Florida Gov Ron DeSantis admitted in an interview with NBC News that former president Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, as he seeks to recalibrate his campaign.
Mr DeSantis initially told NBC News’s Dasha Burns in an interview that will air on NBC Nightly News on Monday evening that whoever is inaugurated on 20 January is considered the winner, in a dodge answer.
“Whoever puts their hand on the Bible on Jan 20 every four years is the winner,” he said. When pressed, Mr DeSantis said that President Biden defeated Mr Trump.
“No, of course he lost,” he said of Mr Trump. “Joe Biden’s the president.”
But Mr DeSantis still said that the election did have irregularities, citing the proliferation of mail-in ballots during the Covid-19 pandemic and Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s distribution of grants to election administrators.
“I think what people in the media and elsewhere, they want to act like somehow this was just like the perfect election. ... I don’t think it was a good-run election,” he said. “But I also think Republicans didn’t fight back. You’ve got to fight back when that is happening.”
Last week, Mr DeSantis disputed Mr Trump’s claims of the 2020 presidential election in an interview with The New York Times, specifically disputing claims that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro rigged the election.
“It was not an election that was conducted the way I think that we want to, but that’s different than saying Maduro stole votes or something like that,” he said. “Those theories, you know, proved to be unsubstantiated.”
In his interview with NBC, Mr DeSantis also criticised Mr Trump, saying that he made the mistake of listening to Dr Anthony Fauci, the former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director. He noted how the CARES Act, the Covid-19 relief legislation Mr Trump signed, included $400m for election administration.
“But here’s the issue that I think is important for Republican voters to think about: Why did we have all those mail votes? Because of Trump turned the government over to Fauci,” he said. “They embraced lockdowns. They did the CARES Act, which funded mail-in ballots across the country.”
Mr DeSantis is seeking to reboot his campaign after a disappointing first fundraising quarter wherein he only raised $20m. His campaign has also let go of numerous staffers. He also significantly trails Mr Trump in nearly every poll.
But Mr DeSantis said that the election needed to be a referendum on Mr Biden or Republicans risk losing.
“If the election is a referendum on Joe Biden’s policies and the failures that we’ve seen and we are presenting a positive vision for the future, we will win the presidency and we will have a chance to turn the country around,” he said. “If, on the other hand, the election is not about Jan. 20, 2025, but Jan. 6, 2021, or what document was left by the toilet at Mar-a-Lago, if it’s a referendum on that, we are going to lose.”
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