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Ron DeSantis says Trump’s indictments ‘distorted’ GOP presidential race

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said that the indictments of former president Donald Trump have “distorted” the Republican presidential race, suggesting that the criminal charges have contributed to Trump’s domination of the field as well as to DeSantis’s slide in the polls.

“I would say if I could have one thing change, I wish Trump hadn’t been indicted on any of this stuff,” DeSantis told the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview that aired Thursday.

DeSantis argued that since “Alvin Bragg on,” Trump has been dominating the race as Republican voters rallied around him in response to what they see as unjust prosecutions. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump in April over allegedly falsifying business records connected to an investigation into hush money payments to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.

The former president has been indicted three times since then: by special counsel Jack Smith in cases related to the retention of classified documents and to Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election result, as well as a separate case in Georgia related to attempts to reverse election results there.

“I’ve criticized the cases. I think, you know, someone like a Bragg would not have brought that case if it was anyone other than Donald Trump,” DeSantis said. “Someone like that’s distorting justice, which is bad, but I also think it distorted the primary.”

The indictments, DeSantis said, “just crowded out … so much other stuff.”

“It sucked out a lot of oxygen,” he added.

Trump has been leading the shrinking pack of GOP primary contestants since the race began, but in the early stages of the contest, DeSantis appeared to be within striking distance of the former president. According to The Washington Post monthly average of national GOP nomination polls in February, DeSantis was running 10 points behind Trump, 42 percent to 32 percent. In March, DeSantis was 14 points behind Trump, 46 percent to 32 percent.

But the former president’s lead began widening in April after Bragg’s hush-money indictment was brought.

That month, The Post’s polling average found Trump with 49 percent of support. DeSantis, meanwhile, slid to 25 percent. Since then, the former president has received at least 50 percent of GOP voters’ support in the average of national polls. Support for DeSantis, meanwhile, has continued dropping.

The Post’s average of December national polls shows 60 percent of Republicans support Trump, 13 percent support DeSantis, 11 percent support former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, 4 percent support entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and 2 percent support former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

However, DeSantis’s big slide in the polls from February to April — and onward from there — can’t entirely be explained by the former president’s indictments.

The Florida governor and his policies began drawing more scrutiny — not all of it positive — when he became the party’s second-leading contender.

In April, DeSantis drew plenty of controversy over a long-running dispute with the Walt Disney Co., which sued him that month for allegedly violating its constitutional rights after Disney’s CEO at the time, Bob Chapek, publicly criticized Florida’s Republican-backed Parental Rights in Education Act.

The act, dubbed by critics as the “don’t say gay” bill, prohibits lessons involving sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. DeSantis signed it into law last year, and he has since made it one of his signature issues.

When Disney criticized DeSantis for this law, the governor turned to the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to push actions meant to limit the company’s authority over the Florida real estate on which it operates.

That same month, DeSantis signed one of the strictest abortion laws in the country: a six-week ban advanced by a GOP-dominated legislature that makes the procedure illegal before many women know they are pregnant. While DeSantis has previously pushed for stringent abortion bans — in 2022, he signed into law a 15-week ban with much fanfare — he has been relatively quiet about this much-stricter ban.

With just weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, DeSantis has begun to face growing competition from Haley, particularly in New Hampshire, the first Republican primary state, where polls have shown her running second to Trump.

DeSantis is going into the Iowa caucuses with the endorsement of the state’s governor, Kim Reynolds (R), but Haley recently received the highly coveted endorsement of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

During his interview with CBN, DeSantis said that while, “obviously, Trump could still win the primary,” he’s not convinced his former ally can win the general election.

“I can,” DeSantis added.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post