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DeSantis defends 'listless vessels' remark about Trump supporters after backlash

Trump's campaign and allies slammed DeSantis after he urged Republicans against becoming "listless vessels" who support the former president. The Florida governor later said he was referring to Republican critics in Congress.
Ron DeSantis at Erick Erickson's conservative political conference in Atlanta
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended his remarks warning Republicans to not act as "listless vessels" for Donald Trump. Cheney Orr / Reuters

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday defended his remark over the weekend urging Republicans against being “listless vessels” who support former President Donald Trump.

In a Florida Standard interview last week, DeSantis, who is running a distant second to Trump in polls for the GOP presidential nomination, said the conservative movement shouldn’t be centered around loyalty to Trump. “[I]f you’re not rooted in principle, if all we are is listless vessels that are just supposed to follow whatever happens to come down the pike on Truth Social every morning, that’s not going to be a durable movement,” he said.

DeSantis’ comments drew swift criticism from the Trump campaign, with senior adviser Jason Miller comparing it to a comment then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made during the 2016 race, when she said half of Trump's supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables.”

“Looks like Ron DeSanctimonious just had his ‘Basket of Deplorables’ moment. Not good!” Miller wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

DeSantis responded to the backlash in an interview on Fox News on Monday, saying that he thinks one of the “big problems” with the Republican Party is candidates not “following through” on their promises.

“And so at the end of the day, it’s what are we delivering for the people that have put us into office, and in the state of Florida, I can say that I have delivered more for America first principles than anybody else in the country,” he said, noting measures his administration has taken on immigration, Second Amendment rights and school choice.

DeSantis said his remark referred to people in Congress who have accused him of being a “RINO,” or “Republican In Name Only.”

“And I think what you’ve had, the people in Congress that I was referring to that have attacked me and tried to say somehow that I was a RINO, they’re putting entertainment and personality over principle," he said. "Our voters want us to stand on principle and fight for them.”

DeSantis’ comments echoed the defense his spokesperson, Bryan Griffin, issued in the wake of criticism from the Trump campaign and the former president’s allies.

“The dishonest media refuses to report the facts — Donald Trump and some congressional endorsers are ‘listless vessels.’ Why? Because Trump and DC insiders feel he is entitled to your vote,” Griffin wrote on in a post to X. “[Ron DeSantis] believes your trust should be earned and has the vision, plan, and record to beat Joe Biden and reverse the decline of our country. That’s why Ron DeSantis will be showing up on Wednesday night to debate, and Donald Trump will not.”

DeSantis’ appearance on Fox News came days before he is scheduled to appear in the first GOP presidential debate of the 2024 election cycle. Trump has confirmed he will skip the debate, and has already recorded an interview with ex-Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he intends to use as counterprogramming for the Wednesday night debate, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Asked why he thinks Trump is skipping the debate, DeSantis said he believes “everybody should debate.”

“Everybody has a responsibility to earn people’s votes, nobody is entitled to anything in this world, less of all the Republican nomination for president,” he said. “So I’m going to be there, I’m going to be making the case."