Donald Trump Ron DeSantis SPLIT
Washington CNN  — 

Former president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump has gone on the attack against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential rival for the Republican nomination in 2024 – bashing the governor over everything from pandemic policy to Social Security.

CNN looked into the accuracy of seven of the assertions Trump has made about DeSantis this month, many of them in a lengthy written statement last week that Trump also turned into a series of posts on his social media platform.

One of Trump’s claims was an exaggeration about temporary restrictions DeSantis put in place early in the Covid-19 pandemic. Another claim was a misleading comparison between the number of votes Trump and DeSantis received in Florida. A third claim was a repeated inaccuracy in Trump’s oft-told story about why he decided to endorse DeSantis’s first campaign for governor.

Two Trump claims, about Florida’s numbers on crime and Covid-19, were correct but left out critical context about the size of Florida’s population. And the two other Trump claims – about DeSantis’s past votes on Social Security and Medicare and about where Florida stands in a certain set of rankings – were accurate.

DeSantis and beach closures

Trump claimed in the written statement last week: “Surprise, Ron was a big Lockdown Governor on the China Virus, sealing all beaches and everything else for an extended period of time.”

Facts First: Trump exaggerated. DeSantis never sealed “all” beaches in Florida, though he did impose significant restrictions on beaches, businesses and individual movement at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 – at the time that Trump was calling for a national effort to minimize in-person contact and large gatherings.

Amid concern prompted by viral images of Florida beaches filled with students on spring break, DeSantis issued an executive order on March 17, 2020, that limited gatherings on the state’s public beaches to no more than 10 people staying at least six feet apart. DeSantis issued another order three days later that shut down public beaches in two populous Florida counties, Broward and Palm Beach.

However, DeSantis never shut down all beaches in the state, deciding to leave other closure decisions to individual municipalities. That decision generated criticism; DeSantis was even sued, unsuccessfully, for refusing to order a statewide beach closure. He allowed beaches in Broward and Palm Beach to reopen in late May 2020.

As president, Trump did not criticize DeSantis for restricting the use of Florida beaches. In fact, the same week that DeSantis issued his orders to keep beach gatherings to 10 or fewer people six feet apart and to close some beaches, Trump and his White House were calling on Americans to keep in-person gatherings to 10 or fewer people and avoid unnecessary travel as part of a national “15 days to slow the spread” effort.

Trump votes vs. DeSantis votes

Trump claimed in the written statement: “He got 1.2 million less Votes in Florida than me.”

Facts First: This is misleading. While DeSantis did get fewer votes in his two gubernatorial victories in Florida than Trump did in winning the state in two presidential elections, the two men were running in different years – 2018 and 2022 for DeSantis, 2016 and 2020 for Trump – which makes direct comparison between their vote totals impossible; DeSantis ran in midterm years in which voter turnout is consistently lower around the country than it is in presidential election years. Also, there is no apparent basis for the “1.2 million” figure. Trump’s 2020 vote total in Florida, about 5.7 million, was about 1.05 million higher than DeSantis’s vote total in 2022 and about 1.59 million higher than DeSantis’s vote total in 2018.

Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis

Trump has repeated a story in which he has claimed or suggested that he decided to endorse DeSantis for governor, when DeSantis was way behind in a Republican primary, largely because DeSantis had stood with him in his impeachment battle.

“He said, ‘I’m telling you if you endorse me, I have a chance,’ and he was one of many, many congressmen that voted for me on the impeachment hoax. And I figured why not,” Trump told a small group of reporters on his plane two weeks ago, the right-wing Daily Caller reported.

In a campaign rally speech in Texas on Saturday and a Fox interview that aired on Monday night, Trump again invoked DeSantis’s impeachment defense, though a little less directly, while explaining his initial endorsement.

Trump said at the rally that he initially told DeSantis he was too far behind in the Republican primary to be endorsed, but that DeSantis had “fought a little bit, just a little bit, on impeachment hoax number one, impeachment hoax number two, meaning on television. Because I didn’t know him very well. But I saw him. So he came and really wanted it. I said, ‘You can’t win, can you?’…’Sir, if you endorse me, I’ll win. Please, please, sir, endorse me.’ And I said all right, let’s give it a shot.”

Facts First: Trump’s story cannot possibly be true. Trump issued his official endorsement of DeSantis in June 2018 – but his first impeachment battle, over his effort to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden, did not begin until the fall of 2019. Trump might have been thinking of how DeSantis defended him over a special counsel investigation in 2017 into his campaign’s relationship with Russia, which he has also called a “hoax,” but that probe did not lead to impeachment.

