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Trump and DeSantis Trade Blows Over COVID-19 Response

REUTERS
REUTERS

Former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are once again at war over their differing responses to COVID as the race for the Republican presidential nomination heats up.

In an interview on Sirius XM’s The Megyn Kelly Show Wednesday night, the presenter pushed Trump on claims he mishandled the pandemic response and made Dr. Anthony Fauci, who led Trump’s coronavirus task force, a “star.”

(Kelly has made no secret of her dislike of Dr. Fauci, releasing a video last year where she said, “Fuck you, Dr. Fauci.”)

In response, Trump lashed out at DeSantis, his rival for the Republican nomination, claiming he had elevated Fauci.

“I was not a big fan of Fauci. If you look at Ron DeSanctimonious, he was, this guy said the greatest things. I can give you articles. That Fauci is great. He’s wonderful. We love him,” Trump told Kelly.

Trump went on to say DeSantis had “shut down Florida” and encouraged residents to get “the jab.” (Both Trump and De Santis received the COVID vaccine.)

In response, “DeSantis War Room,” a controversial social media account for the governor’s campaign, tweeted clips ridiculing Trump’s interview.

“It’s September 2023,” the account posted Thursday morning, “and Trump wants credit for doing a ‘tremendous job’ pushing ventilators during COVID.”

The DeSantis War Room account on X, formerly known as Twitter, is spearheaded by DeSantis’ “rapid response director” Christina Pushaw, according to reporting by Semafor. DeSantis’ campaign was criticized in June, after the account shared a video portraying Trump as pro-LGBT. It was dubbed “homophobic” by the Log Cabin Republicans, but DeSantis defended the clip as a “fair game” attack.

On Thursday afternoon, the War Room released a further video, in which DeSantis directly accused Trump of hypocrisy.

“He used to say I was one of the country’s great governors. He said we handled COVID correctly and brilliantly. He was on record, always saying that. Now, because I’m a threat to him, he's now changing his tune,” DeSantis said. “I thought it was really pathetic to sit there and listen to that drivel. It is totally false.”

Although DeSantis and Trump were allies during the emergency response to the pandemic, the Florida Governor has recently used Trump’s COVID legacy as a wedge issue to distance himself from the former President in the hopes of garnering support from a Republican base suspicious of vaccines and angry about restrictions.

A recent uptick in COVID cases across the country, and the launch Wednesday of the new vaccine booster, has given both men fuel.

Last week, the DeSantis War Room account released a letter sent to the governor by the White House in Jan. 2021, in which then-President Trump’s task force urged him to enact “face-masking” and “physical distancing” to help curb the virus.

“This wasn’t even Biden, this was Trump,” De Santis said in a press conference in Florida on Sept. 7. “We had to be the one to stand in the breach on that.”

The latest war of words between Trump and DeSantis comes as both men have made resistance to further COVID restrictions a bedrock of their campaigns.

On Wednesday, DeSantis warned Floridians the CDC and FDA were trying to use them “as guinea pigs” to test new coronavirus booster shots, dubbing them “hastily-approved.” On Sept. 6, DeSantis took aim at Dr. Fauci and other public health officials, promising that as president he would “usher in a reckoning for those who devised the failed and destructive biomedical policies that caused damage throughout our country.”

For his part, Trump has been boosting conservative conspiracy theories, including that Democrats will introduce new COVID restrictions in order to force voting-by-mail and steal the next election.

“The left-wing lunatics are trying very hard to bring back COVID lockdowns and mandates with their sudden fear-mongering about the new variants that are coming,” Trump said in a video posted to social media on Aug. 30. “They want to restart the COVID hysteria so they can justify more lockdowns, more censorship, more illegal drop boxes, more mail-in ballots.”

The DeSantis and Trump campaigns did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast.

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