the 2020 election.
“Of course he lost,” DeSantis declared in a clip from the interview’s upcoming broadcast. “Joe Biden is the president.”
The comments come after DeSantis, who is trailing Trump in polls for the Republican presidential nomination, agreed that Trump’s claim of a “rigged” 2020 election was “baseless.”
“Every theory that was put forward didn’t turn out to be true,” DeSantis said of Trump’s voter fraud allegations in response to a reporter’s question on the campaign trail in northeast Iowa.
For years, however, DeSantis had shied away from offering a clear position on whether he believed the election was rigged. In the 2022 midterms, he campaigned for Republican candidates across the country who explicitly denied the 2020 results were legitimate.
His increasingly opportunistic stance implies that his campaign team believes Trump’s legal problems have opened a window of opportunity for his fellow Republicans. The New York Times says campaign advisers are cautiously trying to expose Trump’s vulnerabilities without launching a direct assault on him over his most recent criminal charges.
DeSantis’ position may put him at odds with Trump supporters who claim the former president was unfairly deprived of a free and fair election. About 70 percent of Republican voters say President Biden’s victory was illegitimate, according to a CNN poll last month.
In response, a Trump spokesman, Steven Cheung, advised that “Ron DeSantis should stop being Joe Biden’s biggest cheerleader.”
However, the DeSantis camp maintains that this is merely acknowledging political reality. Federalist Editor-in-Chief Mollie Hemingway tried to set the record straight.
“This is a completely false/misleading characterization of what DeSantis said about the major issues with the 2020 election,” Hemingway argued. “He has consistently spoken out and acted against the private takeover of government election offices, unsupervised voting, hasty changes to the law, etc.”
While DeSantis has acknowledged potential problems with how the 2020 election was conducted, he still strongly believes Republicans didn’t fight hard enough.
Donald Trump himself, a day after the January 6 Capitol riots, condemned the Capitol riots and acknowledged that he would no longer be president.
Never forget: Donald Trump on January 7, 2021, for the sake of the country, condemned the Capitol riots and acknowledged that he is no longer president.
“I would like to begin by addressing the heinous attack on the United States Capitol. Like all Americans, I am outraged by the… pic.twitter.com/KV7qRmCKSK
— Kyle Becker (@kylenabecker) August 7, 2023
“Congress has certified the results,” Trump said. “On January 20, a new administration will be inaugurated. My focus now is on ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.”
“Serving as president has been the honor of my entire life and of all my wonderful supporters,” he added. “I know you’re disappointed, but I also want you to know that our amazing journey is just beginning.”
In the same NBC interview, DeSantis urged Republicans to shift their focus from Trump’s accusations to challenging Biden. He also explained his controversial promise of a campaign of lethal force against suspected drug traffickers crossing the southern border.
DeSantis has also recently had more opportunities to discuss sensitive issues such as the 2020 election. He has been participating in more mainstream media interviews as part of his campaign’s “reboot,” a shift from his previous approach of appearing only in Fox News or conservative media.
While DeSantis has criticized Trump for his age, failure to “drain the swamp” and fostering a “culture of losing” in the Republican Party, he has defended him against criminal charges. DeSantis claims the charges represent a “weaponization” of the federal government against a political rival of Biden.
Prominent Republican candidates Chris Christie, former New Jersey governor and former Vice President Mike Pence have been the most vocal in opposing Trump. Christie’s campaign is openly anti-Trump, while Pence has been reserved, although he expressed his willingness to testify at Trump’s trial on January 6, 2021 if necessary.
However, neither position appears to be gaining traction among Republican voters. Both Christie and Pence are struggling in national polls and with public perception. The latter has yet to qualify for the first Republican debate this month. And Gov. Ron DeSantis is still waiting for a breakthrough moment where he can gain ground on Donald Trump, who maintains a comfortable lead in the 2024 campaign despite the onslaught of legal attacks.
Republican voters are warned to beware of media experiences like those of the New York Times, which opportunistically seizes the opportunity to drive a wedge between Trump supporters and DeSantis.
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OPINION: This article contains comments that reflect the opinion of the author.