ABC News Live Prime transcript: Linsey Davis sits down with Ron DeSantis

The below interview was aired on Sept. 20 from Texas.

ByABC News
September 20, 2023, 10:01 PM

LINSEY DAVIS: So you're here in Midland, Texas, to launch your energy plan. Part of that would include having gas prices go to $2 a gallon by 2025. But early on, as governor, you really were pushing electric vehicles. Now, this plan really has a heavy emphasis on fossil fuels. Why the change?

RON DESANTIS: Well there hasn't been a change. So as governor, I got money from the Volkswagen settlement to do EV infrastructure so I could either use it or lose it. So that's why we did it. We put in the charging stations, but I would never support mandating the production of EVs. I think that should be driven by the market. We're also now in a situation where this is the worst inflation and the highest costs families have faced in America for many decades, and they're getting hit from all sides. Energy dominance using the resources we have, that is one way to reduce prices at the pump which is hurting people, but also prices throughout the economy because energy prices permeate the cost of goods, it affects businesses, and then, of course, the larger context of this helps our national security to be energy dominant. And so that's the message that we're delivering. And our goal is come 2025, if we implement all these policies, we have gas close to $4 nationally. Let's get it down to $2. That's the goal.

DAVIS: A number of your opponents have been really critical of your six week abortion ban in Florida. Donald Trump, who's in Iowa today, has called it a terrible mistake. He says that you've gone too far. Can you trust that Donald Trump still has the views with regard to abortion that reflect the base of the GOP party?

DESANTIS: Well, when you provide pro-life protections that says when when a baby has a heartbeat, that there's protections. That is not something that pro-lifers think is terrible. They think that that is a noble and just thing to do. Of course, there have been many other states that have also done that. He claimed to be pro-life. He spoke at the March for Life and was waxing eloquently about how everybody counts. For him to then attack people like Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, all these other states, I thought was a big mistake. But look, I mean, I think he's, he's taking positions that I think are different from what he took in 2015 when he first came onto the scene. And I do think he's a different candidate today than he was back then. And I think the one back then was probably closer to where Republican voters want to be than the latest iteration.

DAVIS: You said he claimed to be pro-life. Do you think he is pro-life?

DESANTIS: Well, you tell me. I think that if you have something where you have a baby that has a detectable heartbeat, if you're pro-life, you would want to say that there should be protections there. And if he's saying that, that's a terrible thing. I know most pro-life voters would would think that he's wrong.

DAVIS: When abortion has been on the ballot, whether it's been in battleground states or deeply red states, it's been a losing issue. If we look ahead to the general election, as you know, the polls indicate that the majority of Americans do support some access, at least, to abortion. How do you convince them to support you?

DESANTIS: Well, I think a couple of things is, one, you know, we have a very big, diverse state, or country. There's a lot of differences of opinion on this. Here in Texas, they're going to have a much different policy with respect to right to life in California or New York. And so we understand that. We understand that this is a bottom up movement, that ultimately, you know, you make progress in your communities, in your states. Some will be more than others. But I do think that almost all Americans agree, you know, at some point there should be protections. You wouldn't want to say that the day before birth it would be fine, you know, to abort an unborn child. You do have national Democrats that have very difficult time articulating when that limit would be. And so I think what you'll see is you'll see different states probably come to different conclusions over the ensuing years. And I understand it'll continue to be an issue. But one of the things you need to do, and I think this is where hopefully we can bring people together is, OK, once the baby's born, Are you still pro-life then? And, you know, people on my side haven't always done a good job of doing that. And in Florida, we expanded postpartum medical care for a year for, for poor women after, after birth. We've also launched the fatherhood initiative to make sure that the dads are there to help. And then we have programs like Universal School Choice for Mothers, which a lot of single mothers use, and then we've made all baby items tax free. So diapers, wipes, cribs, strollers. In Florida, you raise kids tax free, we think that that's something that's good. And then finally, under my wife's leadership, we have a program called Hope Florida, which is not limited to just single mothers, but that's a lot of people that go in to seek government assistance. We're linking charities, churches, businesses in each community through a care portal so that they can offer help for what's needed. And you know what happens? When those groups get involved a lot of times. There's no more government assistance that's needed, so it's really helped lift people up.

DAVIS: Of course, we're here in Texas. Recently, you've have talked about that you would get the military involved to shoot drug cartel members who are at the border. And I want to quote, you said, when somebody has got a backpack on and they're breaking through the wall, how would you be able to tell who a cartel member is?

