Gov. Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump trade blows on COVID-19, age as 2nd GOP debate looms

'The presidency is not a job for someone that's 80 years old,' DeSantis says during CBS interview
Tension builds between DeSantis and Trump following Miami arraignment
Posted at 12:42 PM, Sep 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-16 12:42:47-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — This week on the 2024 campaign trail, the two Floridians still standing in the GOP primary sparred over COVID and new boosters. Gov Ron DeSantis took a shot at the age of the current and former president. Plus, Miami is getting a Republican debate.

Happy 45 to Florida's 46th governor

Gov. Ron DeSantis turned 45 this week, making him one of this presidential cycle's youngest bidders for the White House. It was a fact he touted when talking to CBS News this week. When asked about whether age should play a role in voters' decisions, the governor took a swing at both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Both would be in their 80s during the next term of office.

"The presidency is not a job for someone that's 80 years old," DeSantis said. "There's nothing wrong with being 80 — obviously, I'm the governor of Florida. I know a lot of people who are elderly. They are great people, but you're talking about a job where you need to give 100%. You need an energetic president."

Trump's campaign fired back with a snarky birthday message and in emails, noted the governor had slipped to fourth in new GOP primary polling out of South Carolina. Add to that, there are reports that the DeSantis campaign lowered expectations in the key state of Iowa. An official told reporters they were hoping for a "strong second-place finish."

Ken Cuccinelli with the DeSantis' super PAC Never Back Down addressed the comment when we asked, earlier this week.

"We understand that in a talented field, you can't win every battle, but the goal is to ultimately win the contest," Cuccinelli said. "And if— whatever combination of places that means — we're going to fight to scramble as far up that ladder everywhere as we can."

Campaigns pushing different communication on COVID-19

Trump and DeSantis also went toe-to-toe on COVID-19 policy this week. The governor's campaign trashed Trump for his initial handling of the virus. Then, later in the week, the governor made national headlines when his administration made Florida the first state in the nation to recommend against new COVID-19 vaccine boosters for those under 65.

That's despite both the FDA and CDC signing off on the shots. Officials, including HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, call the updated vaccines safe and effective for those six months and older.

"I mean, the boogeyman may be out there, but it's not the federal government," Becerra said this week. "It's not the vaccine. It's those who are trying to conjure up these images that are just, you know, just not based in fact."

Trump, meanwhile, defended his record on COVID while speaking with former Fox anchor Megyn Kelly. The former president seemed to tread carefully when asked about his efforts to spur the development of the original shots, which some of his base supporters have denounced as dangerous.

"No mandates," Trump said. "No anything. I didn't demand anybody take it. They said you saved 100 million people because I got it done in nine months as opposed to five years to 12 years."

"You're proud of it?" asked Kelly.

"I'm not proud of it," Trump said. "I'm saying what Democrats think."

Third GOP debate to be held in Miami

RNC officials confirmed Thursday that a third GOP debate is coming this November and will be held in Miami instead of deep-red Alabama. It's unclear if Trump will be there. DeSantis' campaign said this week the candidate was focused on prepping for the second debate.

"What you're gonna see on the debate stage is a DeSantis who's gonna share his vision," Carly Atchison, Team DeSantis spokeswoman said. "And, who's going to stand out by being presidential and showing that he's got the track record to back up what he's saying."

Debate No. 2 is scheduled for Sept. 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.