The truth behind the bizarre Ron DeSantis ‘pudding fingers’ claim seized on by Trump

Former staffer says it’s ‘interesting that the governor didn’t flat out deny eating pudding with three fingers’

Gustaf Kilander
Thursday 24 August 2023 01:48 BST
Related video: DeSantis launches 2024 presidential campaign with political video

As Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign flounders, the Florida Governor appeared to reference a rumour that he has been spotted eating pudding with his bare hands.

It was an unfortunate reference that Ron DeSantis viewers everywhere picked up on almost immediately.

In response to a question from CNN’s Jake Tapper in one of his first mainstream media interviews, the Florida governor said of his electability that “the proof is in the pudding”.

This is the bizarre story behind the saga that’s now been turned into a campaign insult in the fight between ex-President Donald Trump and his former ally.

Earlier this year, an ad paid for by the Make America Great Again Inc PAC launched a direct attack on Mr DeSantis by saying he has “dirty fingers” while featuring images of a man eating chocolate pudding with his fingers.

“Ron DeSantis loves sticking his fingers where they don’t belong,” the advertisement says.

Throughout the video, headlines from publications criticising Mr DeSantis appear over the images of the man eating pudding. The advertisement accuses Mr DeSantis of cutting Medicare, Social Security, and raising the retirement age.

“Tell Ron DeSantis to keep his pudding fingers off his money,” the advertisement says. “And oh, somebody get this man a spoon.”

The “pudding fingers” reference originates in a rumour that started from a report from The Daily Beast.

Through Mr Trump did not directly “authorise” the advertisement, it was created by a Political Action Committee (PAC) aligned with his politics, according to Open Secrets.

In March, Mr DeSantis chose not to outright deny that he ate chocolate pudding with three fingers on a private flight in 2019. The Daily Beast noted that Mr DeSantis sometimes struggles to “read the room”.

“I don’t remember ever doing that,” the governor told Piers Morgan in an interview on Fox Nation.

“Maybe when I was a kid, but it’s interesting there’s a lot of people who when they go at you, sometimes they have really good ammunition like, ‘You’re a crook, you did this, you did that,’” he added. “For me, they’re talking about pudding, and I’m like, ‘Is that really the best you’ve got? OK, bring it on!’”

“It’s quite interesting that the governor didn’t flat out deny eating pudding with three fingers,” an ex-staffer for Mr DeSantis told The Daily Beast.

The Florida governor can often be found in a corner by himself at fundraisers or in other exclusive venues, eschewing the traditional political glad-handing, according to the report.

This may become an issue as most candidates in the early primary states in any presidential cycle rely on retail politics.

Mr DeSantis’s supposed worries about meeting with voters and the unplanned interactions that may entail have prompted early primary state organisers to attempt to lay the groundwork to make their events easier for the governor to handle, according to The Daily Beast.

But they reportedly rarely know what the governor wants, because, as one longtime event host in an early primary state said he has “easily the least responsive campaign I’ve ever dealt with”.

“We invite, invite, invite, ping, ping, ping. We don’t hear anything,” the host added.

When he was in Iowa, it was reported that Mr DeSantis’s team used bike racks to create space between him and attendees.

Ron DeSantis shares a joke with voters during an Iowa GOP reception in Cedar Rapids
Ron DeSantis shares a joke with voters during an Iowa GOP reception in Cedar Rapids (Getty Images)

The New York Times wrote that the governor was “awkward, but still winning the crowd” during his visit to the state.

Multiple former staffers have said that nearly everything the governor does is scripted.

Stories of the governor eating during meetings have also surfaced.

“He would sit in meetings and eat in front of people, always like a starving animal who has never eaten before… getting s*** everywhere,” one ex-staffer told The Daily Beast.

This is where the pudding enters the fray.

Two people told The Daily Beast that Mr DeSantis enjoyed a chocolate pudding by eating it with three of his fingers during a March 2019 private flight from Tallahassee to Washington, DC.

After the Florida governor’s choice of phrase in Tuesday’s CNN interview, political commentator Keith Olbermann tweeted: “His Effing fingers are in the Effing pudding — that’s what’s in the pudding” and called Mr DeSantis “Ron DePudding”.

Jon Favreau, host of Pod Save America and a former Obama administration speechwriter, said on Twitter: “When @jaketapper asked DeSantis about the state of his campaign, his answer actually included the phrase.... ‘The proof is in the pudding’.”

He included screenshots from the Trump campaign ad for good measure.

The full proverb the Florida governor intended to use is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”, though that wouldn’t have made things better.

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