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Biden Slams DeSantis as ‘Trump Incarnate’ in a Pre-Election Jab

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 11/2/2022 Josh Wingrove, Jordan Fabian and Justin Sink
Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, speaks during the Florida gubernatorial debate in Fort Pierce, Florida, US, on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. The debate, initially scheduled for Oct. 12, was postponed because of Hurricane Ian, a destructive Category 4 storm that struck Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, reports The New York Times. © Bloomberg Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, speaks during the Florida gubernatorial debate in Fort Pierce, Florida, US, on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. The debate, initially scheduled for Oct. 12, was postponed because of Hurricane Ian, a destructive Category 4 storm that struck Southwest Florida on Sept. 28, reports The New York Times.

(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden assailed Ron DeSantis as “Donald Trump incarnate,” a remark that unveils a key question batted around in the White House: Will the president be facing the rival he knows or the one he doesn’t in 2024?

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The US president’s barb at a Democratic fundraiser in Florida offered a preview of how an incumbent might handle a future showdown with the insurgent Florida governor. What’s clear is that DeSantis has grown in political stature. 

He’s done that by channeling Trump’s mannerisms and populism in ways that are more palatable to mainstream Republicans. Polls suggest that if Trump opts not to seek the presidency again DeSantis will be the GOP frontrunner.

Biden said that unlike Charlie Crist -- the former House representative and governor seeking to derail DeSantis’s re-election bid – his Republican rival lacked the ability to restore decency to public life and unite the country.

“This guy is not -- he doesn’t fit any of the categories I talked about,” the president said Tuesday evening of DeSantis. “The way he deals, the way he denies.”

“Charlie is running against Donald Trump incarnate,” Biden said.

Biden’s deployment of the word “incarnate” is one that comes loaded with religious meaning and is frequently and colloquially used to describe the devil. It points to a souring of the political debate that has descended into mud-slinging on both sides. Trump said on his social media platform that the country was “evil.”

Biden’s criticism Tuesday was a marked difference from his last visit to the state, when he and the governor traded niceties as they consoled victims of Hurricane Ian. But with the midterm elections approaching in just a week -- and the focus shifting to the 2024 presidential campaign shortly afterward -- the president singled out a possible challenger, arguing that DeSantis had displayed a callousness that toxified politics.

“How can you say that you in fact care about democracy when you deny the existence of a win?” he said, criticizing Republicans broadly over the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol and for questioning the results of the 2020 election. Biden again blamed violent rhetoric for the attack last week on Paul Pelosi, the husband of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“Look what happened. I’m talking to Nancy Pelosi, look at what happened. Look at the response, the so-called response from Republicans, making jokes about it.”

Earlier: DeSantis Won’t Say in Debate If He Plans Presidential Run 

The president told attendees later Tuesday at a rally in Miami that “everything is at stake” in next week’s election, imploring a packed house to turn out to vote. The gathering, in which Biden elicited loud cheers as he stalked the stage with detached microphone, was the sort of event Biden often had to forgo during his 2020 campaign because of Covid-19 restrictions. 

Biden, who turns 80 this month, has said he intends to run for re-election and will announce a final decision after the Nov. 8 midterms. And while he has repeatedly expressed confidence he would beat Trump in a rematch of their 2020 race, he has said comparatively little about DeSantis up to now.

DeSantis, 44, has declined to say whether he plans to run for president in two years, but he is expected to cruise to re-election as governor next week over Crist. 

He has bolstered his national profile in recent months by being a sharp critic of Biden and Democratic policies, including on immigration. He drew Biden’s criticism in September for allegedly using taxpayer dollars to fly dozens of Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a resort island off the coast of Massachusetts. 

The president at the time accused Republican governors, without naming DeSantis, of using people “as props” and Biden’s transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, called for an investigation into whether DeSantis’s transportation of the migrants broke federal flight rules.

The president and governor, though, were forced to work together when Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida creating widespread damage. They spoke on the telephone and DeSantis complimented Biden for quickly lining up federal disaster relief.

Earlier: DeSantis and Biden Play Nice at Ian Epicenter in 2024 Preview

DeSantis did deliver a subtle jab at Biden, who surveyed the storm damage near Fort Myers from a helicopter. “You can go over it in a helicopter and you see damage, but it does not do it justice until you are actually on the ground,” he said.

Moments later, Biden responded: “I’m sure it’s much worse from the ground. But you can see a whole hell of a lot of damage from the air.”

Biden told reporters during that trip that despite their differences he was able to work with DeSantis to deliver aid.

“We have very different political philosophies,” Biden said. “But we’ve worked hand-and-glove.”

Winning a second term at the helm of the nation’s third most populous state could provide DeSantis with a solid platform for mounting a campaign for the White House -- as an alternative to Trump in a Republican primary and, perhaps, a potent challenger to Biden. 

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DeSantis poses the greatest threat against Trump in a hypothetical 2024 primary, according to a July New York Times/Siena College poll. One quarter of GOP voters said they would vote for DeSantis -- compared to 49% for Trump -- with college graduates, younger Republicans and those who voted for Biden in 2020 picking DeSantis as their top choice. 

Florida has increasingly become difficult for Democrats to win. Trump beat Biden there by three percentage points in 2020.  

At a Tuesday night rally, Crist nodded to DeSantis’s potential White House ambitions. “Ron DeSantis wants to do to America what he’s done to Florida, and we can stop him, right here, right now,” he said. 

DeSantis, though, leads Crist by 11 percentage points and had a 53% approval rating among likely Florida voters, according to a mid-October Florida Atlantic University poll. DeSantis led Biden 48-22% in a hypothetical 2024 match-up, according to the same poll of Florida voters, while Trump led Biden 45-41%. 

Biden’s Florida visit kicks off his final campaign stretch before the midterms, in which his party is fighting to keep control of the House, Senate and key statehouses. He’s also appearing with Senate hopeful Val Demings, who is trailing her Republican opponent, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, in polling. 

“Florida Democrats rubber-stamped Joe Biden and his disastrous agenda every step of the way, so there’s no better way for them to spend their final week than campaigning by his side,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. 

(Updates with Biden rally in 9th paragraph, Crist quote starting in 24th.)

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