If he was President of the United States, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis would loosen regulatory spigots on domestic oil/gas production to diminish Putin’s Russia, defend Taiwan if attacked by the People’s Republic of China, ban TikTok, and nationalize a governing formula that has made the Sunshine State “one of the most dynamic jurisdictions in the world.”

During an hour-long March 23 interview with Piers Morgan on Fox Nation in the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, DeSantis answered questions about his childhood in Dunedin, Florida, loss of a sister at age 30 to a pulmonary embolism, and about his wife, Casey’s, successful battle against breast cancer.

DeSantis and Morgan traced his experiences as a Yale and Harvard student, as a U.S. Navy attorney in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, his two terms in Congress, and his challenges and triumphs as a swing state governor who narrowly won his first term in 2018 before being reelected by more than 1.5 million votes in November 2022 in a state that, under his leadership, had turned bright red.

About 50 minutes into the interview, Morgan finally popped “the question you are not going to answer” which is—and has been for months—Is he running for president?

“I have not made a final decision on it,” DeSantis said. “I’ve told people I got a lot to do here in Florida over the next few months. We’re going to put a lot of points on the board, and then we’ll see how the dust settles after that.

“But,” he continued, “I will tell you we have a lot of people that realize the country is not going in the right direction and believe that what we’ve been able to do in Florida, if we could apply that nationally, would kind of get America back on track and back to our foundations.

“So, I take that very seriously. It’s humbling that people have come to me and asked me to do it, or urge me to do it. So, stay tuned.”

That sounds like a “yes,” Morgan said.

“It’s a stay tuned,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis, regarded the undeclared top challenger to Donald Trump’s bid for a third consecutive Republican nomination to run for president in 2024, is not overtly running for president. No one expects him to formally declare until after the Florida Legislature adjourns in May—despite clear signs to the contrary. He recently concluded a book tour to early primary states Iowa and Nevada and has April book tour visits planned to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and New Hampshire.

Despite all this, DeSantis said it’s not a slam dunk that he will run in 2024.

“Look, I got a young family and I got different obligations and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to go through and I also want to make sure that I have a very clear rationale for doing what I am doing,” he said, then making a very campaign-like jab by inference at Trump’s centrifugal and loud omnipresence.

“All I am interested in doing is getting things done and accomplishing things,” DeSantis said. “I don’t need a title. I don’t need fanfare. I just want to know that if I put my mind to this, if we were ever did that and we were successful, what could I do to make a difference?”

He said he’s ready to do just that if runs and is in the White House in January 2025.

“What it takes is to have a vision for the country, the ability to exercise leadership, and being willing to stand in that fire when it gets really, really hot, and not back down under pressure,” DeSantis said. “I think I have all those things.”

Would Have ‘Fired’ Fauci

Morgan began the interview with a confession, recalling he said in 2021 that DeSantis would have “blood on his hands” for refusing to follow federal guidance on shutting down businesses and closing schools during the 2020-21 COVID pandemic that led to high-profile battles with local governments, school boards, and the Biden administration.

“I criticized you in a 2021 tweet when it looked like Florida’s record on COVID was not going to be good,” Morgan said, calling DeSantis “one of the first people in America, certainly, who gave people back their freedom.”

Of course, “it didn’t turn out that way,” Morgan said. “Actually you were very bold in the things that you were doing, more than any other governor. And it turns out you were vindicated.”

It turned out that way, DeSantis acknowledged, but he wasn’t always so certain about the right things to do during the winter and spring of 2020.

“I was very concerned about COVID,” he said, noting that as a haven for retirees, Florida has a significant elderly population with more than 4,000 nursing homes. “So this was a huge existential threat to Florida. We took it very seriously. I also said, ‘We’re going to follow the data.’”

DeSantis denied he is an “anti-vaxxer” and at first, was eager to encourage people to get vaccinated because “we thought the vax would end COVID during the Delta wave.”

But data showed it was not true—people being vaccinated could still spread the disease.

