Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a swing at Republican primary frontrunner Donald Trump Thursday, saying the 45th president “turned the country over” to Dr. Anthony Fauci during the COVID-19 pandemic and “destroyed millions of people’s lives” as a result.
“I think he did great for three years, but when he turned the country over to Fauci in March of 2020, that destroyed millions of people’s lives,” the 44-year-old DeSantis told radio host Glenn Beck, referring to the longtime National Institutes of Health official and former chief medical adviser to President Biden.
“And in Florida, we were one of the few that stood up, cut against the grain, took incoming fire from media, bureaucracy, the left, even a lot of Republicans, had schools open, preserved businesses.
“And so Florida, since COVID, has outperformed virtually any state in the country, when you look at all these significant metrics, I mean, we’re booming,” the governor went on. “We’ve got people moving in here. Wealth is coming in here.
“And so I think when people look back — that 2020 year was not a good year for the country as a whole. It was a situation where Florida started to stand alone. So I think that that’s important contrast.”
The DeSantis campaign got off to a shaky start on Wednesday, launching his presidential campaign in a Twitter Spaces conversation with billionaire Elon Musk that crashed and had audio cut out several times due to the number of listeners.
Trump, 76, who is leading DeSantis by double-digit margins in recent primary polls, has faulted the Florida governor for his handling of COVID-19, claiming he actually “shut down [the] Sunshine State.”
“Florida was actually closed, for a great, long period of time,” Trump told reporters in February. “Remember, he closed the beaches and everything else? They’re trying to rewrite history.”
COVID lockdowns were initially adopted by most state governors in March 2020, but Florida was among the first states to lift stay-at-home orders and end business closures.
In addition to his anti-lockdown stance, DeSantis has highlighted his opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
“The way they weaponized these COVID vaxxes was a massive incursion into our freedoms,” DeSantis told the Florida Family Policy Council last weekend. “They wanted to deny people the right to put food on their table if they didn’t bend the knee and get a COVID shot that they may not have wanted and that many of them did not need.”
“We can never allow ‘Warp Speed’ to trump informed consent in this country ever again,” he added, referring to the Trump-era name for the vaccine push.
The Biden administration later took over the project as part of the White House COVID-19 Response Team and pressed for federal employee vaccination mandates throughout the first two years of the president’s term.
Biden let the mandates quietly expire earlier this month after a series of court battles with state officials over the forced vaccinations.
DeSantis in November 2021 signed a law that banned the vaccine mandates for state employees, including public school workers.
He has questioned the efficacy of the vaccines and last year pushed for a grand jury investigation into the matter.