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(LifeSiteNews) –– Florida governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis sat down for a wide-ranging interview this week with Fox Nation host Piers Morgan, touching on his record and positions on issues of the day, his service as a Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps officer in Iraq, and his wife Casey’s battle with breast cancer, as well as his potential 2024 campaign and the near-daily jabs he receives from former President Donald Trump. 

The interview, released Thursday evening, began with the reactions to DeSantis’s tenure, both positive and negative. The governor laughed off left-wing hyperbole about him being bigoted or tyrannical, noting that during his time in office Florida tops every state in the country for net migration, suggesting along with his 19-point reelection in November that his conservative record resonates among voters within and without the Sunshine State, and that his critics could not find more substantive material to use against him.

DeSantis offered a summary of the type of character needed by leaders. “You really want to look to people like our Founding Fathers, like what type of character, it’s not saying that you don’t ever make a mistake in your personal life, but I think what type of character are you bringing?” he explained. “So, somebody who really set the standard is George Washington because he always put the Republic over his own personal interest. When we won the American Revolution, Washington surrendered his sword. [King] George III said he’s the greatest man in the world if he gives up power. I think the person is more about how you handle your public duties and the kind of character you bring to that endeavor.”

“One of the things that was interesting about my election [to a second term] is that voters in Florida overwhelmingly thought the country was on the wrong track, but they thought Florida was on the right track,” DeSantis said. “So, they saw the difference in terms of how things are governed. We run big budget surpluses . . . the federal government’s $31 trillion dollars in debt. We’re very tough on crime, the policies in Washington are to be more weak on crime. We believe in being good stewards of the environment, but I don’t want to control everyone’s behavior with some of the stuff that’s going on.”

“And we have really fought against the woke ideology,” he continued. “People know we cannot be governed by a woke agenda and some of these mayors and prosecutors that have gotten elected around the country on that agenda, their societies have decayed as a result of it. So, I think just some common sense, some leadership, some courage and being right on the issues I think could go a long way.”

The interview also touched on DeSantis’s position statement to Fox News host Tucker Carlson on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which some criticized as a departure from his past support of defensive aid and a minimizing of the invasion as a “territorial dispute,” allegedly meant to appease Republican primary voters’ hostility to foreign interventions. DeSantis took the opportunity to clarify his position.

“What I’m referring to is where the fighting is going on now, which is that eastern border region Donbas, and then Crimea, and you have a situation where Russia has had that, I don’t think legitimately but they had,” DeSantis said. “There’s a lot of ethnic Russians there. So, that’s some difficult fighting and that’s what I was referring to and so it wasn’t that I thought Russia had a right to that, and so if I should have made that more clear, I could have done it, but I think the larger point is, okay, Russia is not showing the ability to take over Ukraine, to topple the government or certainly to threaten NATO. That’s a good thing. I just don’t think that’s a sufficient interest for us to escalate more involvement. I would not want to see American troops involved there. But the idea that I think somehow Russia was justified – that’s nonsense.”

“If I could snap my fingers, I’d give it back to Ukraine 100%,” he went on. “But the reality is what is America’s involvement in terms of escalating with more weapons, and certainly ground troops I think would be a mistake. So, that was the point I was trying to make but Russia was wrong to invade. They were wrong to take Crimea.”

He also called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” with “grand ambitions” who is “hostile to the United States, but I think the thing that we’ve seen is he doesn’t have the conventional capability to realize his ambitions.” One way to deal with the dictator, DeSantis suggested, would be to develop America’s own natural resources to achieve energy independence, thereby reducing Putin’s ability to manipulate other nations via his own resources.

DeSantis also confirmed that he would ban TikTok, a social video platform that is owned by a Chinese company and accused of having ties to the authoritarian Chinese government.

“I think it’s a security risk, they are harvesting so much data on our citizens,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of other apps and stuff that are out there, and honestly Piers, I’ve got young kids. I don’t want our kids on some of this stuff. It’s not healthy for them. The TikTok in China is sanitized, it’s more wholesome. Here they’re putting in a lot of bad stuff too. So, I think it’s had a corrosive impact but that in of itself wouldn’t be enough, what’s enough though is how they’re harvesting that to use against the American people.”

Morgan also asked the governor to offer some differences between himself and Trump. DeSantis, who has largely avoided responding directly to Trump’s attacks, first responded, “the approach to COVID was different. I would have fired somebody like [White House pandemic adviser Dr. Anthony] Fauci. I think he got way too big for his britches, and I think he did a lot of damage.”

The Trump administration’s decision to follow Fauci’s advice for the first several months of the pandemic has been blamed for the prevalence of the lockdowns across the country in 2020 that shut down much of the economy as well as for Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden. Supporters of DeSantis also cite it as one of the chief contrasts between the two men; while DeSantis followed the Trump administration’s lead in imposing some restrictions, as more data came in he went on to express regret and reverse course, quickly establishing one of the most anti-lockdown records in the country.

“I also think just in terms of my approach to leadership, I get personnel in the government who have the agenda of the people and share our agenda,” DeSantis said, alluding to the number of officials Trump hired and/or left in place, only to later condemn. “You bring your own agenda in, you’re gone. We’re just not gonna 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, and I think that’s something that’s very important.”

Morgan also asked about Trump’s christening of DeSantis with derisive nicknames such as “DeSanctimonious” and “DeSanctis,” which the governor laughed off. “I don’t really know what it means, but I kinda like it, it’s long, it’s got a lot of vowels,” he said. “We’ll go with that, that’s fine. 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.”

On the subject of Trump’s shift from calling DeSantis a “brilliant young leader,” “true fighter,” and “great governor…doing an incredible job” to calling him an “average Governor” whose positive image “is all a mirage,” DeSantis said, “things have changed a little bit, I guess. It is what it is.”

“We had a good relationship and I think one of the reasons he got to know me is because I saw the Russia collusion thing as a farce from the beginning,” he went on. “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 I would defend him when it wasn’t popular and when it was kinda politically risky, but I just thought it was the right thing to do and then I thought that he had good ideas for the country. And then when I became governor, his last two years as president, we worked very well together. He had a place in Florida and worked well with us to serve our state.”

The governor has typically avoided answering whether he will run in 2024, but in his talk with Morgan spoke more candidly on the subject than before, while still stopping short of confirming his candidacy.

“I haven’t made a final decision on it. I’ve told people that I’ve got a lot to do over the next few months in Florida. We’re gonna put a lot of points on the board. And then we’ll see how the dust settles after that,” DeSantis said, explaining that if he ultimately chose not to, it would be “because I’ve got a young family. I’ve 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’m doing.”

At the same time, DeSantis came closer to teasing his intentions to enter more strongly than ever before.

“If I were to run, I’m running against Biden,” whom he thinks he could beat, DeSantis said. “Like we [him and Trump] are competing for the Republican, potentially, I get that, but ultimately you know the guy I’m gonna focus on is Biden because I think he’s failed the country. I think the country wants a change. I think they want a fresh start and a new direction and so we’ll be very vocal about that.”

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

When word got out about the interview, Trump panned DeSantis for “chatting with a Ratings Challenged TV Host from England,” to which Morgan responded by noting that he also interviewed Trump “over 40 times.”