Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has said former US President Donald Trump lost the 2020 United States election, in his clearest remarks yet dismissing Trump’s false claims that the results were marred by widespread fraud.
“Of course he lost,” the Florida governor, who is widely considered to be Trump’s top challenger for the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination, said in an interview released on Monday with US news outlet NBC.
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“Of course. Joe Biden’s the president,” DeSantis said.
His comments come as a large majority of Republican voters continue to believe Trump’s false election fraud claims, making confirmation of the 2020 results a liability within the party, according to some experts.
DeSantis – who sits a distant second behind Trump in the race for the Republican nod, according to recent polls – had taken an ambiguous stance on Trump’s false claims for years, and he continued to criticise the methods used to expand voting access during the NBC interview.
The governor repeated his concerns about voting methods from the 2020 election, such as voting by mail, but like other Republicans, he said he would embrace the methods he had criticised.
“I don’t think it was a good-run election, but I also think Republicans didn’t fight back. You’ve got to fight back when that is happening,” DeSantis said.
The stolen election claims served as the basis for Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to President Joe Biden.
US prosecutors said the former president’s push included a pressure campaign against state officials and resulted in a mob of his supporters overrunning the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in a failed attempt to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory.
Last week, Trump pleaded not guilty in a Washington, DC, courtroom to four felony counts linked to his 2020 election interference campaign. He has denied any wrongdoing and said the case is evidence of “political persecution” and a conspiracy against him.
In a post on his Truth Social website on Monday, Trump railed against US Special Counsel Jack Smith, who led the Department of Justice investigation into his actions, calling Smith and the department “deranged”.
Meanwhile, DeSantis’s interview with NBC comes as he tries to breathe new life into his floundering bid for the presidency.
The 44-year-old has struggled to carve out a niche in the race for the Republican nomination, positioning himself as a more stable figure than Trump while sometimes attacking the scandal-plagued ex-president from the right on issues such as LGBTQ rights.
Since he officially launched his campaign in May, DeSantis has lagged behind Trump in the polls.
A New York Times/Siena College poll released last week showed Trump with 54 percent support among likely Republican primary voters, compared with 17 percent for DeSantis.
“More than three-quarters of Republican voters view Trump favorably and two-thirds view DeSantis favorably,” Don Levy, director of the Siena College Research Institute, said in a statement released with the poll results.
“However, GOP voters overwhelmingly see Trump rather than DeSantis as a strong leader, able to get things done and as best able to beat President Joe Biden.”