Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday tackled tough questions from Real Time host Bill Maher and received repeated applause from the audience when he vowed to “clean house” in the public-health apparatus that brought about Covid lockdowns.
The center-left personality asked why DeSantis decided to run for president, given former president Trump’s current domination of the GOP candidate field.
“You did not take my advice,” Maher said. “I was on the show- a few times we talked- I said, ‘this guy’s crazy to run this time. He’s- what are you, 45 years old? You just had a birthday, right?”
“Yeah,” DeSantis said.
Maher remarked that DeSantis has decades ahead of him in his political career to enter the presidential race. The GOP nomination will be difficult to take from Trump, Maher suggested.
“Why run against Trump? You’re trying to thread this needle that will never happen,” he added. “You can’t disavow him because that’s the base, and yet you’re running against him. And that’s why, I mean, let’s face it Ron, if the campaign was going well, you wouldn’t be on this show.”
DeSantis reminded Maher of Trump’s weak spots, namely his leadership during Covid, when he elevated Dr. Fauci to advise the government’s pandemic policies. After following those directives in Florida initially, DeSantis reversed course and ended lockdowns and many other Covid restrictions. The governor has been a vocal Fauci critic ever since.
“Oh that’s not true,” DeSantis said. “One: I don’t think he can win the election. I could win the election. Two: I don’t think he could actually get the job done that we need to do.”
“For example, COVID. I think we need accountability for what this government did to this country with the COVID restrictions mandates and lockdowns. Donald Trump is not gonna do that… He’s not going to clean house at CDC, NIH, FDA. I will do that. I will get the job done,” DeSantis promised, evoking applause from the audience.
DeSantis defended his record of conservative achievements in Florida.
“The one thing about me in Florida, and even my critics will acknowledge- if he says he’s going to do something, he will follow through and get the job done,” he said. “So it’s about the country. Are we gonna get the country turned around or not? I don’t think he’s a vehicle that’s doing and I have been- when I supported them on things I liked. I’ve said it, but I’ve been critical about the things that he didn’t do, and I’m gonna continue to do that.”
After Maher knocked him for propping up Trump allies that spread the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen, DeSantis doubled down and argued that the aim was to elect Republicans to key seats and positions. DeSantis also called hypocrisy on Maher for coming from the Hollywood world in which it was very popular to spread the false claims that Russia stole the 2016 election for Donald Trump.
“Your friends in Hollywood were cutting ads telling the Electoral College to vote against Trump in the Electoral College because it was stolen,” DeSantis rebutted. “They said Russia stole the election, for years they said that. So don’t act like this is like a unique thing in modern history of the country.”
After the audience again cheered, Maher shot back in jest, “First of all, Ron, I have no friends in Hollywood.”
Most polling shows Trump ahead of DeSantis a significant margin in the 2024 race. After the first presidential debate, which Trump boycotted, Republican voters said DeSantis performed best 29 percent compared to 26 percent for conservative entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, according to a Washington Post/FiveThrityEight/Ipsos poll. After the second presidential debate last week, which Trump skipped again, a plurality of Republican primary voters who watched it concluded that DeSantis won again, according to the same poll conducted immediately after the debate.