DeSantis slams Trump in private call to backers, reports say

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Gov. Ron DeSantis heavily criticized former President Donald Trump in a candid private call with supporters despite having endorsed him, according to audio obtained by the New York Post and NBC News, leading the Trump camp to blast him for “cheap shots from afar.”

The governor spoke on a 34-minute video call Wednesday with about 200 supporters.

“It seemed like bridges were being mended a little bit on both sides but apparently not,” said Aubrey Jewett, a professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. “Apparently the bridges are still burning.”

DeSantis endorsed Trump after dropping out in January. But in the call, DeSantis blasted the conservative media for openly fawning coverage of Trump during the campaign.

DeSantis said the conservative media’s “business model just doesn’t work if they offer any criticism of Trump,” according to NBC.

“I mean, he said at some point he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a vote,” DeSantis said. “Well, I think he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and the conservative media wouldn’t even report on it that it had happened.”

As for running again for president in 2028, “I haven’t ruled anything out,” DeSantis said. “I mean … we’re still in this election cycle. So it’s presumptuous to say this or that. I think a lot happens in politics.”

DeSantis came in second to Trump in Iowa in January, without winning any of the state’s 99 counties after spending most of his time and much of his campaign’s nearly $160 million in the state.

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On Wednesday, he blamed the defeat on how conservative voters “just tuned out the process because they thought he was inevitable. … That was our responsibility to try and change that dynamic. That’s why we were on the ground so much in Iowa.”

Jewett said the remarks seemed like sour grapes following an unsuccessful campaign.

“Historically, when candidates drop out of the primary, they publicly embrace the leader and they don’t usually criticize them,” Jewett said. “You lost and now it’s time to pull the party back together. So it does smack of being a sore loser.”

DeSantis’ criticism of conservative media was a continuation of remarks he made in Iowa in January, when he said “conservative radio guys and Fox News people will never criticize [Trump] because they’re so concerned that someone may yell at them.”

The relationship with conservative media was a far cry from November 2022, when DeSantis was hailed as “DeFuture” by the Rupert Murdoch-owned Post, which buried Trump’s presidential bid at the bottom of page 26 with the headline “Florida man makes announcement.”

DeSantis also seemed to partly blame his campaign’s failure on his former 2018 gubernatorial campaign staffer Susie Wiles, who joined with Trump after DeSantis fired her.

“I think [Trump has] got people in his inner circle who were part of our orbit years ago that we fired, and I think some of that is they just have an ax to grind,” DeSantis said, according to the NBC report.

DeSantis also said that if reelected, Trump would surround himself with “yes men, rather than folks that are going to be pushing back.”

DeSantis added that “people were mentioning me” as a potential vice president under Trump, according to the Post. “I am not doing that.”

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But he also criticized the Republicans favored to get the nod from Trump.

“I think my criteria [for running mate] was different than what probably Donald Trump’s criteria will be,” the governor said, according to the Post.

The governor was included on Trump’s shortlist of potential running mates, along with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott R-S.C., U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Scott and Donalds are Black, Ramaswamy is Indian American, and Gabbard is Samoan American. Ramaswamy and Gabbard are Hindu.

DeSantis, the only white man on Trump’s list, said that someone’s “identity” should not determine who gets picked.

“Now, we have a diverse Republican Party,” DeSantis said. “I want everybody in the fold, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t want people representing 10%, 15% of the party being in the driver’s seat. … They’re looking more [into] identity politics. … I think you should just focus on who the best person for the job would be, and then do that accordingly.”

The response from the Trump campaign was quick.

“Ron DeSantis failed miserably in his presidential campaign and does not have a voice in selecting the next Vice President of the United States,” Trump spokesperson Karoline Leavitt told the Post. “Rather than throw cheap shots from afar, Ron should focus on what he can do to fire Joe Biden and Make America Great Again.”

Jewett called the “identity” statements “politically tone deaf.”

“Somehow Kristi Noem is not conservative enough because she’s a woman, or Tim Scott because he’s Black?” Jewett said. “Let’s hope that’s not the way the governor meant it. But that’s the way it comes off to a lot of people.”