Jul 19, 2023

Jake Tapper Exclusive Interview with FL Gov. Ron DeSantis Transcript

Jake Tapper Exclusive Interview with FL Gov. Ron DeSantis Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsJake TapperJake Tapper Exclusive Interview with FL Gov. Ron DeSantis Transcript

GOP presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis responds to analysis stating that Republican voters see DeSantis as “less and less electable.” Read the transcript here. 

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Jake Tapper (00:06):

Welcome to The Lead. I am Jake Tapper, and I am live on the campaign trail here in beautiful Columbia, South Carolina, where earlier today I sat down for an exclusive interview with Republican presidential candidate, Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis. DeSantis was here in South Carolina to roll out a major policy announcement about the US Military, but of course I asked him about the big breaking news that his key competitor, Republican front-runner and former President Donald Trump, announced earlier today that he’d been told he is the target of the Special Counsel’s criminal investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Trump also said that he’s been told to appear this week, Thursday at the latest, before the federal grand jury in DC. Trump wrote on Truth Social today, “Deranged Jack Smith, the prosecutor with Joe Biden’s Department of Justice sent a letter. Again, it was Sunday night, stating that I’m a target of the January 6th Grand Jury investigation, and giving me a very short four days to report to the Grand Jury, which almost always means an arrest and indictment.”

Trump’s revelation comes as we learn of several important new developments in the January 6th investigation. One, a Trump advisor is expected to appear before that Grand Jury this week. Two, sources say the Special Counsel’s team has also contacted former Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, a Republican, whom Trump also pressured to overturn the 2020 election. Three, we’ve also learned Special Counsel investigators have interviewed Wisconsin election officials. And four, in fact, CNN has learned that the Special Counsel’s Office has interviewed officials from all seven 2020 battleground states. All seven states where Trump and his allies tried to overturn the 2020 election results. Those seven include Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and Nevada.

All of this as a hearing is wrapping up involving the Special Counsel’s other criminal case involving Mr. Trump, the classified documents case in Florida, where a judge told prosecutors a trial date in mid-December would be too soon, the prosecutors said. Then my exclusive interview with Florida Governor DeSantis, which we’re going to bring you in full this hour, touched on as I said, his new military policy, as well as Ukraine, China, social issues, the state of his campaign, and more. But of course, with perhaps curious timing, Mr. Trump’s announcement of his likely pending third indictment came minutes before Governor DeSantis and I sat down.

So, I do have to ask about the breaking news today.

Governor Ron DeSantis (02:38):

Sure, your chief competitor, the front-runner right now, Donald Trump, says he was informed that he’s the target of Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and Mr. Trump has until Thursday to report to the Grand Jury. If Jack Smith has evidence of criminality, should Donald Trump be held accountable?

Jake Tapper (02:58):

So here’s the problem. This country is going down the road of criminalizing political differences, and I think that’s wrong. Alvin Bragg stretched a statute in Manhattan to be able to try to target Donald Trump. Most people, even people on the Left acknowledge, if that wasn’t Trump, that case would not have likely been brought against a normal civilian. And so you have a situation where the Department of Justice, FBI have been weaponized against people they don’t like. And the number one example of that happened to be against Donald Trump with the Russia collusion. That was not a legitimate investigation that was being done to try to drive Trump out of office. And so what I’ve said, as President, my job is to restore a single standard of justice to end weaponization of these agencies. We’re going to have a new FBI Director on day one. We’re going to have big changes at the Department of Justice. Americans across the political spectrum need to have confidence that what is going on is based on the rule of law, not based on what political tribe you’re in.

And then the second thing I would say is, this country needs to have a debate about the country’s future. If I’m the nominee, we’ll be able to focus on President Biden’s failures, and I’ll be able to articulate a positive vision for the future. I don’t think it serves us good to have a presidential election focused on what happened four years ago in January. And so, I want to focus on looking forward. I don’t want to look back. I do not want to see him. I hope he doesn’t get charged. I don’t think it’ll be good for the country. But at the same time, I’ve got to focus on looking forward and that’s what we’re going to do.

Jack Smith has prosecuted Democrats too. He prosecuted, or at least was part of the prosecution of Senator Menendez, Senator John Edwards. Are you saying that if he finds evidence of criminality, he should not charge Donald Trump anyway?