DESANTIS: The same way you would tell for for anything. I mean, you know, for example, I served in Iraq back in the day that al Qaeda didn't wear uniforms. You know, the typical Arab male would have had the man dress on. You didn't know if they had a bomb strapped to them or not. They carry around the AK47s, normal civilians would. So you couldn't even say if they had. So you had to make a determination, can you positively identify somebody as hostile through either hostile action or hostile intent, and then you do it. Same way anyone would do that even in the United States. So you will do that, we'll be collecting intelligence. But we are not going to let this state, let our country get overrun with fentanyl. We have tens of thousands of fentanyl deaths every year now, and it's all coming from across the border. And I've met parents in Texas, angel moms in Texas, who've lost kids because of the fentanyl overdose. And the thing is, you know, yes, there are some people that get addicted to opioids, and it's a tough thing to handle. But there's also people who think they're taking a xanax and it may be laced with fentanyl, and then and then their kid dies, and that's a tragic thing. We actually had a case in Florida where a baby died, the family rented an Airbnb, the baby was crawling on the floor. There was fentanyl residue left over from the previous tenant and the baby died. So this is lethal, lethal stuff. They are killing our citizens. They are invading our country. We have every right to hold them accountable and to fight back.

DAVIS: But with regard to bringing the military in, to shoot them, just want to say you have touted yourself as the law and order candidate. How is that not a recipe for chaos?

DESANTIS: It's not a recipe for ... right now is the recipe for chaos. I mean, you see all the people coming across the border. A lot of these countries like Venezuela, they're letting people out of prison and they're sending them to the border. I mean, what is happening in this country is a problem. There's Russians coming across the border. There's people from the Middle East. As much as I hate to say this, I think it's true that we're going to look back at some point and say there's going to have been some terrorist attack in this country that is going to be traced to what's happened to the border. And then, of course, we know run of the mill crimes that are happened. So we've never had a more chaotic situation. As commander in chief, you have to defend your people and you have to ensure the territorial integrity of your country. Right now, we have the drug cartels are controlling parts of our border more so than our own U.S. government. That will change when I become president. We will make sure we're defending the country.

DAVIS: Even before you announced that you were running, you were seen, by and large as the one Republican who could take down Donald Trump. But recently, we've seen top GOP donors like Ken Griffin, billionaire who supported you for a long time, fellow Floridian, who's saying, you know, he's going to stand on the sidelines. And recently referring to you, he said, I don't know his strategy. It's not clear to me what voter base he's intending to appeal to. How do you answer his criticism?

DESANTIS: Well, here's the thing. I'm a leader. I'm not a follower. So we lead and we do what we think is right. And people can support us or not support us financially. But you should not be led by trying to please very wealthy donors. And I've never operate that way. So, for example, it's been in the press that he's been upset with, you know, us having to tussle with Disney over the, over the school curriculum. Well, look, we were right on this school curriculum. We stood for parents rights and education. And I'm not going to back down from that because I think it's the right thing to do, especially as a dad of a six, a five and a three year old. So sometimes if people are expecting you to kind of dance to their tune as an, as a leader, that's not the type of leader that you want. You want someone that's going to do what they think is right and is going to stand by that, you know, regardless of some of the, of the fallout that happens, sometimes you got to do the right thing knowing that you may upset some donors. But you know what? That's actually what we should expect from our leaders.

DAVIS: But, but Disney aside, if we could get to that in a moment, what do you say just on the face of his criticism that I don't know his strategy, it's not clear to me the voter base.

DESANTIS Well, our strategy is very clear. We're actually showing up in the early states. We're doing the type of meetings and events that you need to do that voters get to know you. These voters in these early states, they take their responsibility very seriously. They want to kick the tires. They want to learn about what you've done. They want to learn about you, what you're going to do for the country. And so we're doing that and we're going to continue to do that. And so there's always going to be people are to say this or that. But we're delivering the message, when we, when we do that, we have a great deal of success. We've got a lot more work to do because there's a lot more people to meet. But we're pleased with our progress.

DAVIS: You brought up Disney. It's a view that's become rather public, I should say, for the record

DESANTIS: [laughs] You have to say that. [laughs]

DAVIS: ABC News is owned by Disney. Disney, of course, now has this litigation against you. Nikki Haley has criticized U.S. businesses are our partners. Mike Pence has called this fight, quote, beyond the scope of what I, as a conservative, limited government Republican, would be prepared to do. And following in the footsteps of the radical left. As president, would you wage these battles with private companies?