“I said, ‘okay, the vax isn’t stopping the spread; we need treatments” such as antibodies and other alternatives to the vaccinations.

In the face of federal vaccine mandates, there was also a growing sense of outrage. “You also have to trust people to make a decision. This idea that we are going to use coercion. I just don’t think that is sustainable,” he said.

DeSantis said he would have handled the pandemic differently than Trump did. For one thing, he said, he would not have allowed former National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci to dictate national policy.

“I would have fired somebody like Fauci. I think he got way too big for his britches, and I think he did a lot of damage,” he said.

Tangling With Trump

The comment was among many sprinkled throughout the interview referencing the elephant-in-the-room former president.

DeSantis said in comparing himself with the bombastic Trump, that “there’s a few things” where differences are clear.

“Just in terms of my approach to leadership,” he said, “I get personnel in the government who have the agenda of the people and share our agenda. If you bring your own agenda in, you’re gone. We’re not going to have that. So, the way we run the government, I think, is no daily drama, focus on the big picture, and put points on the board.”

While Trump sucks the air out of room, DeSantis said he oxygenates it without much flash or drama.

“I don’t do the cocktail parties,” he said, although he said he and Casey enjoy an occasional celebratory Guinness. “I just do my job and go home to spend time with my family. I do think that I deal better with regular people than some of the people in the political class.”

DeSantis said he had “a good relationship” with Trump while in Congress in 2016 and his first two years as governor after his 2018 election, which was propelled by the president’s effusive endorsement.

“I saw this Russia collusion thing as a farce from the beginning. Very few people said that. We had a handful of us in Congress that were fighting back against that so I would go on TV and defend him when it wasn’t popular and when it was politically risky, but I just thought it was the right thing to do and I thought he had good ideas for the country,” he said.  “When I was governor … we worked very well together. I mean he was not a Florida resident yet, he had a place in Florida, he understood Florida, and really worked well with us to serve our state.”

But while many of Trump’s midterm endorsements were defeated and the GOP fell short of its self-ballyhooed “red wave,” DeSantis led a resounding Republican tsunami in Florida, spearheaded by his own overwhelming reelection.

The governor’s midterm success and Florida’s economic performance put him at the top of the list of 2024 Republican presidential candidates alongside Trump.

The attention and accolades did not sit well with the former president. He began calling his potential rival “Meatball Ron” and “Ron DeSanctimonious” at rallies and on his TruthSocial page.

DeSantis told Morgan that Floridians don’t understand what Trump means with the nickname, aren’t sure if it’s an insult, and that it has “a lot of vowels.”

“I don’t know how to spell the sanctimonious one. I don’t really know what it means, but I kind of like it. It’s long; it’s got a lot of vowels. We’ll go with that, that’s fine,” he tells Morgan. “I mean, you can call me whatever you want, just as long as you also call me a winner, because that’s what we’ve been able to do in Florida, is put a lot of points on the board and really take this state to the next level.”

With Trump embroiled in four criminal investigations and now on “indictment watch” with a 23-member grand jury in Manhattan expected to hand down an indictment next week for his alleged $130,000 “hush money” payoff in 2016 to adult entertainment actress Stormy Daniels, DeSantis has been circumspect in his comments about the former president’s scandals, saying twice during a March 20 press conference in Tallahassee that he doesn’t have any experience in how to deal with “paying off porn stars.”

There is “a lot of speculation about the underlying conduct that is purported to be it,” he told Morgan. “The reality is, that’s just outside my wheelhouse. I hope it doesn’t come to this moving forward.”

He has, however, criticized New York County DA Alvin Bragg for pursing a seven-year-old case his predecessor and federal prosecutors opted to shelve.

“If you’re a very strident prosecutor—and this guy is on the left—and you are not prosecuting a lot of crimes in Manhattan, you’re going to go after somebody on other side for some ‘novel ‘offense?” DeSantis said. “That just does not inspire confidence and people see that as weaponizing the justice system. So I think it is fundamentally wrong to do. Who knows? Maybe we won’t see anything come from that, We haven’t seen anything firm yet.”

