Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis escalated his hostilities with former President Donald J. Trump on Friday, arguing that his Republican presidential rival was weak on crime and immigration, and accusing him of relinquishing critical decision-making during the coronavirus pandemic. to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci.
In an appearance with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, DeSantis accused Trump, the GOP frontrunner, of “turning left” on criminal justice and immigration issues after winning over the party in 2015 and 2016.
He promised that he would repeal what is known as the law of the first stepa bipartisan criminal justice measure signed into law by Mr. Trump in 2018 that expanded early release programs and changed sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug-related offenders.
“He signed a bill into law, basically a getaway bill,” DeSantis said. “He has allowed dangerous people to get out of prison who have now reoffended and really hurt a number of people.”
This year, The New York Times reported that Mr. DeSantis and his allies viewed the criminal justice bill, which Mr. Trump signed at the behest of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and instantly regretted, as an area of political weakness, and that Mr. DeSantis had signaled that he would use it in the nomination fight. The bill is unpopular with parts of Trump’s radical base.
But for DeSantis, attacking Trump over the First Step Act is potentially tricky. DeSantis himself voted for the first version of the bill when he was in Congress, and Trump allies have tried to highlight that fact.
“So now swampy politician Ron DeSanctimonious claims he voted yes before he voted no,” Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesman, said in a statement. “Sounds like John Kerry. What a phony! He can’t run from his disastrous, embarrassing, low-energy campaign ad. Rookie errors and unforced errors: that’s just him.”
(Allies of Mr. DeSantis point out that the version of the bill he voted for looked significantly different, and that the final version passed when he was no longer in the House.)
When Shapiro asked DeSantis about Trump’s recent criticism that crime had risen under his tenure in Florida, the former president’s adopted state, DeSantis bristled, saying Trump’s policies had undermined law and order.
Mr. DeSantis stepped up his attacks on his former ally, whom he had avoided directly criticizing for months, less than 48 hours after he entered the race in a bumpy Twitter event.
And with Mr. DeSantis appearing to veer to the right on issues like crime, some of his campaign’s internal strategy is coming to light.
At a fundraiser in Miami on Thursday, donors peppered DeSantis’ top campaign staffers with questions about their political positions and how they should present themselves to other Republicans, according to a leaked audio recording. posted online by the Florida Politics website.
A donor raised a question about shifting to the right, to which a campaign official eventually responded: “We just have to win a primary to be in an overall.”
Donors and officials also discussed how to talk to Republicans who support abortion rights. (Mr. DeSantis last month signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida, which contains limited exceptions, while Trump has been hesitant to support a federal ban).
A staff member offered a possible answer.
“Abortion is safe, legal and rare in Florida,” he said, echoing a phrase coined by former Democratic President Bill Clinton. “It hasn’t been banned,” he added. “Is limited”.
In his interview with Shapiro on Friday, DeSantis tried to be unflinching on illegal immigration, saying Trump had attacked him for opposing amnesty legislation while in Congress.
He also blamed Mr. Trump for his administration’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, especially the level of influence wielded by Dr. Fauci, the longtime leading expert on infectious diseases and the face of the pandemic response. of the federal government.
Dr. Fauci, who retired in januaryhe has been a frequent target of Republican attacks over issues like remote learning, stay-at-home orders and vaccine mandates.
“He responded by elevating Anthony Fauci and really handing the reins over to Dr. Fauci, and I think it had terrible consequences for America,” DeSantis said. “I was the leader in this country in the fight against Fauci. We challenge him every step of the way.”
He said that Dr. Fauci should have been fired, but Trump had honored him.
“I think the fact that Donald Trump gave Anthony Fauci a presidential commendation on Trump’s last day in office, that was a blow to the stomach for millions of people across this country who have been hurt by the Fauci blocks,” DeSantis said.
A day earlier, in a post by Trump on his Truth Social platform, the former president harshly criticized DeSantis over Florida’s response to the pandemic. He said that even former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York had done a better job of limiting the loss of life from the virus than Mr. DeSantis.
Mr. DeSantis described Mr. Trump’s claim as “very strange” and said it suggested he would double down on his actions if there was another pandemic.