Former President Donald Trump took aim at Ron DeSantis Saturday, claiming the Florida governor and his team are “trying to rewrite history” regarding their Covid-19 pandemic response, and called the potential presidential run by his GOP rival “very disloyal.”
“There are Republican governors that did not close their states,” Trump told reporters while aboard his plane. “Florida was closed for a long period of time.”
“They’re trying to rewrite history,” he added. CNN has reached out to DeSantis for comment.
In March 2020, the Florida governor issued an executive order closing bars and nightclubs, urging people to follow US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to limit gatherings on beaches to no more than 10 people. By that September, DeSantis signed an order clearing restaurants and bars to fully open, which drew criticism from public health officials due to the Covid-19 spike that fall.
Trump defended his management of the pandemic, saying he left decisions to governors.
“I had governors that decided not to close a thing and that was up to them,” he said. The former president also took aim at DeSantis’ shifting posture on vaccines, saying the Florida governor had “changed his tune a lot.”
That claim comes after DeSantis called on state lawmakers this month to make permanent existing penalties for companies that require all employees get the Covid-19 vaccination.
The rivalry with Trump hangs over every move DeSantis makes. Their relationship traces back to the governor’s 2018 primary campaign, when an endorsement from Trump helped the little-known congressman win the nomination. A viral ad featuring DeSantis and his family, including two young children, highlighted his allegiance to Trump.
But as talk of 2024 swirled in recent months, as Trump again declared his presidential candidacy, and DeSantis won re-election in a 19-point landslide in November, the pair grew increasingly at odds. Before and after the midterm election, Trump derided DeSantis as an “average governor” and mocked him with the would-be nickname, “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
On Saturday, during his first major campaign swing to New Hampshire and South Carolina, Trump took credit again for helping elevate DeSantis during his 2018 bid for governor, saying “Ron would have not been governor if it wasn’t for me.”
“So when I hear he might run, I consider that very disloyal,” Trump said.
While taking aim at DeSantis, Trump told reporters aboard his plane that Nikki Haley – who served as his ambassador to the United Nations – called him in recent days to inform him that she is considering launching a 2024 presidential bid.
“I talked to her for a little while, I said, ‘Look, you know, go by your heart if you want to run,’” Trump said. “She’s publicly said that ‘I would never run against my president, he was a great president.’”
Trump said he told Haley that she “should do it.”
Haley, who recently relocated her top aides to Charleston, is said to be weighing the timing of a campaign launch at this point, not wanting to be the first one to take on Trump by herself. In 2021, she said she would not challenge Trump if he ran again for the White House in 2024.
CNN has reached out to Haley for comment.
CNN’s Kit Maher contributed to this report.