DESANTIS: First of all, this is about kids. So we had a parents rights and education bill that said we're not going to have things like transgender ideology in the elementary schools. Disney opposed that. You know, they have a right to, I guess, to take these positions. I signed the bill. And then the company came out and said they were going to use their corporate resources to repeal the bill or get it struck down in the courts. And so that's an attack on our policies, on our parents, on our kids, that the vast majority of Floridians supported those policies. So I'm going to fight to defend those policies. I think a lot of that that you cited, that's kind of the old guard Republicans where they basically always just bend the knee to the big, powerful corporations. You've got to stand for what's right. So I'm always going to stand for our kids. I have a, I'm a parent of a six, five and a three year old. And it's not just me and my wife. There's people who have different political perspectives than us that are in the same boat as parents. We want the schools focused on reading, writing, math, science. It is wrong to tell a kindergartner that they're gender's fluid that should not be in the schools. So we were right to take that stand. I think Disney made a mistake and doing what they're doing. But we have every right to push back and defend our policies against those who are seeking to undermine them. And that's that that was the right thing to do.

DAVIS: But are you concerned at all that it might give other businesses pause about locating in Florida out of fear that perhaps there be some retaliation?

DESANTIS: What's happening on the ground. We're the number one state for new business formations. We're the number one state for net in-migration, fastest growing state in America, top GDP growth amongst all large states. People are there. They're walking over broken glass barefoot to come down to Florida because it's a great business environment. And oh, by the way, you know, Disney parks, they had an arrangement that Universal, SeaWorld, they've got special treatment. And a good economy is not about giving one company special treatment. A good economy is about creating a good environment for everybody. So Disney is operating in a great business environment, but so is Universal and SeaWorld only now, Disney is not getting to basically be exempt from things that their competitors have to follow. That's actually a better form of a market economy because you do want the rules to be uniform.

PHOTO: Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks with ABC News Live Prime anchor Lindsey Davis during an interview, Sept. 20, 2023 in Midland, Texas.
Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis speaks with ABC News Live Prime anchor Lindsey Davis during an interview, Sept. 20, 2023 in Midland, Texas.
ABC News

DAVIS: You're governor of Florida, your congressman from Florida, you're arguably the state's biggest cheerleader. Why is it that you suppose that the Florida Republican congressional delegates, the majority, at any rate, support Donald Trump, who's been indicted four times over you?

DESANTIS: Well, I have almost the uniform support of the Florida legislature who's in Florida. So those are the guys I work with. We've been able to deliver huge wins for Florida. We've really set the standard for the nation. Right now our economy is ranked number one in the nation, according to CNBC, education number one, according to U.S. News and World Report. We have businesses flocking to the state, people are flocking to the state, and I think those folks who we work with on a daily basis, almost 97% of them come to the conclusion that what I've been able to do, the leadership, if I could do that in Washington it'd be good for the country. You know, I've never really been a guy that got, got along in D.C. I don't like the way it operates. I think we need a house cleaning up there. There will not be business as usual when I become president. There will be changes the way things are done business. And, you know, that doesn't necessarily sit well with everybody. And that's true with people in both parties up there.

DAVIS: But how does that work as president if you say, oh I've never really gotten along with the people in D.C.?

DESANTIS: Well, because there's a culture that's developed, I think, that has put the interests of D.C. ahead of the interests of the American people. And you look right now, five of the eight wealthiest counties in the United States are suburbs of Washington, D.C.. How does that happen? It isn't like they have abundant resources there or they're producing much of anything. They're producing a lot of data, a lot of spending. People that are politically connected to the government are doing better. Meanwhile, Americans outside that area are basically bearing the cost with all these higher prices that the spending and the inflation is fueled. So what I represent is really saying, you know what? It's time that we, the people, come and that we're leading the charge up in D.C. It's not just about the people in D.C. It's about what you can do for folks throughout the country. And there's a lot of people that are struggling. If we can't have in this country, people that are working hard trying to raise kids, if they can't afford to buy a home or buy a car or even afford groceries, if America doesn't work for those people, we are not going to be successful as a country.

DAVIS: Let's talk about COVID for a moment. As governor of Florida, you've told residents who are under 65 don't get the boosters as president. Would that be your policy? No more shots?

DESANTIS: Well, certainly we're not going to fund them. I think that Biden spending billions and billions of dollars on these. So they've done studies, they have not demonstrated the benefit of the boosters. I think they did studies on mice for Pfizer. Moderna did do 50 humans. But you had one medically significant event that required physician attend and out of the 50. And so the question is, is these things have not been studied long enough and there's not a ...

DAVIS: Well CDC disagrees with that.