Governor Ron DeSantis (04:48):

What I’m saying is, when you’re going after somebody on the other side of the political spectrum, if you are stretching statutes to try to criminalize maybe political disagreements, that is wrong. Now look, this is all speculation. But I think we’ve gone down the road in this country of trying to criminalize differences in politics rather than saying, “Okay, you don’t like somebody? Then defeat them in the election, rather than trying to use the justice system.” So, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but I can tell you with the Bragg one, that was stretching criminal law. The evidence of criminality was very weak. And even if that existed, other people would not have been charged under those circumstances. That’s the problem.

Jake Tapper (05:33):

Today. I sat down here in Columbia, South Carolina with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for this exclusive interview. This was just minutes after he had unveiled a sweeping new military policy. DeSantis said in that announcement speech that his proposals are intended to “Rip the woke out of the US Military.”

Governor Ron DeSantis (05:51):

It’s a military that has been ordered by civilian officials to pursue political ideology, to pursue social experimentation, to be yet another institution in American life that gets infected with the woke mind virus.

Jake Tapper (06:13):

So the DeSantis plan includes ending all groups and positions in the Pentagon that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, banning transgender service members from serving as they identify, ending funding for what DeSantis calls “Activist climate change programs.” DeSantis also wants to reinstate all service members who were removed for refusing the COVID vaccine, and he wants to punish any retired generals and admirals who speak out harshly against the sitting President, or Congress, or other officials. DeSantis says the things he wants to eliminate are harming the readiness of the US Military.

Governor Ron DeSantis (06:54):

This is changing the character of the military. It’s changing the culture of our services, and it’s creating a situation in which great warriors have been driven away. And recruiting is at an all time low post-abolition of the draft in the Vietnam conflict.

Jake Tapper (07:16):

It is true that recruitment is at a low, but we should note, Pentagon officials repeatedly reject almost all of those accusations, and that’s where Governor DeSantis and I started our discussion today.

Let’s talk about this sweeping new military policy you proposed that in your words, “Will rip the woke out of the military.” The Pentagon response is that Army and Marines readiness is the best it’s been in years, and reenlistment in the Army is the best it’s been in years. So, their argument might be in response, “What problem are you trying to solve?”

Governor Ron DeSantis (07:50):

Well, why do we have the worst recruiting that we’ve had since the Vietnam conflict? Why have great warriors being driven off, such as with the COVID-19 shot mandates? These were people that had been performing admirably. A lot of them had had COVID, they had natural immunity. They were told, “Take this shot or leave.” So, I think you’ve had a big problem with morale. You clearly have a problem with recruiting. And at this levels everybody has acknowledged, these recruiting levels are at a crisis. Why is that the case? I think it’s because people see the military losing its way, not focusing on the mission, and focusing on a lot of these other things, which man, we see that in other aspects of society as well. People want to join the military, I think, because they think it’s something different. And I think some of the civilian leaders in the military are trying to have the military mimic corporate America, academia. That’s ultimately not going to work.

Jake Tapper (08:39):

So, I hear you. Recruitment, without question, is a problem. The Army did this survey, I’ll give you a copy of it if you want. They haven’t released it, but I got my hands on a copy. And it looked at, it surveyed people, I think 16 to 28 barriers to service, and beyond the ones such as, don’t want to die, don’t want to be injured, don’t want to be away from my family. The biggest issues were, the number two issue, women and racial or ethnic minorities are discriminated against in the Army. Wokeness is listed here, but it’s only number nine. So that would suggest that wokeness is not as big-

Governor Ron DeSantis (09:10):

Well, but I think there’s an issue about, like not everyone really knows what wokeness is. I’ve defined it, but a lot of people who rail against wokeness can’t even define it. And so I think it’s a sense of, this is not something that’s holding true to the core marshall values that make the military unique. And I can tell you, the veterans, you don’t have to look far and wide, go to a VFW Hall, go to an American Legion, there’s huge amount of concern about the direction that the military is going with all this. And here’s the thing. Things like DEI and all that stuff, it hasn’t worked in other aspects of society. It very well may be on the constitutional chopping block in light of the Supreme Court’s decision on racial discrimination in higher education. And so, it’s not a model that I think is going to be successful in the military. So we’re going to do what has been successful in the past, and I think you’re going to see better recruiting as a result.

