Washington (AFP) - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has taken his most direct shots yet at rival Donald Trump, with the gloves finally coming off in what is widely expected to be the head-to-head for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Trump is making his third run for the White House after losing his re-election bid in 2020, and DeSantis is seen as his closest potential challenger by far, although he hasn't officially entered the race.
DeSantis drew a distinction between his own "no daily drama" leadership style and the constant noise around Trump, suggesting the former president wasted much of his time courting controversy.
"It's not important for me to be fighting with people on social media.It's not accomplishing anything for the people I represent," DeSantis said in an interview for "Piers Morgan Uncensored" on the streaming service Fox Nation.
"So, we really just focus on knocking out victories, day after day, and if I got involved in all the undertow I would not be able to be an effective governor."
DeSantis's broadside comes as he has lost ground in polling amid escalating taunts from the former president.
Details of the interview appeared late Tuesday in the New York Post -- the main conservative-leaning tabloid in the city where Trump is expected to be indicted in the coming days over a 2016 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
DeSantis said the "underlying conduct" in the Manhattan District Attorney's investigation is "outside my wheelhouse."
"At the end of the day as a leader, you really want to look to people like our Founding Fathers... it's not saying that you don't ever make a mistake in your personal life, but I think, what type of character are you bringing?" DeSantis commented.
The criticism was mild compared with Trump's often bellicose rhetoric, but underscored the case DeSantis is likely to make against his rival and demonstrated that Republican White House hopefuls are beginning finally to find their voices when it comes to criticizing the frontrunner.
The DeSantis interview came in the wake of ex-vice president Mike Pence's jab at his former boss at a recent dinner in Washington over the 2021 US Capitol assault by a pro-Trump mob.
Trump endorsed DeSantis in his first run for governor but distanced himself from his protege after the 44-year-old's landslide re-election victory in November.
DeSantis laughed off the many nicknames Trump has given him -- saying he was happy with "Ron Sanctimonious" -- but added that his focus would be on running against President Joe Biden if he entered the race, and not Trump.
The interview is set to air in full on Fox Nation on Thursday.