DESANTIS: Well, how, how, how how good is CDC done? With all due respect, over the last few years, how many people trust CDC at this point? And I was somebody five years ago, if you would have said CDC said this, that would have carried a lot of weight for me. I was in the trenches during COVID. They were citing flimsy studies saying that masks will stop COVID. They were citing flimsy studies about the MRA shots originally. Remember, they said the CDC director said if you take these shots, you will not get COVID. That is not true. We know it's not true. People got COVID. They would they would make representations which were not true. So the trust that's been lost, I think, has been incalculable. And one of the things that I said is when I come in, we're going to have a reckoning about all these COVID policies. We're going to hold people accountable who got it wrong, people that, that clung to the lockdowns, people that clung to the school closures. How is it that we had kids locked out of school in this country for over a year in certain jurisdictions? That was not scientifically valid. And I honestly thought when we had our kids in school, we were the first big state to do it in the summer of 2020. We got a lot of criticism. I mean, I remember ABC was down in one of our rural counties, you know, reporting and I think there was a lot in the media wanted it to not, not do well or expected it not to do well. We did, we did great. Parents were happy. I really thought after three or four weeks of that, that every kid would have to go back in school because we showed that that's what should happen. And yet kids got locked out of school. So there was incalculable damage done. There's been so much misinformation pushed on, on society. You got to go back to what does the evidence tell you? Is there evidence that this benefits a six month old baby? To give them one of these new shots. We don't see that evidence there.

DAVIS: There are suggestions, reports, in fact, that say that you're more likely to have a heart issue if you did get COVID than if you got a booster shot.

DESANTIS: Well, and there's stuff there's stuff that the opposite I mean, my surgeon general in Florida did a study on, I think it was males 18 to 39. He saw a significant increase in myocarditis for people that had taken the booster shots and that in that generation. And here's the thing, it seems like a lot of the side effects are for the people that are the least likely to have significant impacts from COVID. So to push it on somebody where there's not really a benefit where there could even be a small risk. You know, that's wrong. But clearly, you do have, even Dr. Fauci acknowledged the other day that there are examples of the myocarditis from, from the shots. It should have never been mandated on anybody. I mean, there were, the president, President Biden, he wanted people to lose their jobs if they didn't get the shot. And that's totally wrong. That will never happen when I'm president.

DAVIS: I want to get to your education department in Florida that as there has been much ado about the new curriculum for middle schoolers, that would include, among other things, the idea that the enslaved develop skills, which in some instances can be applied for their personal benefit. One of your rivals, Tim Scott, has said what slavery was really about was separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives. That curriculum has obviously faced a lot of backlash. You've not backed down. I'm so curious, governor, why you think there's any value to try to teach a concept to students that there was any upside to slavery?

DESANTIS: We're not doing that. We don't think that. And that's not what that that provision means. That's not how it's being taught. The guy that wrote that, and this was written by a cadre of black history scholars, most of whom were black. The guy that wrote that, Dr. Allen pointed out, it was not saying that slavery benefited. It was saying that these folks were resourceful. They did things they weren't allowed to do, develop skills and then use. So they did it in spite of slavery, not because of it. That's how it's taught in Florida. And that was made clear early on. Now, Kamala Harris came down to Florida, demagogued some of these other people, took her side. I think that that's a mistake, but we got to stop demagoguing. Why would those black history scholars want to shill for slavery? There's no reason to do it, they were tasked with creating strong black history standards because remember, when we eliminated critical race theory too a few years ago, we were accused of not wanting to teach about black history. The reality is that bill required teaching about black history, but particularly racial discrimination throughout all of American history. So that's where that, that Genesis was. So they produced very robust standards. They pulled no punches. They make it very clear, if you read all of that thing, that slavery was an abomination and directly contrary to the founding principles of the country. That's what Florida students are going to be taught. And when you have somebody like a Dr. Allen that's explaining that, why would people want to demagogue? Why would they suggest that somehow he is pursuing some type of agenda? That's not true. These guys were professionals. They didn't have political involvement. They just were told to do standards and they did it right.

DAVIS: Debate is one week from today. You're going to be on that debate stage. It doesn't seem likely that Donald Trump will be. Age aside, what's the biggest difference between you and Donald Trump?

DESANTIS: Well, first, he should he owes it to people to be there. He owes it to people to to make the case and to defend his record. You can't be just not showing up to these things. So he does owe it to that. You know, look, in terms of we, look we've got a lot of differences. I mean, you know, he was born to great wealth. I'm a blue collar kid that had to work minimum wage jobs to get where I was. You know, he did obviously, a lot young is in business. You know, I volunteered to serve in Iraq and serve in the military. I could serve two terms, he would be a lame duck on day one. I ran 16 points better than him in Florida in my most recent race than he did in his most recent race. I've also delivered on these America first policies more than I think anybody in the country, and would have a much better chance of actually delivering all this as president. So I think that there's there's a lot of things that people can look at, but I'm going to be there. We're going to talk about the country's future. We know the country is in a state of decline. We've got to reverse that decline, and we need to restore this country the greatness it deserves. Everybody who wants this job has a responsibility to step up there and make their case.