Jake Tapper (09:58):

So, the Pentagon says that they do try to achieve diversity in recruiting, but not when it comes to promotions. That’s all merit-based.

Governor Ron DeSantis (10:06):

Well, I think that we have seen standards watered down in different situations. I think that that’s probably not accurate. Obviously, they’re going to say they’re doing a good job. We get that, that’s going to be their thing, but I don’t think that that’s in-tune with reality.

Jake Tapper (10:21):

So, let’s turn to foreign policy, because obviously that goes hand-in-hand with military policy in many ways. As a Congressman in 2015, you strongly backed arming Ukraine after Russia invaded and seized Crimea. As a presidential candidate, you’ve said that the conflict is not a vital national interest. So, as President, what will your policy be? Will you want to stop arming Ukraine? Will you stop financial support for Ukraine?

Governor Ron DeSantis (10:46):

So first, a vital national interest to me means we would potentially send troops there. And I don’t think anybody wants to see troops in Ukraine, and I would believe that in 2015 as well. It’s more of a secondary or tertiary interest. So, my policy is going to be very simple. Our number one threat to our country is from China, in terms of foreign threat. We also have a threat of being able to not secure our own border. Tens of thousands of people are dying every year because the cartels are running fentanyl. So you got to be strong at home if you want to be strong abroad. We are going to approach the world, instead of Europe being the focus like it has been since World War II. And it was understandable why it would be after World War II. NATO, stopping the Soviets, I get it. But now the Asia/Pacific really needs to be to our generation what Europe was to the post World War II generation.

And so what we’re doing is how much hard power can we marshal as much as possible to deter China? I think we’re in a situation now with how weak we’ve been, that we are going towards maybe having a conflict with China. I think the way to deter that conflict with China is to be strong. So I would have the Europeans do more in Europe. That’s more in their backyard, that’s more of an interest for them. I would be willing to be helpful to try to bring it to a conclusion there, but I’m not going to diminish our stocks and not send to Taiwan. I’m not going to make us less capable to respond to exigencies. And you got to care at least as much about your own border as you do about foreign borders.

Jake Tapper (12:13):

So when you talk about trying to bring an end to the conflict, would you push Zelenskyy to make concessions to Russia, to cede land that Russia seized in its attack?

Governor Ron DeSantis (12:27):

So what I would say is, the goal should be a sustainable, enduring peace in Europe, but one that does not reward aggression. And there’s going to be different levers that you’re going to be able to pull. We will pull some levers against Russia. We’re going to be much more aggressive on energy and export because I think that’s been Putin’s lifeline. I want the Europeans dependent on the United States for that, not him. We’re also going to turn the screws on the Iranians. The Iranians have been one of Putin’s biggest benefactors and they’ve benefited from Biden’s approach there. So we’ll use the leverage that we have, but the goal is going to be a sustainable piece that does not reward aggression.

Jake Tapper (13:03):

What do you say to the argument that Xi Jinping is watching the US response to Ukraine to game out how the US would respond if China invaded Taiwan? President Biden has said the US forces would defend Taiwan if China invaded. Would you do the same? Would you order the US Military to defend Taiwan?

Governor Ron DeSantis (13:21):

Well, two things. So first, how does China view this? It’s somewhat speculative. I think what they would like to see in Russia, Ukraine is a multi-year stalemate in quagmire, where the West is pouring in $100 billion, another $200 billion of weapons, our stocks continue to decline. They don’t really care about the Russians. Russia will be more dependent on China as a result of that. So I think that’s what Xi would like to see ideally. Now, in terms of Taiwan, that is a significant interest of the United States. Taiwan is a strong ally. Taiwan is important for us economically and for a variety of other reasons. Also, a potential Chinese attack on Taiwan successfully would have big reverberations in the Asia/Pacific.

But our policy is going to be very simple. We’re going to deter that from happening. China respects hard power. If you have hard power, if you have strong alliances with the Japanese. I visited there few months ago. The Koreans and the Japanese are getting along now. They never used to get along because they both see the threat posed by China. So we’re going to work together, we’re going to be much stronger, we’re going to project power, and we’re going to deter that from happening.

