Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sharply criticized his chief 2024 rival during a town hall in New Hampshire that taped Tuesday and aired Friday, telling the audience Trump’s behavior, specifically his “phony” insults, is not how a president “should be conducting himself” – and ultimately could cause Republicans to lose.
“These insults are so phony, these insults are juvenile. That is not the way a great nation should be conducting itself. That is not the way the president of the United States should be conducting himself,” DeSantis said on WMUR’s “Conversation With the Candidate.”
DeSantis said at the town hall that he’s not going to insult somebody’s looks or dress and wouldn’t teach his kids to treat people like that.
“As Republicans, that will cause us to lose if we behave that way. There are millions of voters out there who do not like what Biden is doing to this country,” DeSantis added. “They do not like the direction the country is going in. But they aren’t going to sign up for a candidate who is behaving like that. So, let’s be better. Let’s look higher, and let’s set a good standard for our children to follow.”
While he acknowledged he was a “big supporter” of Trump, DeSantis called him out for running on failed promises from 2016, like eliminating the national debt, having Mexico pay for a border wall and draining the DC “swamp.”
DeSantis said elsewhere Friday that the “theories” put out by former President Donald Trump and his associates following the 2020 election were “unsubstantiated” and “did not prove to be true.”
“I’ve said many times, the election is what it is. All those theories that were put out, did not prove to be true,” DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, told reporters traveling on his Never Back Down bus tour in Iowa. “What I’ve also said is the way you conduct a good election that people have confidence in, you don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.”
“It was not an election that was conducted the way I think we want to, but that’s different than saying, like, ‘Maduro stolen votes’ or something like that,” he added, in reference to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. “I think those theories, you know, proved to be unsubstantiated.”
DeSantis’ comments come a day after Trump, the current front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination, pleaded not guilty in a Washington, DC, court house to four criminal charges brought against him days earlier by Smith as part of his investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election leading up to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.
A central premise of the special counsel’s case is that Trump knew the election claims he was making were false after being told by several close aides that he had lost the election. Trump’s lawyers have argued that his statements were protected under the First Amendment.
For his part, DeSantis branded the latest indictment against Trump as “politically motivated.”
The Florida governor, speaking with a voter at a brewery in Decorah, said: “It’s politically motivated, absolutely. I think you have people in DC, in the Justice Department that are responding to a lot of left-wing pressure. I mean they’ve been trying to get him since he became president.”
Previously, when asked about the 2020 election, DeSantis has pivoted and emphasized a focus on the future, not the past.
In early June, at an event in Bluffton, South Carolina, the week after he launched his campaign, an attendee in the rope line asked DeSantis, “Do you think that we should just move on from the 2020 stuff, just say Trump lost, you gotta move on?”
“Well, look I mean you gotta look forward,” he replied at the time. “I think that candidates that focus on the past have not done well. So, let’s give a positive – hold Biden accountable, give a positive vision. I mean, that’s the formula for success.”
Such a focus on the future is typical for DeSantis when faced with questions surrounding the 2020 election. He has also sought to distance himself from the January 6 riot. At a New Hampshire town hall, DeSantis was asked by a high school student if Trump violated the peaceful transfer of power during the 2020 election.
“I wasn’t anywhere near Washington that day,” DeSantis replied. “I have nothing to do with what happened that day. Obviously, I didn’t enjoy seeing, you know, what happened. But we’ve got to go forward on this stuff. We cannot be looking backwards and be mired in the past.”
At a stop in Waverly, Iowa, later Friday, DeSantis indicated that if elected president, he would pardon Trump if he were to be convicted, echoing comments he recently made on “Outkick” with Clay Travis.
“I’ve said for many weeks now, I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the country to have a former president – that’s almost 80 years old – go to prison. Just like Nixon or Ford pardoned Nixon, you know, sometimes you got to put this stuff behind you. And we need to start focusing on things having to do with the country’s future. And so that’s what I would do as president,” he said.
This article has been updated with additional reporting.