Though he hasn’t formally endorsed the former president, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy declared in an interview on Sunday that Donald Trump was “stronger than he has ever been” in his pursuit of the 2024 Republican nomination – and that his closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, was “not at the same level.”
“President Trump is beating Biden right now in the polls. He's stronger than he has ever been in this process,” McCarthy said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” this weekend. “And, look, I served with Ron DeSantis. He's not at the same level as President Trump by any shape or form. He would not have gotten elected [governor] without President Trump's endorsement.”
The comments came in response to reporting that DeSantis is encouraging Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus — a far-right cohort the governor helped start when he was in Congress — to shut the government down if McCarthy doesn't accede to their spending demands.
On Monday, DeSantis laughed when asked about the Speaker’s comment at an unrelated press conference in Jacksonville, saying the critique was a “badge of honor” and evidence of establishment Republicans in Washington opposing his candidacy.
“I am not somebody who the D.C. establishment wants to see up there. There's no question about that, because they know that a lot of things will be changing,” DeSantis said. “I would just also point out that we in Florida have a right to expect that they get some stuff done for us like they said they would when they campaign because Florida was instrumental in them even having the majority to begin with.”
DeSantis also took a shot at McCarthy’s shaky footing as leader and said he bungled a friendly political environment during last year’s midterm election. He credited Florida Republicans and a strong showing by former Rep. Lee Zeldin in the New York gubernatorial race for helping give House Republicans a majority despite a poorer-than-expected performance elsewhere in the country.
“The only reason they even got the majority is because the governor candidate [in] New York overperformed and because we delivered a red tsunami in Florida that gave them an extra four seats,” the governor said. “That's the story of the midterm. If you take that out, the Democrats would have held onto the House of Representatives.”
McCarthy’s narrow House majority — which only elected him as speaker after a historic 15 rounds of voting in January — is in fact bolstered by four freshman New York Republicans who flipped Biden-voting districts and four Floridians who won in newly drawn districts that have since been rejected for unconstitutionally diminishing Black voters’ say in the democratic process.
The 2024 presidential hopeful pointed to McCarthy’s own allegiance to Trump, noting the president’s endorsement helped secure the California Republican the House speakership earlier this year.
“Donald Trump, he supported Kevin McCarthy very strongly for speaker. I don't think he would have won the speaker vote. Donald Trump was instrumental in him earning that speaker's gavel,” DeSantis said. “And they worked hand in glove really, throughout his whole presidency.”
As McCarthy did on Sunday, Trump has frequently insisted that in 2018, DeSantis — then a backbench Republican congressman — would not have won the GOP primary for governor had he not offered his endorsement over a better-funded opponent. DeSantis tied himself so closely to Trump during that campaign that he released a campaign ad featuring him reading Trump’s book to his infant child.
But now as Trump’s rival, DeSantis painted McCarthy’s loyalty to Trump as a detriment to the party and the country.
“They were on the same team on every major spending bill that came down the pike and they ended up together adding $7.8 trillion to our national debt,” DeSantis said. “And so he said that we're different? We are different, because in Florida, we run budget surpluses. We've paid down almost 25% of our state's debt just since I've been governor.”
“So it's a much different approach, to where we're doing it right,” the governor added.
As of Monday, DeSantis trails Trump by more than 40 percentage points on average in national primary polls, according to polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight.