TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday hit back at former President Donald Trump’s criticism of his Covid-19 handling, pointing out that he scored a record reelection victory that showed voters supported his hands-off response to the pandemic.
“I roll out of bed, I have people attacking me from all angles, it’s been happening for many, many years,” DeSantis said during a press conference in Bradenton where he was asked about Trump’s recent digs at him.
“The good thing is, is that the people are able to render a judgment on that whether they re-elect you or not. And I’m happy to say — you know in my case — not only did we win re-election, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican governor candidate has had in the history of the state of Florida. … That verdict has been rendered by the people of the state of Florida.”
DeSantis has made similar remarks in the past, but his Tuesday comments show he’s willing to engage and defend against a rising stream of attacks from his one-time ally who boosted him to the governor’s mansion back in 2018.
Trump over the weekend made campaign appearances in New Hampshire and South Carolina where he told reporters that DeSantis would be “disloyal” if he ran for the Republican nomination and he knocked DeSantis’ record on Covid-19.
DeSantis is a rising conservative star who is seen as one of the biggest potential obstacles to Trump winning a third go-round as the Republican nominee for president. DeSantis’ star has been buoyed by his decision to veer away from lockdowns earlier than most states — but not all — and his insistence on opening schools back up to in-person learning. He leaned into his record as a prime argument to Florida voters who re-elected him in a nearly 20-point victory over Democratic nominee Charlie Crist.
DeSantis has also waded into cultural issues such as race and gender identity that also brought him widespread criticism and attention.
Trump so far is the only major GOP candidate in the race, although many others are mulling 2024 White House runs. DeSantis will likely jump into the race later this year — possibly in May — after the annual session of the Florida Legislature.
Trump also contended that DeSantis was “trying to rewrite history” regarding his handling of the pandemic, including the governor’s decision to allow lockdowns during the first months as well as his aggressive early push for people to get vaccinated. DeSantis has since pivoted and now is viewed as a vaccine skeptic, especially after he asked for the creation of a grand jury to look at any “wrongdoing” associated with vaccines.
Trump has begun to paint DeSantis, however, as another Republican establishment candidate, including taking shots at him because he is on good terms with former GOP Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who Trump mocked and chased out of the 2016 race for president.