Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a swipe at former President Donald Trump over Anthony Fauci’s role during the pandemic while delivering a keynote speech at a Republican event.
“A leader must have the confidence to stand all alone if need be,” DeSantis said at the Utah GOP Convention on Saturday. “And so for us, as I got into office, COVID presented that situation for us because we were in a situation – the third-largest state in the country – one of the highest percentage of elderly, economy based on tourism, which we needed to travel to continue.
“So this situation was an existential threat to our state, but I made the judgment. Leaders take the bull by the horns and make the decisions for themselves. They don’t subcontract out their leadership to health bureaucrats like Dr. Fauci,” he continued.
Fauci, who retired as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases last year, served as a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force under the Trump administration, helping craft guidelines for Americans during the pandemic.
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Trump and Fauci’s relationship became contentious during the pandemic, with the former president suggesting ahead of the 2020 election that he might fire Fauci. Trump called out the health leader and his colleague Deborah Birx for their “bad policy decisions” in 2021.
“Based on their interviews, I felt it was time to speak up about Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, two self-promoters trying to reinvent history to cover for their bad instincts and faulty recommendations, which I fortunately almost always overturned,” Trump said in 2021 after Fauci and Birx conducted interviews with CNN for a documentary that year.
“They had bad policy decisions that would have left our country open to China and others, closed to reopening our economy, and years away from an approved vaccine – putting millions of lives at risk.”
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Trump did award Fauci and other members of Operation Warp Speed, which accelerated the development and distribution of the COVID vaccines, with presidential commendations for their work in 2021.
Upon President Biden taking office, Fauci went on to serve as the administration’s chief medical adviser to the president until last year, when he retired.
The governor has previously taken shots at Trump and Fauci for their leadership during the pandemic, saying last month that he would have “fired” Fauci if he had been president.
“Well, I think there’s a few things,” DeSantis told journalist Piers Morgan last month when asked about his differences with Trump. “The approach to COVID was different. I would have fired somebody like Fauci. I think he got way too big for his britches, and I think he did a lot of damage.”
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DeSantis was invited to deliver the keynote speech on Saturday for the Utah Republican Party’s 2023 organizing convention. The Florida governor has not announced an official run for president in 2024, but is anticipated to throw his hat in the ring, which would tee him up against Trump and a handful of other Republicans for the nomination.
“Utah is one of the best-governed states in the United States,” DeSantis told the delegates in his speech. “Utah, like Florida, is where freedom works. Maybe Florida is the Utah of the southeast.”
His speech focused on his work in Florida during the pandemic, as well as his ongoing fight against Disney as he railed against “wokeness.”
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“It’s what I refer to as the ‘woke mind virus.’ We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die,” DeSantis said.
Though DeSantis has yet to announce a presidential run, various polls show he’s trailing Trump, who has already announced a run for next year’s election. Trump took a shot at DeSantis during an appearance on the “Full Send” podcast that aired last week, describing him as a “rocket man that’s crashing.”
“You have a guy from Florida, Ron DeSantis, who I got in with my endorsement. He was at three points. He was nothing, he was not going to win. He was going to lose and I endorsed him,” Trump said on the podcast.
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“He was dead politically. I endorsed him and saved him. He was losing by like 25, 30 points very shortly before the election. When I endorsed him he went like a rocket ship,” Trump continued. “I should call him rocket man, but now he’s rocket man that’s crashing.”