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Ron DeSantis begins to highlight his differences from Trump

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is beginning to highlight his differences from former President Donald Trump, and in the process, he's taking some swipes at Trump, who is running for president for a third time. 

Trump, who once championed DeSantis and endorsed his gubernatorial bid in 2018, has been disparaging DeSantis as "DeSanctimonious" since the 2022 midterm elections, when many of his chosen GOP candidates floundered as DeSantis and Florida Republicans won decisive victories. 

British journalist Piers Morgan, in an interview with DeSantis, asked him about how he and Trump differ from one another. The Florida governor pointed to his "different approach to COVID," a reference to his decision to reopen businesses while the national economy shut down, or the difference in support of the COVID-19 vaccine. He also said he would have fired former Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci. However, Trump did not have the legal authority to fire him because he was not a political appointee.

In his interview, which will be released in full on Thursday night, DeSantis also told Morgan there is a lack of "daily drama" within his administration, an indirect reference to Trump's tenure that he's also mentioned in recent speeches in Florida, Iowa and Nevada. He was also asked if "personal conduct in a leader matters," likely a reference to alleged underlying conduct in the Manhattan D.A.'s investigation into whether Trump was involved in falsifying records of payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. DeSantis responded by pointing to "people like our Founding Fathers."

"It's not saying that you don't ever make a mistake in your personal life, but I think, what type of character are you bringing?" DeSantis asked Morgan, adding that George Washington "set the standard" after surrendering his role as commander-in-chief after the Revolutionary War. 

On Trump's moniker for him, "Ron DeSanctimonious," DeSantis seemed to laugh it off. 

"I don't really know what it means, but I kinda like it, it's long, it's got a lot of vowels. We'll go with that, that's fine. I mean you can call me whatever you want, just as long as you also call me a winner because that's what we've been able to do in Florida, is put a lot of points on the board and really take this state to the next level," DeSantis told Morgan.

"To me, it's just background noise," he added. "It's not important for me to be fighting with people on social media. It's not accomplishing anything for the people I represent." 

On Monday, after Trump's campaign sought to draw attention to the fact that DeSantis had not weighed in over the weekend on Trump's potential indictment over the Daniels payments, DeSantis lambasted Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. He characterized him as a "Soros-backed DA" who has created a "manufactured crisis." 

But DeSantis also asserted that his time would be spent "on issues that actually matter to people" and noted that he had no idea "what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair."

DeSantis, who is giving a presidential run "serious consideration," is expected to visit many states outside of Florida as part of his book tour and speaking engagements, including South Carolina and Nevada in April, according to two people familiar with the governor's political orbit. He will also be taking trips to New Hampshire, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio next month for various speaking engagements. 

DeSantis is aware of what Trump is doing and saying about him, according to one person.

"I don't think it's a full 'gloves off' moment," the source said about DeSantis' answers in the Morgan interview. "But it's showing regardless of whether DeSantis runs for president or not, he's his own man. He's appreciative of what Trump has done for the country and what he did for him in the first election, but he's not going to bend his knee to him. The kind of bullying tactics that Trump is employing, just don't work on this guy."

The Florida governor's political team declined to comment on the Morgan interview or any upcoming travel.

Trump has frequently gone on the attack against DeSantis, whom he believes is "probably" his biggest challenger in 2024 at this point. In a speech in Davenport, Iowa, earlier this month, Trump criticized DeSantis' opposition to ethanol as a congressman and compared him to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a foil for the Trump base. 

After DeSantis' answer on Monday, Trump shot back in a Truth Social post that DeSantis "will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he's unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are "underage" (or possibly a man!)."

In his post, Trump attached a screenshot of a picture of DeSantis allegedly drinking with underage students during his stint as a teacher in Georgia. These allegations have not been independently confirmed by CBS News. 

Asked by Morgan about a timeline on a 2024 run, DeSantis said he hasn't made a "final decision on it" but believes if he does, that he could beat President Joe Biden.

"If I were to run. I'm running against Biden," DeSantis said. "Like we [him and Trump] are competing for the Republican [nomination] potentially, I get that, but ultimately you know the guy I'm gonna focus on is Biden because I think he's failed the country. I think the country wants a change. I think they want a fresh start and a new direction and so we'll be very vocal about that."

Trump and his allies have panned DeSantis' interview with Morgan. On Wednesday, his campaign highlighted a Monmouth University poll that shows Trump's lead over DeSantis increasing in a hypothetical Republican primary. The poll was conducted before Trump claimed last weekend that a potential indictment was looming. 

In a Truth Social post on Wednesday, he wrote, "Ron DeSanctimonious is not working for the people of Florida as he should be, he is too busy chatting with a Ratings Challenged TV Host from England, desperately trying to rescue his failing Campaign." 

"But it's my fault — I put him there," he said, referencing his endorsement of DeSantis in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial race. 

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