Ron DeSantis has launched a scathing attack on Donald Trump, accusing the former president of criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas assault on Israel. DeSantis added that the “real Donald Trump” is revealed when he is not speaking from a teleprompter.
The Florida governor, whom polling indicates is Trump’s closest rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, made the remarks on Friday during a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
It came after Trump said on Wednesday he would “never forget” that Netanyahu “let us down” by trying to take credit for the 2020 assassination of Qasem Soleimani, who led the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force. The former president also described Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a key Hamas ally, as very smart and called Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant a “jerk.”
On Friday, Trump partially rowed back from these comments in a post on his Truth Social website, where he wrote: “#IStandWithIsrael #IStandWithBibi.” Netanyahu is commonly known in Israel by the nickname ‘Bibi.’
Addressing journalists, DeSantis said that Trump made the original remarks because Netanyahu congratulated Joe Biden on his 2020 election victory, which the former president still falsely says was rigged against him. Such claims of electoral fraud have been repeatedly rejected in court and by independent election experts. Footage of DeSantis’s remarks was shared on X, formerly Twitter, by the ‘DeSantis War Room’ account.
The governor said: “I think we have the Donald Trump on the teleprompter where he’s reading what’s on there, then you have the Donald Trump when he gets off that teleprompter, and that’s the real Donald Trump when he started speaking about those things.
“He attacked Bibi after the country suffered the worst attack it’s had in its modern history, when they’ve just created a war government, they’re preparing to do a ground invasion in Gaza,” DeSantis added. “And he did that because Bibi congratulated Biden in November. That’s why he did it. He hates Netanyahu because of that. That’s about him. That’s not about the greater good of what Israel’s trying to do or American security.
“I would say get rid of your teleprompter. Don’t use that as a crutch. Go to debates. Show up and debate for two hours, and then we’ll be able to see where he’s really coming from,” DeSantis said. “So, we’ve seen over the course every interview, every time he’s gotten off the teleprompter for, like, the last two months, they’ve had to clean things up for what he’s saying.”
Trump refused to participate in the first two GOP presidential debates, organized by the Republican National Committee, which took place on August 23 and September 27 respectively.
DeSantis said: “This is a different Donald Trump. In 2016, he was freewheeling, he’s out there barnstorming the country, doing all this. Now, it’s just a different guy, and it’s sad to see.”
Newsweek has reached out to Trump for comment using the press contact form on his official website.
Trump was also criticized over his remarks about Netanyahu by Mike Pence, his former vice-president and current rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Pence said: “It’s reckless and irresponsible for former President Trump, or any American leader, to send any message, other than full and unconditional support to Israel. And taking this moment to criticize the Prime Minister of Israel is just, it’s reckless and irresponsible.”
Around 1,300 Israelis, predominantly civilians, were killed in the massive Hamas surprise attack on October 7, with dozens more being dragged off into captivity. Israel has vowed to crush Hamas in response, with an air and artillery bombardment killing more than 1,900 people in Gaza, according to local authorities. Some 360,000 Israeli reservists have been called up, with a ground attack into Gaza believed to be imminent.