TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis repeatedly slammed Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Thursday and defended his own campaign, warning that the former president could deliver the 2024 election to Democrats energized to beat him.
DeSantis, speaking at a campaign event in their shared home state, argued that Trump lost the 2020 election not because more voters supported Democrat Joe Biden but rather to cast him out of office.
“He energized Democrats. You could have John Kennedy walk through the door right now and he wouldn’t energize Democrats as much as Donald Trump does,” DeSantis said in Tampa. “That’s just the reality.”
The Florida governor has been sharpening his critiques of Trump over the past few months as he’s sought to revitalize his campaign. Most notably, he used his first opening on the GOP debate stage last week to criticize the former president for skipping the event.
Trump remains his party’s most influential figure. He was considering a visit to Capitol Hill next week as Republicans sort out their leadership crisis following House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster.
DeSantis suggested the thousands of voters who show up to Trump’s political rallies would be matched by those who show up to keep the former president from winning the White House again.
“A voter that goes to 10 rallies, their vote counts the same as somebody that’s unenthusiastic that then goes and votes,” he said.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung responded to DeSantis’ remarks by saying: “Ron DeSantis has the energy of used wet rag.”
“This is nothing more than a desperate attempt of a flailing candidate who is in the last throes of his campaign,” Cheung said in a statement. “This tough guy routine from DeSantis is laughable, because the only thing tough about him is is ability to embarrass himself every single day on the campaign trail.”
DeSantis spoke to an audience of more than 100 supporters as he announced support from Florida law enforcement officers. There were a few pro-Trump protesters outside, one of them yelling persistently through a bullhorn, but DeSantis took no notice of them.
Attendee Rachel Yates, who said she moved to Tampa two years ago from Chicago, said she likes both Trump and DeSantis. She said a main source of Trump’s appeal in the past was “that he came in as kind of an independent.”
“I think Trump never had a history in politics and that was important,” she said.
Yates also said she liked DeSantis’s message of law and order, symbolized by his endorsement Thursday by 60 Florida sheriffs, but declined to say which of the two candidates she preferred.
DeSantis, responding to questions both from the media and his friendly audience, said no one was entitled to the GOP nomination, “especially anybody that couldn’t even stop Joe Biden.” He suggested that the 77-year-old Trump did not have the energy for his old job.
“We need a president that’s going to be full throttle for eight years,” the 45-year-old said. “We don’t need any more presidents that have lost the zip on their fastball.”
He also dismissed Trump’s sizeable fundraising.
Trump’s campaign said Wednesday night that it raised more than $45.5 million in the third quarter of the year, while DeSantis’ team said it brought in $15 million during the same period.
DeSantis said his own fundraising is “being spent on actually delivering the victories that we know we need,” and questioned how much of Trump’s fundraising was being spent on his legal problems, including four criminal cases.
In response to a question about whether he can continue raising enough money to say in the race, he said, “Absolutely.” But he argued that what was most important was earning people’s votes, “town by town, county by county.”
He was headed later Thursday to Miami for a fundraiser.
Price reported from New York.