(Bloomberg) -- Ron DeSantis is flashing a newfound willingness to strike back at Donald Trump after largely ignoring the former president’s intensifying attacks.
Recent polls show Trump starting to move ahead of DeSantis, whom the former president regards as his strongest competitor. The Florida governor had increasingly faced questions as to whether he had the wherewithal to confront Trump directly.
This week he has done that, at a Florida press conference on Monday and in an interview with the British journalist Piers Morgan published in the New York Post on Tuesday.
In the interview with Morgan, DeSantis criticized the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus, its chaotic style of governing and the former president’s own leadership — critiques that came the same week Trump is expected to be indicted in New York.
“In terms of my approach to leadership, I get personnel in the government who have the agenda of the people and share our agenda. You bring your own agenda in you’re gone,” DeSantis told Morgan in the interview, which will be broadcast on Fox News’ Fox Nation Thursday night.
“We’re just not gonna have that. So, the way we run the government I think is no daily drama, focus on the big picture and put points on the board.”
The counterattack fits in with an image that DeSantis has been presenting, even without saying so: A pugilistic Republican in the Trump mold but without the Trump baggage.
He made it clear in the Post interview that should he enter the race, his chief opponent would be President Joe Biden, who’s widely expected to run for reelection.
“Ultimately you know the guy I’m gonna focus on is Biden because I think he’s failed the country,” DeSantis said. “I think the country wants a change.”
Both the Post and Fox News are controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who has made no secret that he would like the Republican Party to move on from the Trump era.
The Trump campaign directed a request for comment to a tweet by Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the campaign.
“Ron DeSantis has finally shown his true colors. An establishment Never Trumper who despises the MAGA base and was faking it the entire time,” Miller wrote.
DeSantis’s criticism comes as Trump’s legal troubles may be reaching critical mass in Manhattan over allegations related to hush money payments his then-lawyer made to an adult film star.
If indicted, Trump would be the first former president ever to face criminal charges. And while the his team has been trying to use the Manhattan district attorney’s case as a chance to raise money and sow outrage among his loyal supporters, DeSantis appears to be taking advantage of the moment to finally hit back.
A new Monmouth University poll shows 41% of GOP voters support Trump as the Republican nominee for president in 2024, while 27% prefer DeSantis.
In February, Republican voters supported them equally, at 33%, but Trump pulled ahead of the DeSantis in recent weeks among almost every voting bloc including with evangelicals, voters under 65 and those who call themselves very conservative.
(Updates with Miller tweet, starting in 11th paragraph.)
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