The Florida governor reserved significant criticism for former President Donald Trump in the interview as well. He also spoke about Thursday’s school shooting in Iowa, said his campaign is in the 2024 primary for a “long process,” and detailed how Trump’s upcoming trials will affect the election and stressed his faith in the Iowa and national election systems.
But the sharp comments on Haley reflect how DeSantis has gotten drawn into competition with her in Iowa in recent months, including an expensive TV ad war featuring their allied super PACs, while Trump has maintained a consistent polling lead there ahead of the Jan. 15 caucuses.
Asked to name one state where DeSantis could predict a victory in the next few months, he responded, “We’re going to be able to win a lot of states.”
He added later that “to say that we’ve put all the eggs [in one basket] is not true. We have great organization and field programs in the early states. And we’re going to compete in all of them.”
In Iowa, DeSantis charged that Haley is not conservative enough for the state.
“Nikki Haley can’t get conservative voters. She’s playing for voters who are not even core Republicans,” DeSantis said.
At the same time, DeSantis accused Haley of running to be the vice president, saying: “She’s the darling of the Never Trumpers. And yet, when she’s asked, ‘OK, will you just categorically put this to bed and say you will not accept the vice presidential nomination?’ she will not answer that question.”
Still, DeSantis denied that he’s in a race for second place with Haley, claiming that he’s the only candidate who can beat Trump for the GOP nomination.
“They wouldn’t be spending that money if we weren’t the top. I’m the only one that has a chance to beat Trump and win the general election,” he said.
While DeSantis hammered Haley, he also bashed Trump for not showing up to the Hawkeye State enough ahead of the Jan. 15 caucus.
“We think Iowans appreciate when you go to all 50, or all 99 counties, and you show up, and you answer questions. I’m the only one that’s done that. I mean, Donald Trump will not go answer questions. He won’t even participate in debates,” DeSantis said.
The governor also said that as the Republican nominee, he could focus on policy issues facing American voters, rather than the legal cases facing Trump.
“Practically speaking, Republican voters just have to look at this and say, ‘OK, do we want the election to be about the issues that the American people are facing?'” DeSantis said, adding, “Do we want to be able to hold Biden and the Democrats’ feet to the fire for their failures and offer a way to a better future for Americans? Or do we want the election to be about Donald Trump’s conduct, about Jan. 6, about criminal cases and all this?”
Still, DeSantis didn’t spell out a clear path to victory for the Republican nomination if he fails to win the Iowa caucuses. But he did predict the campaign would be “a long process” that he would win in the end.
“We can have a lot of great organizations throughout Super Tuesday. So you’re going to see this is very dynamic. You’re going to see it’s a long process. And we’re going to be able to win,” DeSantis said.
Trump as a general election distraction
DeSantis expanded on his case that Trump as the nominee would turn the 2024 election into more litigation of his legal woes.
Additionally, DeSantis asserted that in a general election against President Joe Biden, having Trump on the ballot would incentivize Democrats to turn out and vote.
“He does a better job inspiring Democrats to come out to vote than Democrat candidates are able to do, and I think that’s one of the reasons why Biden and the Democrats want to run against Trump,” DeSantis said.
With Trump as the nominee, DeSantis argued, the election would be a referendum on Trump.
“Just practically speaking, you don’t want the election to be a referendum on Donald Trump and all these issues from the past,” he said.
No new federal action to address shootings
In the wake of a school shooting in Iowa on Thursday, DeSantis repeatedly declined to identify whether there was a federal policy that he would change to make shootings less common.
“We obviously, you know, have a responsibility to create safe environments. The federal government is probably not going to be leading that effort,” DeSantis said.
He added that the issue is more about mental health than about guns.
“That’s an underlying sickness in society. And I think that involves things like mental health.”
Jan. 6 anniversary
Ahead of the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, DeSantis downplayed the severity of the event, saying: “I know that this is a, like, Christmas Day for the media to talk about Jan. 6. I know it’s a big deal in a lot of the corporate outlets. I get that. I’ve not had a single question in Iowa about Jan. 6.”
He blamed “the left” for politicizing the event, adding, “I’m not going to spend time, you know, in my campaign either now or in the general election talking about rehashing that.”
And, looking forward, DeSantis said he was confident in Iowa’s election system and mocked Trump for not accepting the results of his 2016 caucus loss.
But DeSantis did not commit to accepting the results of the 2024 presidential election if Biden wins.
“If it was a transparent victory, obviously you accept the results. But I don’t know what Democrats have up their sleeve,” DeSantis said.
“I mean, what, you’re saying if there was fraud, I’m just supposed to turn a blind eye? No, I’m not going to do that,” he added.