The interview was supposed to be an opportunity for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to press the restart button on his bid for the GOP presidential nomination – widely publicized by his campaign after weeks of stagnant polls despite burning through millions of dollars in an attempt to prop up the conservative wunderkind who suddenly faced a barrage of questions about the viability of his candidacy.
But when DeSantis sat down with CNN anchor Jake Tapper on Tuesday afternoon, he did so under a shadow that had been cast earlier that day and was headlining every major media market.
Former President Donald Trump, whose legal team appeared at a pre-trial hearing for his mishandling of classified documents Tuesday afternoon, announced that he had received a letter from Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith informing him that he is a target in the criminal investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol and efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
The so-called target letter is the firmest sign yet that Trump is likely to be indicted in connection to the investigation. The twice-impeached former president is already facing criminal charges from the special counsel’s investigation into his retention and mishandling of sensitive national defense information after he left office.
And as support for Trump has only grown among Republican voters as his legal troubles mount, DeSantis found himself once again playing second fiddle.
“This country needs to have a debate about the country’s future,” DeSantis said in response to a question about whether Trump should be held accountable. “If I’m the nominee we’ll be able to focus on President Biden’s failures and I’ll be able to articulate a positive vision for the future. I don’t think it serves us good to have a presidential election focused on what happened four years ago in January. I want to focus on looking forward.”
DeSantis didn’t stray much from his usual script about Trump during the interview – accusing the Biden administration of weaponizing the FBI and the Justice Department, warning that it would be bad for the country if Trump were to be charged and continuing to paint himself as an antidote to Trump.
“This country is going down the road of criminalizing political differences and I think that’s wrong,” DeSantis said.
“What I’ve said is that as president, my job is to restore a single standard of justice to end weaponization of these agencies,” he said. “We will have a new FBI director on Day One, we’re going to have big changes at the Department of Justice. Americans across the political spectrum need to have confidence about what’s going on is based on the rule of law and not based on what political tribe you’re in.”
The governor of the Sunshine State has had difficulty escaping Trump’s penumbra since announcing his candidacy in May, including on Tuesday morning in South Carolina, where DeSantis campaigned, filed paperwork for his candidacy in the Republican primary and unveiled a new policy plan for the military. When it came time to take questions, half of them were about Trump.
DeSantis was assumed to be the candidate who would provide a serious challenge to Trump, but since he entered the race there’s been little movement in his polling, and he’s averaging about 33 points behind Trump.
“The reality is that this is a state by state process,” he said, refuting concerns about whether his campaign will build momentum. “I’m not running a campaign to try to juice wherever we are in the national polls. We’re focused on building an organization.”
“You’ve got to get people to come out in January in Iowa and caucus for you,” he continued. “That requires an organization. That requires knowing where those votes are. Now that is not going to make the same type of splash if you are trying to run nationally.”
DeSantis also batted down skepticism over his fundraising and spending. According to the most recent filings from the Federal Election Commission, he managed to raise $20 million since May, but also spent nearly $8 million in the same time frame – a cash burn that resulted in a slate of campaign staffers being fired this week.
“Some of this is motivated reasoning,” DeSantis said. “But I kind of get a kick out of it when people say, ‘Oh he didn’t fundraise well,’ when I raised more than Biden and Trump in the second quarter and I’m just a governor.”
Trump is set to participate in a town hall in Iowa on Tuesday evening hosted by Fox News.
Source: US News