Ron DeSantis is doubling down after calling Donald Trump and some of his supporters “listless vessels” in a weekend interview that enraged Trumpworld and drew criticism from the ex-president’s allies who accused him of insulting GOP voters.
The DeSantis campaign responded again on Monday after a pile-on began over the weekend in response to his interview with the Florida Standard, a right-wing news site, on Saturday. In that interview, he warned that the Republican Party as a whole cannot be made up of “listless vessels” who take direction from Truth Social, a clear nod to the perceived loyalty of Mr Trump’s supporters.
After a day of fuming from the Trump campaign, Mr DeSantis appeared for a Monday morning Fox News hit and was asked about the criticism. In response, he claimed that the remark was actually aimed directly at Trump-endorsing members of the House — including those in the Florida delegation — who have declined to break away from their alliances with the ex-president.
“The people in Congress that I was referring to that have attacked me and tried to say somehow that I was a RINO,” said Mr DeSantis. “They’re putting entertainment and personality over principle.”
He added: “[A]t the end of the day, it’s what are we delivering for the people that have put us into office, and in the state of Florida, I can say that I have delivered more for America first principles than anybody else in the country.”
It was a somewhat muted follow-up to the original remark, but came as Mr DeSantis’s press team was going further to twist the knife in comments to reporters and press releases. Amid the firestorm, the campaign turned its focus on the media (which, with the exception of Fox and conservative outlets, had largely ignored the remark) and accused reporters of misconstruing his words.
The campaign still appeared hesitant to attack the specific figures in Trumpworld who were actually behind the criticism, such as Donald Trump Jr and Kari Lake.
“Donald Trump and some congressional endorsers are ‘listless vessels,’” a campaign rep told The New York Post the same day as Mr DeSantis’s interview. “Why? Because Trump and DC insiders feel he is entitled to your vote.”
The argument from the governor of a sense of entitlement supposedly being displayed by the Trump campaign comes as the Republican frontrunner, Mr Trump, has announced that he does not plan to take part in the 2024 primary debate season.
Doing so is unheard of for modern presidential candidates but comes as Mr Trump holds a sizable polling lead over Mr DeSantis and his other rivals, including in key early primary and caucus states.