Morgan quoted a warning from a fellow doctor to Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ that, “You have created a monster and it will destroy you.”

“And you’re alluding to what?” DeSantis laughed.

Shaped by 9/11, Iraq, Gitmo

DeSantis had graduated from Yale and been accepted at Harvard law school when “the world changed” on 9/11.

Through the 1990s, “our country didn’t have a care in the world. The Cold War was over. There was prosperity. When the towers fell, it changed my outlook,” he said, telling himself “I should be willing to do something. “That is when I decided to start looking into other career choices.”

He joined the Navy. “When you wear the cloth of your country, that is meaningful service.” he said. As a JAG attorney, he worked with Seal Team 1 in Fallujah, Iraq, and at Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

His time at “Gitmo” is certain to be a campaign issue. He denies ordering detainees to be force-fed. “I was a junior officer. I didn’t have authority to authorize anything,” he said.

DeSantis said there should have been “military commissions” to try those thought to be terrorists rather than allowing them to languish on the isolated base in Cuba.

“The thing was, if we release this person back to Afghanistan, are they going to engage in terrorism? That’s hard to know definitively, so I think they tended to err on the side of caution,” he said. “It’s a tough thing when you have a situation with terrorism and war because they are not a nation-state and you cannot try them in a civilian court. So, you really need military commissions but that kind of sputtered out.”

DeSantis said invading Afghanistan and taking down the Taliban was the right thing to do. “I would have left earlier than when we did,” he said.

The only beneficiary of invading Iraq was Iran, he said. “We now we have a situation where Iraq is basically a satellite of Iran, our most significant adversary certainly in the region. In hindsight, I think Iran has gotten stronger as a result of that conflict,” he said.

Ukraine Clarity

Earlier in March, DeSantis told Tucker Carlson on his Fox News show that the Ukraine-Russia war was a “territorial dispute” of little strategic value to the United States.

He’s been severely criticized since, including by many prominent Republicans.

“I think [the comment] has been mischaracterized. Obviously, Russia invaded Ukraine, and that was wrong,” DeSantis said, noting that Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 was also wrong.

“The idea that I thought Russia was justified, that’s nonsense.”

The border regions and Crimea are “a messy situation” with many ethnic Russians living there, he said.

“What I was referring to is where the fighting is going on, that eastern border region, Donbas, that’s the source of the conflict” which “is likely to continue going forward.

“I think there’s likely to be a stalemate for a quite some time,” DeSantis continued, “and unfortunately, a lot of people are going to end up dying if that’s the case. If I could snap my fingers, I’d give it back to Ukraine 100 percent. But the reality is, what is America’s involvement in terms of escalating with weapons? Ground troops would be a mistake. So, that was the point I was trying to make. Russia was wrong to invade and wrong in Crimea.”

The invasion has exposed Russia’s military as less formidable than feared in regard to conventional war-fighting capabilities and Russian President Vladimir Putin as a self-aggrandizing tyrant.

“The larger point is, okay, Russia has not shown the ability to take over Ukraine, to topple the government, to threaten NATO,” DeSantis said. “That’s a good thing, They have been weakened.”

Putin, however, is a threat to the west and the United States, he said, and must be contained. “I think he has grand ambitions and is hostile to the United States but, I think, what we’ve seen is, he doesn’t have the conventional capability to realize his ambitions. So, he’s basically a gas station with a bunch of nuclear weapons.”

The best way to cuff him? “For us, among the things that we could be doing better is utilizing our own energy resources” and opening the throttle on oil and gas production to export to Europe and elsewhere around the globe.

“Oil and gas exports is :where he gets all his power and obviously, he’s influenced Europe. So, the way to hit Putin is with energy,” DeSantis said, calling Putin “a war criminal.”

China, not Putin’s Russia, is the nation’s biggest threat, he said, adding that the United States should defend Taiwan if China invades.

“That would be aggression,” DeSantis said.

“Absolutely. I would say that Taiwan in a strong ally to the U.S.” and defending it would be in the nation’s interest.

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