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Ron DeSantis says he'll debate with or without Trump: 'I'll be there'

The former president has indicated that he's unlikely to attend the first GOP presidential debate in August.
Ron Desantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' presidential campaign said it brought in more than $20 million since its launch.Adam Glanzman / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told Fox News on Thursday that he plans to participate in the first GOP presidential debate in August, whether or not former President Donald Trump attends.

"I'll be there, regardless," DeSantis said. "I hope everybody who is eligible comes. I think it is an important part of the process, and I look forward to being able to be on the stage and introducing our candidacy and our vision and our leadership to a wide audience."

Who will be at the first debate remains an open question. The Republican National Committee has imposed requirements around polling, contributions and signing a loyalty pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee that may be difficult for some of the lower-tier candidates to meet.

And the big question remains as to whether Trump, who continues to be the front-runner in the race, will show up. So far, he has indicated that he's not interested, and sources have told NBC News that he's exploring ways to mess with the debate by, perhaps, scheduling a competing event.

Fox News host Will Cain also asked DeSantis on Thursday about why he continues to lag in the polls behind Trump. The governor said he was just getting started, and the fact that he's been a target is evidence that his message is catching on.

"Well, I think if you look at the people like the corporate media, who are they going after? Who do they not want to be the nominee? They're going after me," he said. "Who is the president of Mexico attacking because he knows we will be strong on the border, to hold him accountable and the cartels? He is going after me. So, I think if you look at all these people that are responsible for a lot of the ills in our society, they are targeting me as the person they don't want to see as the candidate."

DeSantis recently said he supported using deadly force against migrants coming into the United States who are suspected of bringing in drugs.

On Thursday, DeSantis' presidential campaign announced it had raised more than $20 million since its launch in late May, while the super PAC backing him has raised $130 million so far.

Trump's joint fundraising effort — which includes both his campaign and his leadership PAC — said it raised more than $35 million from April through June, but it's not clear how much went to each entity. The leadership PAC, Save America, also covers the former president's legal bills.