Before Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and his newly selected running mate met with reporters Thursday night following a campaign event in Little Havana, a DeSantis ally issued a warning to the candidate.
“The press arrived here under one rule,” said Marcell Felipe, founder of the Inspire America Foundation. “Anything you say can and will be used against you.”
That was certainly the case during DeSantis’ primary campaign against Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was repeatedly asked about past comments criticizing then-candidate Donald Trump for his “vile” and “obscene” language in an “Access Hollywood” van.
But now it’s DeSantis’ running mate, Jeanette Nuñez, a state representative with valuable ties to Cuban-American voters in Miami, who is being asked to reckon with critical comments she made against Trump in 2016, including charges that he supported white supremacy and was “anti-Israel.”
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“Wake up Florida voters, Trump is the biggest con-man there is. #nosubstance #anti-Israel #supportsKKK #nevertrump VOTE @marcorubio #RUBIO,” reads Nuñez’s now-deleted tweet from March 3, 2016.
Asked about her past criticism of Trump and whether she stands by her previously held views, Nuñez said it was “no secret” she supported Florida Sen. Rubio against Trump.
“First of all, this election that I’m part of I’m very excited to be standing by Ron DeSantis,” she said. “The presidential campaign, it’s no secret I was a supporter of Marco Rubio. That election is over and I’ve moved forward, look forward to working with Ron DeSantis.”
But when Nuñez was pressed on whether she still believes Trump is anti-Israel, she declined to address the comment.
“Look, I’ve moved on,” Nuñez said before a campaign aide whisked her away and scolded a reporter for asking the question.
The old accusation remains relevant now as DeSantis — who boosted his profile by defending Trump on Fox News and scored the president’s endorsement in December — condemns what he calls “anti-Israel” comments made by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum during a podcast earlier this summer.
Gillum, who said he supports a two-state solution in Israel and believes in Israel’s right to defend itself from attacks, said he was against “murder on all sides.” But DeSantis has called the comments “consistent with Gillum’s radical, far left-wing ideology,” a topic of high import while speaking with members of Miami’s historic Cuban diaspora Thursday night.
The Republican Governors Association chimed in as well, using a press release to slam Gillum as “facing well-deserved criticism for making blatant anti-Israel comments.” The RGA also criticized Gillum’s running mate, Chris King, for comments he made during a 1998 interview as a college student that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic. King has apologized and denied any ill intent in his comment.
During a campaign stop in Orlando Thursday, DeSantis said Gillum’s comments were “not representative of Florida values” and that he “always stood by Israel,” noting his efforts in “convincing President Trump” to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
DeSantis said it was Rubio who recommended Nuñez to his campaign. The Spanish-speaking Cuban-American lawmaker could help shore up some Hispanic votes, he said, adding that Nuñez could help inspire girls like his young daughter.Rubio “was very high on Jeanette and also Marco just understands, or appreciates, that I want to be active in Dade,” DeSantis said.
“People say, ‘Oh Republicans aren’t going to win Dade.’ Yeah, but it makes a difference if you play hard and you get your vote out, so we’re going to be doing that and I think it’s important to do — and obviously Jeanette is able to do that. We’ll have Marco on the team going around so that will be good too. So we’re going to be very active down here.”
Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.