Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday delivered some of the sharpest criticism of Donald Trump to date, blaming the former president for his own defeat in 2020 and suggesting his chief rival in the GOP nominating fight lacked the energy to lead the country once again.
What started as a campaign event to promote support from Florida sheriffs ended with DeSantis skewering Trump in a series of rejoinders that make clear his intentions to recast the race around the former president’s perceived shortcomings.
In an unmistakable shot at Trump’s age and stamina, DeSantis quipped, “We don’t need any more presidents that have lost the zip on their fastball.” He said the party’s nomination shouldn’t be a coronation, especially for “anybody that couldn’t even stop Joe Biden.”
Regarding the 2020 election, he said people were “voting against Trump,” undercutting the ongoing lies about a stolen election from the former president and his supporters – including failed congressional candidate Laura Loomer, who heckled DeSantis from outside his Tampa event with a bullhorn that rattled aides as her voice carried into the venue.
“Let’s just be honest, he energized Democrats,” he said. “You could have John Kennedy walk through the door right now and he wouldn’t energize Democrats as much as Donald Trump does.”
The remarks come as DeSantis has shifted to a more aggressive approach in recent weeks as the urgency to diminish Trump has intensified.
Still, the sharp-tongued attacks from DeSantis on Thursday were striking in what they signaled for the weeks ahead. DeSantis, who once fiercely defended and then attempted to ignore Trump, appears prepared to go full-throttle at his former ally to make up for his large polling deficit.
Democrats have already seized on the breakdown in their relationship. After DeSantis called Trump “missing in action” at the debate and said the Trump administration’s spending “set the stage for the inflation,” President Joe Biden shared a clip on social media, adding, “That’s right.”
The latest round of attacks were largely provoked by questions DeSantis faced during the Tampa event. One man who identified himself as a DeSantis supporter asked how the Florida governor will defeat a candidate who “fills stadiums.”
DeSantis quickly shot back: “Not anymore.”
“Here’s the thing: a voter that goes to 10 rallies, their vote counts the same as somebody that’s unenthusiastic and then goes and votes. And we just have to understand that,” he continued.
But DeSantis also took a shot without provocation at Trump’s failed promise to build a wall at the southern border and make Mexico pay for it. DeSantis told the crowd he would finish what Trump could not.
DeSantis later questioned Trump’s fundraising numbers – which the Trump campaign announced Wednesday just hours after DeSantis released his. The Trump campaign reported it brought in more than $45.5 million during the period that spanned July 1 to September 30, compared to the DeSantis campaign’s $15 million.
Only $5 million of the DeSantis dollars can be spent toward the primary, while Trump has nearly $36 million designated for use in the primary, his campaign said.
Those figures cannot be independently verified until federal election reports are made public later this month. But DeSantis said he believes that the math will show he is still ahead. DeSantis has a super PAC that was seeded with nearly $83 million left over from his 2022 gubernatorial campaign.
Trump has continued to use his legal troubles to encourage donations from supporters. DeSantis encouraged people to look at how Trump is spending those contributions.
“Why is he raising that money? And where’s that money going to?” DeSantis said. “Isn’t it going to a lot of lawyers?”