Jake Tapper (14:30):

Let’s talk about some issues here in the United States. You’ve been asked by this by a number of members of conservative media and you have yet to give a yes or no answer. You recently signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida. Yes or no, would you support that as a nationwide ban?

Governor Ron DeSantis (14:44):

So I said I’m Pro-Life. I will be a Pro-Life President, and we will support Pro-Life policies. At the same time, I look at what’s going on in the Congress, and I don’t see them making very much headway. I think the danger from Congress is if we lose the election, they’re going to try to nationalize abortion up until the moment of birth. And in some liberal states, you actually have post-birth abortions, and I think that that’s wrong. Also, with respect to the military thing that we talked about. We’re going to reverse the abortion tourism policy in the Department of Defense. They’re actually paying people to go and get abortions with American tax dollars, as part of the military. They won’t even pay you, you lose a loved one, you don’t get that type of time off to be able to go to do funerals. And so, we’re going to continue to stand for life, and we’re going to make sure that everybody knows that.

Jake Tapper (15:38):

So I asked the DeSantis Campaign what exactly the Governor was referring to when he referred to post-birth abortion. They said it was a reference to when an infant survives an abortion procedure and lifesaving medical care is not provided. Much more of my interview with Governor DeSantis coming, including my asking him what he makes of the perception from politicos out there that he might be less electable at this state in the 2024 race. We’re going to have more from Columbia, South Carolina next.

Welcome back to The Lead, live from Columbia, South Carolina. The second half of my sit-down with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis started with the second half of his campaign, as he has, as of yet, failed to catch up to the leading candidate, former President Donald Trump.

So, what is the DeSantis strategy to make up lost ground? That’s what I asked him right after we discussed his support for a six-week abortion ban.

So this issue gets into the state of the race, because some of your supporters are disappointed that your campaign has yet to catch fire the way they would want, in terms of polling. One Republican pollster, one who is sympathetic to you, I was asking her about your campaign and she said she thought the issue was, you bumped up at the beginning because voters, Republican voters, saw you as a more electable conservative like Trump. Like Trump without the baggage. But then they say as you go further and further to the Right on some of these divisive social issues that could alienate moderate suburban moms, etc., Republican voters see you as less and less electable. What do you say to that analysis?

Governor Ron DeSantis (17:09):

Well, I don’t think it’s true. The proof is in the pudding. I took a state that had been a 1-point state, and we wanted by 20 percentage points, 1.5 million votes. Our bread and butter were people like suburban moms. We’re leading a big movement for parents’ rights to have the parents be involved in education, school choice, get the indoctrination out of schools. And of course, there’s bread and butter issues that matter too: inflation, more economic opportunity. Florida’s economy is ranked Number 1 of all 50 states. We’ve worked hard to make that happen. Crime. You see crime in all these different communities that is now even going into suburbs and some areas. So I think that there’s a lot of things. I don’t think that’s the reason.

I think the reason is, is I was getting a lot of media attention at the time coming off the victory. I had to do my job as Governor with my legislative session. And we had a great legislative session, we did a lot of great things. Actually, things that appeal to huge majorities of the population. So I think that that analysis is wrong. But I had to do that. And so I was basically taking fire, really nonstop since then, because a lot of people view me as a threat. I think the Left views me as a threat because they think I’ll beat Biden and actually deliver on all this stuff. And then of course, people that have their allegiances within the the Republican side have gone after me. But the reality is, this is a state-by-state process. I’m not running a campaign to try to juice whatever we are in the national polls. Whatever we did in the CNN compared, whatever. It’s fine, I’m definitely doing better than everybody else.

Jake Tapper (18:35):

But it’s state-by-state, obviously.

Governor Ron DeSantis (18:36):

It’s state-by-state.

Jake Tapper (18:36):


Governor Ron DeSantis (18:36):

So, we’re focused on building an organization. You got to get people to come out in the middle of January in Iowa to caucus for you. That requires an organization, requires to know where those votes are. Now, that is not going to make the same type of splash as if you were trying to run ads nationally or do those other things. And so, we’ve been making really good progress. I think this weekend was really good, in terms of The FAMILY LEADER and some of the other things we were doing in Iowa. Of course, we’re here in South Carolina. We’re going to do a lot in New Hampshire. But that’s going to be our focus. Focusing on those early states, continuing to build our coalitions and going forward.

