GREENSBORO, N.C. — Despite an indictment packed with details of Donald Trump’s alleged schemes to hold on to top secret files in defiance of a grand jury subpoena, Trump’s leading GOP rival, Ron DeSantis, didn’t once mention the 37-count document that could send the former president to prison during a Friday night speech to North Carolina Republicans.
The Florida governor barely alluded to the issue at all and introduced the topic by returning to the old standby of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which wound up hosting some classified documents.
“Gee, as a naval officer, if I had taken classified on my phone, I would have been court-martialed in a New York minute,” he said. “And yet, they seem to not care about that. Is there a different standard for a Democrat secretary of state versus a former Republican president? I think there needs to be one standard of justice in this country.”
DeSantis, who has been happy to attack Trump for his handling of COVID, his failure to build a wall along the U.S. southern border and other hot-button issues for the Republican primary voting base, appears unwilling to mention an issue that could make Trump unelectable in a general election.
After Trump was indicted in March in New York City on charges of falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 payoff to a porn star, DeSantis at first remarked that he had no expertise in the area of hush-money payments. But after receiving criticism for not joining in the general Republican condemnation of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, DeSantis got in line and announced that he would refuse to turn Trump over for prosecution had he been asked to.
“Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” De Santis wrote in a Twitter post.
On Thursday night, two hours and 32 minutes after Trump announced on his personal social media platform that he had been indicted, DeSantis joined the chorus of pro-Trump voices complaining about unequal justice.
“Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter? The DeSantis administration will bring accountability to the DOJ, excise political bias and end weaponization once and for all,” the Florida governor wrote.
Republican presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks June 9, 2023, in Greensboro, North Carolina.
DeSantis was the guest speaker at Friday’s “Old North State Dinner” at North Carolina Republicans’ annual convention. Former Vice President Mike Pence is set to speak Saturday afternoon, and Trump is scheduled to speak Saturday night.
Taking no questions from the 900 or so people filling the Greensboro Sheraton’s main ballroom, DeSantis instead spent his 45 minutes onstage running through his now-familiar stump speech. He bragged about his “wins” in Florida, including a six-week abortion ban, a ban on “diversity, equity and inclusion” programs at state universities and his more general “war on woke.”
His only standing ovation came when boasting of his attack on the Walt Disney Co. for criticizing him and his parental rights in education bill. “There will be no compromise,” he said.
The closest DeSantis came to criticizing Trump, who leads him by double digits in polls, was alluding to the bad election results the party has suffered since the former developer and game show host won the White House in 2016.
Republicans lost the House in 2018, both the White House and the Senate in 2020, and, notwithstanding expectations of a “red wave,” barely won back the House while actually losing another seat in the Senate in 2022.
“We have a task in front of us to shake the culture of losing that has infected the Republican Party in recent years,” he said. “We have to stop frittering away winnable elections.”
Trump is facing two other criminal investigations on top of the two he is already under indictment for: a second probe by the DOJ for his Jan. 6, 2021, coup attempt; and a Georgia state investigation for his attempt to overturn the election there.
He is nevertheless seeking the presidency again and leads most polls of the 2024 GOP field.