Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, has expressed concerns that Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s independent run for president could disproportionately affect Donald Trump’s chances in the upcoming general election.
Addressing an audience in New Hampshire, DeSantis remarked this week that Kennedy “will hurt Trump way more than he will hurt any other candidates,” as reported by The Messenger. Although Kennedy’s campaign is considered a long shot, certain polls indicate that he might siphon votes from either the Republican or Democratic nominee or potentially both. Kennedy has recently declared his independent candidacy after initially launching his 2024 campaign as a Democrat, posing a challenge to incumbent President Joe Biden.
During the event, Governor DeSantis positioned himself as a preferable alternative to President Trump, suggesting that Kennedy would draw more votes away from the former president than from himself. DeSantis attributed this to his opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and lockdowns during the pandemic.
“If I’m the nominee, they all go to me because I stood up against Fauci,” DeSantis stated, referring to voters dissatisfied with former White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci. “With Trump, though, he created Fauci. He elevated Fauci. He never fired him.”
Kennedy, a descendant of the late New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, has been a vocal critic of certain childhood vaccines and, more recently, of COVID-19 vaccines and related mandates. His stance on vaccines could attract votes from like-minded individuals.
“RFK Jr. will be a vessel for anti-lockdown and anti-Anthony Fauci voters if Trump is the nominee. If I’m the nominee, they all go to me because I stood up against Fauci,” DeSantis reiterated, based on footage from the event. He added that voters frustrated with the federal government’s handling of COVID-19 and seeking accountability would find a voice in him.
The Trump campaign has dismissed DeSantis’s assertions. Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Trump, criticized Ron DeSantis’ uninformed perspective.
This is not the first time DeSantis has suggested that Kennedy’s candidacy could draw votes away from Trump. DeSantis made it clear in an interview with WGIR-TV in October that he doesn’t believe the potential third party run by RFK would be a concern if he becomes the nominee, but it could have an impact on Trump’s campaign.
According to DeSantis, his strong stance on issues such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and COVID lockdowns could be a factor in the election, and he has actively addressed these issues. He went on to describe the former president as “very weak” on vaccines and reiterated his claim that Trump “empowered Fauci.” Despite this, Trump frequently criticized Dr. Fauci in 2020, at one point labeling him a “disaster” and contemplating his dismissal.
In response to the criticism last month, President Trump told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he was “not allowed” to fire Dr. Fauci due to his civil service status. Trump explained that while the advisor played a significant role in Biden’s administration, he wasn’t a major figure in Trump’s own administration and, therefore, he often chose not to follow his advice.
Meanwhile, the former president highlighted that DeSantis “shut down beaches” and the state of Florida in early 2020, contrasting this with the actions of other governors. According to Trump, Florida had the third-highest COVID death toll. “That’s a horrible, that’s a horrible statistic. Ron was the third-worst in terms of actual death from COVID,” Trump pointed out.
Despite DeSantis’s belief that his stance on COVID-19 will benefit him in the general election, current polling suggests that Republican voters are not convinced. Since announcing his candidacy in May, DeSantis has struggled to gain momentum, trailing Trump by over 45 percentage points in an Oct. 24 aggregate of polls. The RealClearPolitics average shows DeSantis at 13 percent, Trump at 58.8 percent, Nikki Haley at 8.3 percent, and Vivek Ramaswamy at 4.8 percent.
Kennedy’s campaign has yet to publicly respond to DeSantis’s recent remarks.