While we can’t definitively fact-check Trump’s claim in both the rally speech and the Fox interview that DeSantis had “tears in his eyes” while seeking the endorsement, it’s worth noting that Trump has for years lied about various people supposedly crying in interactions with him – and that he has a poor track record of accuracy with stories in which he claims someone kept calling him “sir.”

Florida’s crime numbers

Trump claimed in the written statement that “on crime statistics, Florida ranked Third Worst in Murder, Third Worst in Rape, and Third Worst in Aggravated Assault.”

Facts First: This needs context. Trump was correct that Florida has had the third-most of various kinds of crimes, but that’s mostly because Florida has had the third-biggest population. Per capita, a fairer way to compare jurisdictions of different sizes, Florida rates notably better. In 2020, the last year for which thorough national crime data has been published by the FBI, Florida was 25th-worst for reported murders, 33rd-worst for reported rapes, and 23rd-worst for reported aggravated assaults, crime analyst and consultant Jeff Asher told CNN.

Asked for comment, DeSantis’s office pointed to the fact that Florida’s overall crime rate fell to a 50-year low in 2021. (US crime data from 2021 should be viewed with caution because of methodological issues, but overall crime in Florida has been on the decline for decades.)

Florida’s Covid-19 numbers

Trump claimed in the written statement that DeSantis “was Third Worst in the Nation for COVID-19 Deaths (losing 86,294 People)” and “Third Worst for Total Number of Cases, at 7,516,906.”

Facts First: This too needs context. Trump’s claim about Florida being “third worst” was correct when comparing states by their absolute number of Covid-19 cases and deaths. As with crime, though, it’s much fairer to do state-to-state health comparisons using per-capita figures. Florida fares somewhat better in the per-capita rankings, though still far from excellent: it was the 8th-worst state for cases and tied for 10th-worst state for deaths, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data as of Tuesday.

Asked for comment, DeSantis’s office noted that, when adjusted for age, Florida’s Covid-19 death rate is better than more than half of the states; Florida’s non-adjusted death rate is affected by the fact that it has one of the country’s largest populations of seniors.

Florida in other rankings

Trump claimed in the written statement that “Florida ranks #39 in Health & Safety in the Country, #50 in Affordability, and #30 in Education & Childcare.”

Facts First: Trump was accurately citing one website’s rankings. It’s worth mentioning, though, that these rankings are not any sort of official measure. Trump didn’t explain that the rankings were from a personal finance site called WalletHub, which came up with its own methodology to rank states on the question of where is best to raise a family.

WalletHub made various subjective methodology decisions. To assess the health and safety of states, for example, WalletHub decided to consider factors like “Number of Climate Disasters Causing $1 Billion+ in Damages in Past Decades,” “Pediatricians per Capita,” and the share of minors who live in so-called “supportive neighborhoods.” Others might choose a significantly different way to assess a state’s health and safety. It’s the same story for the other categories.

Asked for comment, DeSantis’s office responded by pointing to different rankings – one from media company U.S. News and World Report that placed Florida third in the country in education and another from the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, that put Florida first in the country in “education freedom.”

DeSantis’s past positions on Social Security and Medicare

Trump claimed DeSantis “fought for massive cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and wanted Social Security minimum age to be raised to 70-years-old, or more.”

Facts First: This claim is fair, though what counts as a “massive” cut is up for debate. As a member of the House of Representatives between 2013 and 2018, DeSantis voted for nonbinding resolutions that proposed to gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age to 70 (from 65) and the Social Security full retirement age to 70 (from 67), to spend hundreds of billions less on Medicare than projected and to substantially reduce Social Security spending growth as well.

As CNN’s KFILE team has reported, DeSantis expressed support for privatizing Social Security and Medicare during his 2012 campaign and again just after he was sworn into office in 2013, calling for the federal government to “restructure” both programs to make them financially “sustainable.” The nonbinding resolution he voted for as a congressman in 2013 proposed to leave Medicare unchanged for people “in or near retirement” but adopt a “premium support” model for future generations – allowing people to choose a traditional Medicare plan or put government funds toward a private plan of their choosing.

DeSantis has not outlined a specific agenda for Medicare or Social Security as he considers a presidential bid this year, and his office did not offer a response to this particular claim. DeSantis said on Fox in early March: “We’re not going to mess with Social Security as Republicans. I think that that’s pretty clear.”

Deidre McPhillips contributed to this article.