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(LifeSiteNews) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis argued on Monday that he is the only Republican presidential candidate who can be counted on to “bring a reckoning to the COVID tyrants in the federal government,” noting that the Trump administration was urging his state to adopt lockdown policies as late as January 2021.

DeSantis appeared for an hour-long interview with podcaster Patrick Bet-David that touched on a broad range of topics, including his and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s respective records in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020. He granted there “was a lot of uncertainty in March of 2020,” when the virus was new, but argued the key question was “what about November of 2020? December? January of 2021?”

DeSantis noted that, “January of 2021, last few weeks in office, they’re sending me missives from the White House Task Force saying ‘impose a mask mandate, close restaurants,’” which the mainstream media used “as a wedge” against Republicans. The letter, dated January 10, urged Florida to “increase both statewide and local public mitigation” with “masking, physical distancing and avoiding family gatherings.”

A July 2020 Tampa Bay Times headline reads, “Democrats demand DeSantis explain why Florida isn’t following White House COVID plan.” A December 2020 Orlando Sentinel headline summarized, “DeSantis mostly ignored White House task force COVID-19 reports, belittled its advice.”

“Here’s, I think, the issue for the election going forward, is, I’m the only one running that is talking about bringing accountability for what happened to this country during COVID,” DeSantis said. “It’s one thing to make a judgment call that’s wrong, but it’s another thing to ignore evidence, it’s another thing to lie when you tell people, like CDC did, that if you take an mRNA shot you will not get COVID, and you still stand by that when it’s obvious that people are getting it, when you’re having the FDA approve an mRNA shot for six-month-old babies where there’s no evidence that that’s benefitting them. This is the swamp, this needs to be cleared out. I will do that.”

DeSantis then argued that nominating Trump would be especially perilous for Republicans in light of Kennedy family scion Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s independent presidential bid. Kennedy and numerous Republicans (including members of the Trump campaign) believe he would pull more votes from Trump than Biden due to Kennedy’s fierce opposition to the medical establishment.

RFK “would be the vessel” for “anti-Fauci, anti-lockdown” sentiment in a three-way race between himself, Trump, and President Joe Biden, DeSantis said, “whereas me as the candidate, I’m the vessel for that. Everyone knows I’m gonna hold people accountable.”

COVID-19 is one of the biggest points of contrast between the two men. Trump oversaw the federal government’s COVID response, which issued recommendations that states close schools, businesses, and public gatherings while mandating mask wearing and social distancing when out in public. Trump says he has no regrets as to his handling of the crisis, passing culpability for lockdowns onto governors and denying he listened to controversial adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom he claims he was unable to fire.

Trump has claimed that federal civil service rules forbade him from removing Fauci as head of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID). But while the NIAID director is not a presidentially appointed position, Fauci’s membership on the White House Coronavirus Task Force was purely within the president’s discretion.

Despite reports and comments at the time indicating some disagreement between the two men, as late as July 2020, Trump said that he had a “very good relationship” with Fauci, who has a “very good approval rating and I like that […] We could have gotten somebody else. It didn’t have to be Dr. Fauci.” 

In April 2020, Trump’s reelection campaign was promoting video clips of Fauci attesting that Trump took his advice and “has never overruled me.” As late as October 2020, Trump’s reelection campaign was releasing campaign ads aligning the president with Fauci, whom Trump gave a presidential commendation “in recognition of [his] exceptional efforts on Operation Warp Speed” on his last full day in office.

DeSantis, by contrast, spoke positively about the Trump administration’s COVID team in the early weeks of the pandemic, but by summer 2020 was publicly pushing back against Fauci’s claims that he reopened Florida too soon.

It is not disputed that DeSantis initially imposed a number of COVID restrictions (acting in part on data and guidance from the Trump administration), but the governor openly expressed regret at what he calls the “huge mistake” of imposing any restrictions at all, and as more information came in he reversed course, quickly establishing arguably the most anti-lockdown record in the country, defying insistence that his policies would lead to mass death, and enacting new laws explicitly forbidding new lockdown measures in the future.

The two candidates are also sharply divided on the COVID-19 shots developed far more quickly than normal vaccines under Trump’s Operation Warp Speed initiative. DeSantis initially supported the shots, but has long since repudiated them as evidence about their ineffectiveness and adverse effects has come to light. Last year, his administration began conducting its own studies, which concluded the shots should not be taken by young men, and sought a grand jury investigation into the claims of the jabs’ manufacturers. 

Trump, by contrast, continues to insist the COVID shots saved “100 million people” worldwide and dismiss questions about their adverse effects and has complained that the subject is not more popular among his supporters. In January,  mRNA technology pioneer and prominent COVID establishment critic Dr. Robert Malone revealed that he once filmed a video meant to encourage Trump to change his mind on the subject, but it had “no impact.”

Trump maintains a commanding lead for the Republican presidential nomination, which DeSantis supporters are counting on reversing starting with the governor’s ground operation delivering a surprise victory in the Iowa caucuses.

Trump narrowly leads Biden in some national polls but is currently projected to lose the Electoral College and faces multiple legal battles, severely impacting his ability to campaign in a general election.

Further complicating election prognostication is the possibility of Democrats replacing the unpopular, elderly Biden with younger and equally radical California Gov. Gavin Newsom or U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota, a former member of House Democrat leadership who says he is challenging Biden out of fear for his electoral viability. Defeating the incumbent Democrat president outright in a party primary is unlikely, but Democrats could theoretically reach an agreement to have Biden step aside for another candidate at any time prior to the party’s nominating convention next August.

The Republican primaries do not begin until January, and the general election is more than a year away. Numerous future variables – among them Biden’s health, Trump’s trials, Kennedy’s candidacy, and new national crises – could impact all the race’s potential outcomes in any number of directions.