Ron DeSantis struggled with how not to “piss out” voters of then-President Donald Trump during debate prep sessions in 2018 in his first campaign for Florida governor, according to videos obtained by ABC News.
The videos, which have not been independently reviewed by CNN, show the then-congressman answering a mock question about whether there are issues he disagrees with Trump on. The question was put to him by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who took part in the mock sessions.
“Of course there is, I mean, I voted against him in Congress,” DeSantis said in the video. He added: “I have to frame it so that not all of his constituents will get angry.”
DeSantis then said he is doing “what he thinks is right” and that he supports Trump’s agenda, but added that he would discuss any disagreement with the then-president in private.
Dave Abrams, a spokesman for DeSantis’ political team, denounced ABC News in a statement, saying the footage proved “that Ron DeSantis is unwilling to be anyone but his authentic self — regardless of politics.”
Gaetz, who has supported Trump’s 2024 campaign, condemned the leaking of the tapes in a tweet on sunday.
The exchange, captured on video, shows how DeSantis devised a strategy to embrace Trump and woo his voters while maintaining his own political identity. It’s a challenge the Florida governor is likely to face as he approaches a potential 2024 campaign against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.
In another clip aired by ABC News, consultants can be heard off-camera talking to DeSantis about the importance of appearing likeable and telling him to write the word “sympathetic” in capital letters on a piece of paper on the debate stage.
“I do the same because I have the same personality, we are both aggressive,” you hear the unknown advisor say.
Trump and his allies are treating the Republican governor as if he were already a candidate. Make America Great Again Inc., a Trump-aligned super PAC, has spent about $8.6 million on ads going after DeSantis. GOP primary polls continue to show Trump leading DeSantis by a healthy margin.
On a recent international trade mission, a reporter in Tokyo asked DeSantis about Trump’s polls ahead of him. DeSantis was visibly tense before responding, “I’m not a candidate, so we’ll see if and when that changes.”