And I would also just note, Jake, there is a narrative that they’re almost trying a little too hard with this to try to say… Because they’ve been saying that I’ve been doing poorly for my whole time as Governor, basically. This is always the case during COVID. “Oh, he has the state open, he’s going to lose. Then he fought Disney, he’s going to lose. And then this.” So they always want to get there. It never quite works out.

In fact, I actually remember you did the debate with us in ’18-

Jake Tapper (19:33):


Governor Ron DeSantis (19:34):

… and before we did the debate on CNN, and you didn’t have anything to do with this, CNN released a poll saying I was down 14 or 15 points. Now, that was the narrative at the time, “He’s going down.” So I think some of this is motivated reasoning, but I kind of get a kick out when they say, “He didn’t fundraise well,” when I did more than Biden and Trump in the second quarter, and I’m just a Governor.

Jake Tapper (19:52):

So, I didn’t believe that poll was accurate, just for the record. Your new policy that you announced today about the military would ban transgender Americans from serving in the military, regardless of their ability. And this comes on the heels of your campaign retweeting a video that the Log Cabin Republicans, which is a conservative LGBTQ group, said, “Ventured into homophobic territory.” There are more than a million trans adults in the US. What are their lives and the lives of the people who love and support them going to be like under a DeSantis administration?

Governor Ron DeSantis (20:22):

Well look, in the military, it’s all about the mission first. So there’s a whole bunch of reasons why you focus on mission first. People’s individuality, it does take, you do have to check that at the door. And that’s not the only example, there’s a whole host of other examples. So I think the military culture is unique in terms of that. Now, in terms of the larger issue, the question is, is what role does someone that’s a man have in women’s activities, even if they conceive of themselves to be a woman? I think it’s wrong to have men compete in women’s sports. I understand some of those men conceive of themselves differently, but it’s not fair to the girls who are competing, it’s not fair to the women athletes. The swimmers who lost that national championship to the Penn swimmer, they’ve been training too.

So I don’t think it’s good for that, and I think having things like locker rooms where they’re having to share with somebody who’s of the opposite sex, I think is wrong. So I would respect everybody, but what I wouldn’t do is turn society upside down to be able to accommodate, which is a very, very small percentage of the population.w

Jake Tapper (21:24):

Last question about your military policy, because your new military policy says that the Pentagon should never prioritize climate politics over national security. But this week we heard from the Associate Director of Military Affairs for the CIA, who told a room full of National Guard leaders and allies from other countries, that climate change supercharges almost every other global threat, because of refugees, because of conflicts, because of all sorts of reasons. What’s your response to that, the idea that climate politics isn’t about politics, it’s about national security?

Governor Ron DeSantis (21:53):

Here’s the thing. How are you going to equip your fighting force to win? Are you going to put those considerations in? Are you going to create the most lethal force available? I can tell you, China is not going to use those considerations. If they need to burn more coal to defend their country, they are going to burn more coal to defend their country. So I just don’t think it should be a factor in terms of how we project power in this country. Focus on how lethal we can be, and focus on getting the mission done. I don’t want us to force the Department of Defense to be using electric vehicles. I just don’t think that that’s something that makes any sense.

Jake Tapper (22:28):

You entered your candidacy officially for the Republican contest here in South Carolina. Before you go, are you going to win South Carolina?

Governor Ron DeSantis (22:35):

Yeah, we are. I think this is a great setup for me. I’m the only veteran running. I’ll be the first President elected since 1988 that served in a war. There’s very few states in this country with a stronger active duty military presence and veteran presence than here. We’ve also got great support in the Upcountry in South Carolina that we’re building. And of course my wife went to College of Charleston. So we know the Low Country well, and I think we’re going to be able to build a lot of support here. So this is a great state for us. And, the way the calendar’s working out, you’re going to have New Hampshire in late July or January, and then here in late February. So we’re going to be spending a lot of time, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in South Carolina.

Jake Tapper (23:10):

All right, Governor DeSantis. Thanks so much for time today, appreciate it.

Governor Ron DeSantis (23:12):

Yeah, Appreciate you.

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