Trump brushes off polls showing Ron DeSantis ahead of him in critical states ahead of 2024: 'He won't be leading, I got him elected'
Trump on Saturday stepped up his criticism of DeSantis as the GOP presidential campaign heats up.
As he spoke to reporters, the former president took credit for DeSantis' rise: "I got him elected."
Trump traveled to New Hampshire and South Carolina on Saturday to rally support among Republicans.
Former President Donald Trump on Saturday stepped up his political campaign against Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida — a potential competitor for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — stating that the Sunshine State leader "won't be leading" in polling and continuing to take credit for the former congressman's political ascent.
After Trump announced his third presidential bid last November, he pretty much went cold on the campaign trail — a rarity for him.
But on Saturday, he made major appearances in New Hampshire and South Carolina, two key early-voting states that will play an outsized role in the nomination process.
During his speeches, he sought to rally his base — taking swings at President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York while also railing against immigration issues at the US-Mexico border and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.
While speaking to reporters, though, Trump let loose on DeSantis, who had long been his political ally — but who now could threaten his goal of securing the GOP presidential nomination next year.
Per Politico, Trump accused DeSantis of seeking to "rewrite history" when it came to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that the Florida governor "promoted the vaccine as much as anyone."
Among GOP governors, DeSantis has long been one of the strongest opponents of vaccine mandates and fought vigorously against vaccine passports, even as he also touted the high vaccination rates of Floridians aged 65 and older.
But by late last year, DeSantis had become much more critical of COVID-19 vaccines, as Insider's Kimberly Leonard reported, putting him far to the right of Trump on the issue.
On Saturday, the former president continued his broadsides against DeSantis.
"When I hear that he might [run] I think it's very disloyal," Trump said of the Florida governor, according to Politico.
While Trump continues to lead in many national polls among prospective 2024 GOP voters, his once impenetrable standing has declined in some statewide polling.
Last week, a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll showed DeSantis ahead of Trump by 12 points, with 46% – or slightly less than half — of all GOP respondents stating that they wanted to see the former president on the ballot again next year.
Polling in South Carolina has been murkier, with both Trump and DeSantis coming out on top in two separate polls released in the past few months.
But Trump has cast aside the possibility that he's behind in the GOP race — or that he would be pushed to the side should the Florida governor enter the primary.
"He won't be leading, I got him elected," the former president said, alluding to his 2018 endorsement of DeSantis which catapulted the then-congressman to the top of the GOP gubernatorial field that year. "I'm the one that chose him."
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