DeSantis says Trump lost in 2020

It is with the 2024 presidential election in mind that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis finally clarified his views on the 2020 contest, which most Republicans continue to falsely believe was won by Donald Trump.

“Of course he lost,” DeSantis said in a new interview with NBC News. He acknowledged that Joe Biden is president, while also peddling conspiracy theories about “ballot harvesting” and voting by mail.

It was a seemingly obvious confirmation of reality — but one that could have major consequences as DeSantis struggles to regain the early promise of his presidential campaign in the face of Trump’s own third White House run.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a Trump rally in Opa-Locka, Fla., Nov. 2, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

After winning reelection in a landslide last year, DeSantis emerged as a darling of the conservative establishment. If the midterm elections were mostly disappointing for them (with many Trump-endorsed candidates losing), the Florida governor was a bright spot that seemed bound to get brighter.

Aware of the challenge, Trump stepped up his attacks on DeSantis. The governor responded coyly at first. “We must reject the culture of losing that has infected our party in recent years,” he said in Iowa.

Left unsaid was whom DeSantis blamed for that losing culture. But now that he is facing a defeat of his own, he can no longer afford being coy.

Read more on Yahoo News: Why is the DeSantis campaign struggling?

A careful silence after Biden’s win

Ron DeSantis greets Donald Trump

Donald Trump is greeted by DeSantis prior to a campaign stop in Fort Myers, Fla., Oct. 16, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

For three years, DeSantis tried to maintain a public ambiguity about how he viewed the results of the 2020 election. There was no widespread evidence of malfeasance or fraud, but the defeated Trump has continued to maintain the election was stolen — and so have many of his supporters whom DeSantis hopes to win over.

Just days after the election, DeSantis seemed to suggest that there could have been irregularities — without directly making the kinds of outlandish claims Trump and his close allies were making.

“I would exhaust every option to make sure we have a fair count,” he said.

About a month after the election, DeSantis finally seemed to tepidly acknowledge that Biden had won. “We’re going to push ahead. We’ll work with whoever we need to be able to do right by the state of Florida,” he said in mid-December.

Read more on Yahoo News: DeSantis still won’t say whether he thinks Trump lost in 2020, via Insider

Dubious claims about election ‘integrity’

Ron DeSantis

DeSantis at a vaccine summit at the White House, Dec. 8, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Even after the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, Trump stood by his thoroughly debunked claim that he had actually won the election. And even as many establishment Republicans wanted nothing to do with the conspiracy, the party’s base was firmly behind him.

DeSantis, who was in the early stages of contemplating a presidential run, tried to split the difference by creating an “election integrity” unit last spring to combat election fraud. But there had been no evidence of fraud in Florida; one Democratic state legislator called the new unit “unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer funds.”

Those concerns were validated when the unit managed only 20 arrests in a state where 11.1 million people were registered to vote. The arrested men had not attempted to perpetrate electoral fraud: They had served time for felony convictions and thought they could register to vote. Floridians voted to restore voting rights to felons in 2018, but DeSantis significantly weakened the measure.

Read more on Yahoo News: DeSantis has yet to explain why just 20 ex-felons were singled out on voting charges, via Orlando Sentinel

Evasive on the campaign trail — until now

A man in Simi Valley, Calif., endorsing a Trump-DeSantis ticket

A man in Simi Valley, Calif., endorsing a Trump-DeSantis ticket, March 5. (Allison Dinner/Reuters)

“We need the courage to lead and the strength to win,” DeSantis said in a video that accompanied the launch of his presidential campaign earlier this year.

But as Trump opened up an ever-widening lead in both national and state-level polls, DeSantis had trouble convincing voters that they should switch allegiance from Trump simply out of electability concerns.

After all, most Republican primary voters continued to believe that Trump had won. And the electability argument had failed to persuade them in 2016, when they — and Trump — proved wrong those who made it.

Even when directly asked about the Jan. 6 attack, DeSantis ducked the issue.

“I wasn’t anywhere near Washington that day,” he told voters in New Hampshire. “I have nothing to do with what happened that day. Obviously, I didn’t enjoy seeing what happened, but we’ve got to go forward on this stuff. We cannot be looking backwards and be mired in the past.”

The response was widely mocked, including by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a rival for the 2024 nomination.

With his campaign sputtering in the polls and burning through cash, DeSantis is trying to draw clearer distinctions between himself and Trump.

There will be costs to that shift. The former president’s campaign criticized DeSantis harshly for his latest comments.

“Ron DeSantis will say whatever he can to keep his campaign afloat, even though he was one of America’s leading election critics until his campaign needed a ‘reset,’” campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said, referencing recent attempts by DeSantis to regain the confidence of Republican donors and grassroots. “Ron will do whatever it takes to hoodwink a few more donors into giving to his failed campaign.”

Read more on Yahoo News: Why has Ron DeSantis been such a flop?

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